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Baba

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Once upon a time, when he was knee-high and had hair the color of dawn, his father had taken him into the great storing halls, where the grimoires and the bestiaries lived, where the swords and the maces and the whips lived, where the stony stares of their ancestors pinned them down from eternity.

He had looked over everything with awe, excitement slowly bristling down along his spine. He’d been young, but he knew these things from under even his bones, from the core of his being.

A Belmont boy through and through,’ his father had laughed that evening, bouncing him on his knee and smiling at his mother, who paused from her embroidery to praise them. The brocade couch she presided over was, as was custom in his childhood, women’s land. It was covered in the sleeping forms of his sisters, who had drifted off one by one, leaning and snuggling and yawning until it looked like a scene from a fairytale: beautiful sleeping girls, lashes fluttering now and then as the wood in the fireplace cracked or popped.

The wind had beaten at the house that winter, driving drifts so high up the walls of the family mansion that his eldest sister took to simply opening her window and using the snow to wash her face. He had romped eagerly in mud come spring, much to his mother’s distress, and even as young as he had been, he could still remember, if he worked at it, having to sit on a wooden bench and get scolded as he waited for his breeches to dry on the wood stove in the kitchen. He still remembered watching the steam rise from his clothes.

Trevor had spent more and more time in those whispering (evil books but he’d loved them) halls under his father’s guidance, and he had grown, cracking his whip and getting his fair share of knocks and breaks and bruises, and his sisters had grown, hair spilling down their shoulders and roses growing in their cheeks, and soon marriage was in consideration for Esthe

 

 

 

“AH-“

He shoots up like he’s been bitten, drenched in sweat, bile rising in his throat, mind looping again and again and again on an image, the last gasp of life he’d seen of his family- a hand rising, grasping to the skies, weeping fluids from its cooked flesh, before falling heavily. Esthe, or Katrine, or-?

Sypha groans on the ground at his back, reaches back and smacks at him ineffectively. She’s asleep again before her hand even touches him, so it flutters down and rests on the fur of his cloak. Trevor stares down at it in the dark, shuddering.

“Trevor?” Alucard says, from across the clearing, eyes catching the starlight and reflecting silver. He’s got his sword in hand. He looks like he’s been practicing forms. Probably does every night when it’s his turn to watch. Fancy bastard.

“Mngh,” Trevor says by way of explanation, and gives a hard shudder. “Gnh.” And because he’s a bleating coward, he lies down again as if he’s still asleep. Sypha’s hand rubs against the fur of his cloak in a sleeper’s version of a caress.

He wants to howl at the moon until he comes apart at the seams.

 

 

 

They travel at dawn, at dusk, the hours before and the hours after. They hide at noon, they hide at midnight, and though the dangers are different the reasons for them aren’t. Midnight brings monsters, noon brings men, and they all have their reasons to be wary of the former and leery of the latter.

It’s a hard travelling pattern to adjust to. Sypha is used to the roads, but not the hours. Alucard is used to strange hours but isn’t used to being in public, clearly, and very nearly gets them into some spectacular rows with passing travelers just by being sassy. If less was at stake Trevor would have found it funny, but as it is, he just settles into bitchy sullen sniping, content to attract Alucard’s holier-than-thou condescension as long as it spares them from another biting goat attack.

They’re three weeks in and frozen when they find another empty town, and another, and another. Then, another.

 

 

 

“We can’t,” Sypha protests, her small hands boxing around like she can beat back Trevor’s suggestion with sheer rage.

“Look,” he says, tiredly, but Alucard cuts in, hair spilling over his shoulder and catching fire in the setting sun,

“The people here are long gone.”

Trevor snaps his head around, ready to argue on instinct, but then his poor frozen brain catches up.

“Even so,” Sypha says, rounding on Alucard now, shaking her hands, her fingers, at both of them. “It’s wrong. If the people are dead, these are the possessions of the dead. And if we help ourselves, then we are robbing from the dead. We are grave robbers, in essence.”

“We’re fucking freezing, Sypha!” Trevor yells out, tossing his head back and directing his words more to the sky than anything. He’s so tired he isn’t even angry, just frustrated. Travelling with others is… hard. It’s hard to stay casual, disengaged like he’s used to. It’s hard to drink himself into a stupor when other people are relying on you. “We’re dirty, we’re tired, we’re hungry, and I for one need to patch my fucking clothes or I’m going to start getting crunchy spots when I go to sleep at night. On my skin, I mean, just so we’re clear, where I am freezing in a literal sense and getting-“

“Trevor,” says Sypha, making a face,

“No I’m really being serious, my pants are-“

“Trevor!” Alucard says, at the same time that Sypha does too.

“Ugh,” he says, and shivers.

Silence falls. Alucard is looking at him with those sleepy gold eyes, but they don’t look half so sleepy right now. Sypha is looking at him too, though her gaze slides around uneasily to the dead village they’ve walked into. The place is clean, tidy. Likely the villagers had left to hide in the woods from what they assumed were human troops sweeping through, not realizing that it only made them easier prey for the demons of Dracula’s night.

“Are you unwell?” Alucard asks. Trevor makes a flat, annoyed sound and kicks a rock.

“I just said I’m cold. There’s ice on the ground, of course I’m cold.”

“Winter is coming,” Sypha says slowly, looking Trevor up and down more carefully. It makes Trevor wish he’d never suggested the very practical and reasonable thing of checking the village for usable goods. “It will be easy for us to,” she colors and faces Alucard, looking apologetic, “well, for Trevor and I to fall ill. Do you succumb to illnesses?”

“Rarely,” Alucard replies, nodding slightly. Trevor turns his back on both of them to peer through a shuttered window. (He feels irritated, like he’s being purposefully left out of something, but he doesn’t know what.) The house is dark and empty, but lacks any sense of menace. Trevor cranes his neck- is that a bottle of drink? “But they are unlikely afflictions to come across in normal circumstances.”

“How convenient!” Sypha says, sounding pleased as she usually does when she discovers something interesting about Alucard. She’s probably keeping notes.

“It comes in handy,” Alucard agrees, cordial and light as he rarely is with Trevor.

“Are we just going to chat all evening long, or are we going to make up our minds about my- frankly- practical idea?” He swirls around in a huff when he can’t take it anymore, spreading his arms and gesturing to the houses around them. “This is the first place we’ve found that isn’t drenched in rotten fucking intestines, and I think we should make good damn use of it. If we’re not, we should get the hell out of here before the light goes any further. Ages more to go, you know.”

“All right,” Sypha agrees, though it’s her turn to shudder. “I… suppose you’re right.”

Finally,” Trevor huffs.

Alucard is already gliding off, eyes scanning here and there. He calls out as he goes:

“We might as well stay the night, too. Scout for where you wish to sleep.”

Sypha’s cry of outrage at that causes a bloom of cheer in Trevor’s belly, but he’ll never tell.

 

 

 

It’s a good haul. Too good, really- though the village isn’t wealthy, they were clearly already stocking up for the coming winter. If he’s honest, looking at the piles and piles of food and grains and wood makes him hurt. It’s been years and ages of pain, but he can’t quite shake the tremor of grief that goes through him when they find another nightmare sitting where a sheep-smelling homestead should be. These people might have been all for burning his home to ash, but even he doesn’t want to see them die in front of him.

He feels like he should, though. He thinks of that one hand, slender and weeping, rising up from the fire. He feels like he should hate them all.

“I found you some fabric,” Sypha says brightly, her arms filled with a creamy woolen spill of new cloth. “I can sew you some new pants if you’d like.”

“You know how?” Trevor is impressed. Sypha colors and shrugs.

“Well, we Speakers mostly make our own robes, too, so compared to that, a pair of trousers isn’t much work.”

Alucard hasn’t shown up yet, but it’s a small village, ten houses at most. He’s probably found a book like the gross nerd he is. Worse, he’s probably reading it. Or smelling it. Or whatever.

“That’s handy. Find any thread and needles?” She tosses her head and taps the outfolded collar of her robes, where, sure enough, four shining needles are stabbed into the fabric. Trevor whistles. “Richer than they looked. Silver needles and nice fine cloth?”

“I do wonder,” Sypha admits, shifting her stance and pulling some fine-spun thread from a pocket. Speaker robes are rife with pockets, a fact that Trevor often finds himself a bit jealous of. The sun is sliding below the rim of the earth. Storm clouds are gathering in the distance.

“Found some good whiskey, too,” he admits, holding up his hands defensively when Sypha rears like a snake about to strike. “I didn’t take it!” He had some, though he won’t tell her that. It’s sitting in his belly now, warm and cozy, seeping down to his limbs like hot sand. “I grabbed some dry-cured sausages. Look.” He produces the loop, which, like the silver needles and the fine cloth and the stinging whiskey, is entirely too nice for such a small, shitty, empty town.

He isn’t creeped out. But he's starting to have some doubts.

“It’s very convenient,” Sypha says, biting her lip uncertainly. She’s clearly on the same track he is. The town’s small enough that it doesn’t even have a tavern, but it’s got glass windows, and cured sausages, and- based on what Alucard has tucked under his arms as he rounds the corner towards them- at least a few books.

“Too convenient,” Trevor agrees, a bad feeling balling in his guts.

 

 

 

Alucard agrees that it’s odd, suspicious, but stops short of saying it’s sinister. Trevor snorts at his refusal to acknowledge the fact that things are always, always too good to be true.

“The town may have traded in some sort of illicit goods,” he sooths, thumb petting at the green leather of a book like a huntmaster petting his lead hound.

“And we will profit off that?” Starts Sypha, flaring bright into indignant heat.

“It’s creepy, and doesn’t bode well. Nothing goes this well.”

“You yourself said that you’re cold. The houses are well-made and well-supplied. We should take the time you need to rest and continue on then.”

Trevor sees red. “The time I need?! I’m fine, thanks, but pardon me if I’m a little more concerned at the idea of staying in some kind of- of-“ He falters, an arm outstretched to the village. He doesn’t know what this is. He just knows it’s lucky and good, and nothing in his life has shown ‘lucky and good’ to be safe.

“Trevor,” Sypha says, and she’s doe-eyed and clutching at that fabric like it’s a lifeline. Alucard and Trevor both look at her. “You were right. Let’s just… stay the night. One night. Please? There’s a storm coming, and I don’t have time to finish your pants otherwise.”

“You weren’t too on about this yourself, Sypha.” He can’t fight her when she turns on the doe eyes. (Her hair is getting longer. It’s down past her chin now. He needs to give her a haircut. He has to.) She almost never uses them, perhaps sensing that it’s an unfair advantage. Or maybe she just likes the fight. Either way, he can’t fight her like that, and he can’t fight against Alucard too, so he sighs heavily and tries one more time. “Something isn’t right here.”

“I have checked the town,” Alucard says gravely. “Nothing at all indicates anything truly unnatural.”

Trevor spares an uncharitable thought for the fact that he’s clearly wrong, based on his own damn self being there.

“Fine,” he spits. “But mark my words. Something’s off.”

Sypha shrugs and Alucard makes no response. Their silence speaks for itself: they know.

 

 

 

They choose a nice, cozy house with a big hearth and a bigger lock on the door. Alucard inspects the mechanism with obvious intensity, running his fingers over the metal plate on the outside and inside of the door. Sypha busies herself with lighting the fire, getting it started with a flare of magic and directing Trevor to take inventory of the house.

It’s small enough to be easily defensible, large enough to give them all some personal space. Trevor peels off to explore, leaving Alucard to pore over the books and Sypha to hum over the fire.

 The ground floor is stone, with a well-made kitchen table lined with several benches. There’s a ladder down to a root cellar well-stocked with ceramics filled with pickled things, onions and garlic hanging in the cold underground air, potatoes and carrots keeping in dark wooden containers open to the dirt below.

Trevor feels a sharp dizziness rising in him as he looks at the strings of onions hanging from the ceiling. It’s been so long since he was in a home that seeing this feels unnatural. It feels like he’s walked into the women’s bathing room or something, and emphasizes how wrong this all is. He just can’t tell if it’s the place that’s actually off, or if he’s so used to being feral and hard that running up against all this is just setting him haywire, making him turn curdled and wrong in the head.

“Trevor,” Sypha calls from up above. “How does it look?”

“Great,” he replies, sounding as acerbic as he feels. “More supplies than you can shake a stick at.”

“Really?” She appears at the top of the ladder. Trevor moves aside so she can climb down as well, and takes some relief in the fact that when she looks at all this, she smiles. "I thought you were being sarcastic." Okay. This is a good thing. Okay.

I thought you weren’t inclined to rob from the dead?” He can’t stop the barb, but he is glad she seems to be thinking practically. Sypha bites her lip and looks at him from the corner of her eye, the look on her face uncertain. Something about it seems off, but fuck him if he can figure out what.

“I am thinking of it as a reward,” she finally says, haltingly, as the fire upstairs snaps reassuringly. He can hear Alucard walking up the stairs, perhaps giving them privacy but more likely trying to find some more books to stick his blood-sniffing nose into again. “For helping the people, but pre-emptively given. There is the prophecy, so…”

Trevor raises an eyebrow. “Seems complicated.”

“Alucard may have suggested it,” Sypha says, stepping around Trevor to inspect the root cellar further. Her gaze goes to the produce, to the bins for the root vegetables. “My goodness, this is a very well-stocked place.”

His stomach clenches, because she’s got a little moue on her face. She’s so young and so pretty and she needs a haircut, and she knows something is off too. Too good to be true is apparently something Seekers know about too.

Rather than curse it further by saying anything, he clambers up the ladder and heads over to the hearth, devoting himself to poking at the already-robust fire. Sypha comes up soon after, carrying a pot that she puts on the kitchen table before sliding the trap door shut again.

“You know what’s in there?” He asks, picking at the wax sealing the lid on.

“Let’s find out,” she says, big blue eyes sparkling with mischief.

“If it’s smelly, his Lordship up there will be moaning endlessly,” Trevor points out, but he comes closer to the table and hands her a knife from his arsenal.

“If it’s the right kind of smelly, it’s worth it!” Sypha fires back, levering the knife to weaken the wax.

“You like that kind of stuff? Pickled things?” It’s sort of an odd preference, more like something her grandfather would have a taste for.

Fermented things, Trevor. You of all people should understand.” He raises an eyebrow when she wiggles hers at him, and lets her start to pry the top off. “I hope it’s cabbage. Oh, or eggs!” The smell that rises up is… well, Trevor himself isn’t a serious fan of the stuff, but whatever it is, Sypha recognizes it and lights up. She pulls off the ring of wax and gazes in rapturously.

Preserved catfish!

“Ugh,” he says, and moves away. “That stuff reeks, Sypha, and if I think it smells bad- well, usually a bad sign.” Contrary to Sypha and Alucard’s opinions, he knows he smells bad. He just doesn’t care. It helps him blend in to not smell like daisies and milk.

“Don’t you want a little? We’ve opened the entire jar, we might as well…” She looks so wistful, standing there in the slowly-warming kitchen. (The fire is huge and the firewood is plentiful, but he can’t shake the chill settling between his shoulderblades, lying supine and steady on his spine.)

“All right,” he agrees, shucking his cloak finally and hanging it on a hook by the door. The edges are in tatters, which is made more noticeable by its neighbor, Alucard’s coat with the gold trim. What’s he doing up there, anyway?

Sypha finds some bowls- wooden and dented and oiled, which helps him to feel a little less like he’s tightening some kind of noose around his neck. She finds a stale loaf of bread in a cupboard too and steams it in a pot to moisten it again, a trick Trevor wishes he’d known long before this.

They have at it, and it may be that they’re so hungry, or it may be that they’re so cozy and the wind outside is hissing at the well-sealed walls, but it tastes like the best damn thing they’ve had in ages. Come to think of it, it may well be. It’s been a long time since he had anything but desiccated meat and watery ale. It isn’t a varied meal, but it’s big for their empty bellies and it’s rich with flavors as well-known as old friends. They swap some stories, and by the time Sypha is slicing the bread into two last pieces, they’re sitting leg-against-leg on the bench together. It feels easy and light, like something from another life, another world, for another Trevor.

Alucard still hasn’t come down by the time they’re done eating, and it starts to make them worry again. Trevor is washing their dishes in a basin filled with some collected snow and a sliver of found soap. Sypha wrinkles her nose, walking to the front door to store the pot outside where it will stay cool.

“Do you think the smell was so bad he simply refuses to come down?”

“Let him,” Trevor says dismissively, but he’s fed and warm and is even thinking about taking his boots off to darn his socks, and maybe even offering to Sypha since she’s pulling out that fabric and a knotted string from her cloak. In the face of all that comfort, he can’t just leave their weird, floating idiot to brood in the attic like a- um, well, like some kind of social pariah, but. It’s the principle of the thing. (His father clapping him on the shoulder as he lists off the fatal weak points on vampires: the throat, the heart, the fangs if you were mad and desperate.) He and Sypha are in that category of social cast-offs too, so if you close one eye and squint, they’re all the same anyway.

“Go check on him,” Sypha directs, “and take off your pants.”

“Whaaaaa-“ Trevor bleats out before he can stop himself, reeling back as if to fend off an attack.

“They fit you well enough,” she says, doubling down, and is it his imagination or did she just rake her eyes up and down his body like-? “And it’s that or I take your measurements directly.” She shakes the cord at him menacingly. Trevor eyes it, thinks about that look up and down he thinks she just gave him, and shifts, uneasily. He knows where hands have to go for measurements.

“Can’t I just…. Uh, what am I supposed to wear in the meantime?”

Sypha snorts. It’s inelegant but the house still smells like catfish, so if he’s honest he’s not sure what he was expecting. “Do you honestly think that as a Speaker, and a healer, I don’t know what you have under your shirttails?”

Trevor snaps his head away from her gaze and looks straight out the window. “Noooo….” He says, slowly, trying to stall. It isn’t that he’s modest. It’s just that he’s modest in front of young women. There’s a line, after all. He’s… he’s sure there’s a line. It feels very unsettling to be the one defending his modesty, though. He’s not used to being the skirt in the chase. “Oh shit, it’s snowing.”

“Pants,” Sypha says, pulling a large pair of scissors from her pocket, along with the thread she’d flashed before. “Or I’m going to start naming all your parts until you’re convinced it will not be a surprise for me.”

“What about Alucard?” Trevor says urgently, putting a protective hand on his pants.

“I would say he probably knows what you have too,” she sasses, and snips the scissors at him meaningfully. “Pants. Off. Now. I don’t have all evening, and they’ll be rough as is. Any more delays and you’ll be wearing skirts.”

“Fuuuuuck,” Trevor moans. “Wait, but, snow. I need to close and latch the shutters.”

“I can handle that,” Sypha says, tossing her pretty curls, and with a gesture the shutters all fold against the windows. The house isn’t fancy enough to have latches for the shutters, but she starts opening the windows (glass in a house like this feels so, so weird) and securing them with the bars placed on the sills. “And while my back is turned, you can take off your pants.”

“Or what?” He shoots back, one last-ditch effort. “Wait, why can’t I take them off upstairs?”

“Because then you’ll still be shy and hiding upstairs, and that’s stupid. I know what you look like, Trevor, though I presume you’re wearing underthings. I won’t die because I see the outline of your penis in your underclothes.” She closes the first window and moves on to the next.

Trevor wheezes, another protest dying on his tongue.

“I know this might be hard to imagine,” she finishes, smelling blood, “but your penis is not so powerful as to change me in any fundamental way.”

Trevor flees.

 

 

 

He finds Alucard upstairs. The attic is surprisingly well-insulated, and heat is already collecting up here. Trevor gives a sniff but can’t smell the fish. He’s uncertain of whether he’s just gotten used to the smell, or if it simply dissipated somehow.

“We found some food, if you eat… uh, normal things. We ate, but there’s still plenty.”

Alucard is leaning against a doorframe in the dark. Cracks of light are stabbing up between the floorboards, but the sound from downstairs is oddly muted. He can’t hear Sypha at all. The walls are sloped but wooden, which he hadn’t been expecting based on the straw roof from the outside. A single window spreads light along a long slender corridor. There’s the room Alucard is staring into, another room past that, and a room to Trevor’s right. The footprint of the house is too small for the attic to be spacious, but it’s an efficient layout that makes the most of it. Trevor finds his respect for the old owner of the place growing.

“Alucard?”

The man flicks his eyes over to Trevor. “I will not eat,” he demurs, shaking his head. He peels himself away from the doorway, hesitating.

“What’s wrong? Don’t tell me you’ve got dreams of building another spooky chasm of horror up here.”

Trevor steps up to where Alucard is standing, glances at the mostly-closed door. He has enough faith in the vampire to know that he would have alerted them, urgently, if there were bodies or animals or demons. But Alucard looks puzzled, and Trevor hopes it’s something really stupid and simple like… like a darning egg or something, that’s put the look on his face. Then he can make fun of him all night long and it’ll be great.

Alucard motions with his chin, nudging the door open with the outspread touch of his fingers. It’s all a bit melodramatic, Trevor thinks sulkily, especially since he can’t see in the dark so the effect is totally lost on him.

“I am afraid,” Alucard says, seeming to realize from Trevor’s puzzled squint his mistake, “that we have bitten off more than we can chew.” He feels around his pockets and then draws out a sparker, clicking it a few times to light what turns out to be a candle mounted on a wall sconce.

Trevor looks uncertainly at what’s revealed.

“I apologize.” Alucard gestures at the… fixtures? To be honest, Trevor doesn’t know what to make of them. “I should have listened to you.”

“Alucard,” Trevor says, stepping in and looking at the mirror (what the hell, how were these people getting this money?). “What the fuck are these things?”

A strange round-mouthed white fountain (?) with a square back, a white pedestal with what looks like a basin built into its top. It looks like a dry sink, but with all these holes and levers poked into it. He can’t make heads or tails of it, but Alucard’s alarm makes him worry anyway.

“Ah…” Alucard looks taken-aback, then recovers himself with a shake. “It’s a toilet. And a sink.”

Trevor whistles, impressed. “Fancy fucks, eh?”

Alucard shakes his head. “This technology won’t be invented for…” His eyes slide to the side, calculating. “Well, I suppose it depends on where you look. It exists now, in other parts of the world. But not… in this form.”

“Foreigners?” Trevors asks, growing bold. He touches a little silver level and jiggles it, feeling a point of resistance.

“No,” Alucard says slowly, tipping his head and watching Trevor’s explorations.

“You know what this crap is, though.”

“The castle exists in and out of time,” Alucard comments. He sounds defensive. “I have seen many of the wonders that humans will, or have, created.”

“So spit it out, vampire. What’s the big secret? What’s got you so worried?” Trevor wheels around to face him. “Somebody looted your precious castle, or some wealthy fucks imported something from the ends of the earth, or-“

“Do you really think,” Alucard snips in, eyebrows rising in disdain, “that my father would allow looters to make off with anything from his castle? And, I told you, these objects do not exist in this form yet. Not here.”

“You’re not giving me a whole lot of information, so who the fuck knows? All I know is that you’re apparently afraid of the world’s biggest pisspot.”

By way of answer, his lips narrowed into a thin tight line, Alucard reaches forward and presses the silver level Trevor had been touching earlier. Water swipes through the bowl, rushes down, vanishes. New water comes in. Trevor feels like a rube and a peasant and a goat-fucker, but he also can’t help but feel like his eyes are about to fall out of his head at the sight. Alucard steps into the tiny room with Trevor, turns another lever, watches water pour out into the basin and vanish again down into that hole. Trevor gapes.

“So,” Alucard continues, somewhat heavily. “Why is this here, how? The pipes go nowhere. Where is the water coming from, where is it going?”

“Oh,” says Trevor, pieces snapping into place. Nice but empty village, things that don’t make sense, or do, but in pieces apart, and when they all come together they’re odd, a sum less than their parts. A storm, and travelers, and desperate need. “Oh fuck. But I bet you’ve seen this.”

“I already said,” Alucard sighs, looking resigned to deal with his stupidity,

“No, I mean this exact pisspot.” Caught off-guard by the urgency of his tone, Alucard spares the magical future chamber pot another look.

“Well… yes, I suppose.” He frowns and leans in closer. There’s a small crack in the ceramic top’s finish. “… Yes. You are correct. This is… I know this precise toilet.”

“Called it,” Trevor says, muscling past Alucard to shutter the window in the hall. This one is much nicer, with multiple glass panels and neatly-formed leading holding the thing together. The shutters have a heavy metal clasp, too. He would bet his left shoe that Castle Dracula has just this kind of nice, fancy storm shutters.

“Do you know what this is?” Alucard has followed him, snagging the candle (for Trevor? Nice of him, actually), and when Trevor struggles to latch the shutters he swats his hands away and secures them with a confidence that confirms Trevor’s suspicion. He can hear Sypha coming up the stairs, but like before, the sound is oddly muted.

“Yeah,” Trevor confirms, watching Alucard close the window against the wind creeping behind the shutters.

“Trevor, I am tired of waiting.” Sypha says, stomping up the stairs with a predatory gleam in her eyes, “Take off your pants.

Alucard drops the candle.

Chapter Text


 

 

The candle bounces down the stairs and doesn’t set the whole place ablaze, which they all appreciate. Alucard takes off for it, rescuing it from the stone floor and looking up accusingly at Sypha and Trevor as they come down after him.

“What were you two getting up to?” His eyes slide between them cautiously.

Nothing,” Trevor groans, brushing by him to go to the door. “Do you want some catfish? Do you even eat things like that? You’ve got a whole set of teeth, seems a waste to only use two of them.” He knows these things about made vampires, but a natural-born vampire (dhampir his mind supplies, a lovingly-illustrated diagram floating up in his memory before he squashes the thought like a bug) is more unknown.

Trevor,” simmers Sypha, seizing up the measuring cord again and shaking it wrathfully. “Give me your pants right now!”

“Wait,” Alucard says, holding out his hands. Trevor and Sypha look to him. He looks between them both, seeming a bit at a loss. “Trevor- I can eat the same foods as you, but it does not offer me the same benefits, so I see no need to waste resources. Sypha- what on earth has seized you?”

“She’s going to make me some new pants,” Trevor answers for her, jerking his chin to the fabric laid out on the table. “But she wants my old ones to cut with. WHICH-“ he raises his voice to drown out her irritated grumble that he’s terrified of women seeing his parts, which is both unfair and untrue, “I WILL ABSOLUTELY DO, EVENTUALLY.”

Alucard looks between them both again. He develops a very flat look on his face and seems to be working to maintain it. After a confused moment, Sypha seems to realize he’s trying not to laugh at them.

“It’s not that funny,” she sulks, as Trevor spits out, “You look like you’re working not to shit yourself.”

“If you need help washing out that mouth, let me know, and I will gladly hold you down and soap you.” Alucard glowers at Trevor, who glowers back and tries not to think at all about that mental image. That’s. That’s weird, right? What Alucard said, it’s weird, isn’t it? Or maybe he’s just… making it weird. Right. Probably that.

“Boys,” Sypha says, quirking an eyebrow. Trevor remembers how she looked him up and down and abruptly stops looking at her. His boot is suddenly fascinating.

“This is all very- ….” Alucard doesn’t seem to know what it is, actually, but he gives himself a shake and, still clutching the now-extinguished candle, stalks towards Trevor. “You seemed to know what this village is. I do not. Sypha does not. Explain.”

Trevor straightens up. “Ah- right. So…. I guess, the good news is, we may not be in any danger.”

“Wait, what is happening?” Sypha sits down at the kitchen table, fingers drumming on the wood.

“We found an object upstairs that isn’t correct,” Alucard tells her, then: “I’ll explain a little more in a bit. I can show you.”

“All right,” Sypha says, giving him a sweet half-smile, and Trevor represses a sigh. He’s never gotten that smile from her. He’s also never gotten the responding almost-smile from Alucard. Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. Who even fucking cares?

“It’s…. this place is sort of like…. If the world is a cloak, we’ve just stepped into the valley of a buttonhole.”

The heavy silence that falls isn’t the kind Trevor was hoping for.

“Um,” Sypha says delicately. “I don’t really know what that means.”

“It’s not like- look, I’m not the one that came up with this, but it’s like uh, if Dracula’s Castle is like a pocket in a coat,”

“This is a coat now?” Alucard arches an eyebrow, his lip curling subtly.

“-So, we, this is a button hole, but not like…. A dangerous buttonhole,”

“What kind of button holes do you have?” Sypha looks at his pants again, but with apprehension this time.

“And so, um, but it roams around, so maybe it’s on the lapel, or on a pocket, and anyway what it means is that depending on where it is, it can stop being a buttonhole,”

“Your experiences with tailoring worry me,” Alucard interjects, and Trevor finally really loses it and just flings his arms out and yells,

“WE’RE COZIED UP IN THE CLUTCHES OF FUCKING BABA YAGA AND MAYBE WE’LL GET KILLED WITHOUT A BOO BUT MAYBE WE’LL JUST HAVE TO UNDERGO SOME SHITTY TRIALS BUT THERE’S NO TELLING WHAT THOSE ARE AND ALSO SHE LIKES TO MASH PEOPLE UP IN HER FLYING MORTAR AND PESTLE!”

Silence.

Sypha shifts. “I…. can’t tell if you’re being serious or not.”

“Baba Yaga?” Alucard looks incredulous. “She is a myth, a legend only.”

Sypha whips her head around to look at Alucard, son of Dracula. She gives him a look that involves a lot of eyebrows and a lot of blinking.

“Um,” she says, and Trevor just vibrates because he’s still so mad. Alucard considers his words, considers the woman staring at him, and then seems to remember a few basic facts about his identity.

“That was a foolish thing to say, and I apologize.”

“Still,” Sypha tucks her feet up on the bench and turns away from Alucard, problem clearly solved in her mind. “Are you sure? I thought there were… chicken legs.”

“And Baba Yaga herself,” Alucard interjects, “where is she?”

“I don’t know,” Trevor grumbles. “Why don’t you ask her? Sometimes she’s not even a person, by the way. Sometimes she’s a cloud, or the moon, or a bird. Didn’t your-“ parents ever tell you fairy tales, he almost says, and he stops talking, because not only is that really not a nice thing to say to a man whose mother’s violent death has doomed the whole damn nation at the hands of his father, but also, he just doesn’t want to think about people reading him stories.

“My mother,” Alucard says smoothly, clearly knowing where he was going, “read me many things. But she was, I admit, not given particularly to fairy tales. Those I would hear from my father, but…. He mentioned Baba Yaga only rarely.”

“We Speakers had our own legends and stories to learn,” Sypha offers. “I did like to hear stories from other children I met who weren’t of my people, but…” She pinks a little around the edges. “I liked the scary ones, really. So I haven’t heard any of the nice ones about local legends.”

Alucard looks surprised, then thoughtful, then… mischievous? Okay, that’s a weird look on him.

The storm outside intensifies briefly, rattling the shutters. Trevor checks the door- locked- and turns back to the two other people in the whole damn village. Hopefully.

“I don’t know if they’re nice, the stories. I mean, not all of them are bad, but most of them aren’t nice either.” Trevor says finally, when he gets uncomfortable with the expectant looks and the respectful silence. “But Baba Yaga isn’t just a story. She’s real, but not like Dracula is. She’s… I guess, most of the time, she’s an experience, or an idea, rather than just… a woman who wants to grind you up and eat you. I mean, fuck, it would be easier to deal with her if it was just some witch woman.”

Sypha wiggles her toes, which are poking through several holes in her socks on both feet. Trevor makes a face at the sight- looks like she won’t be the only one working tonight after all. Her holes look worse than his, actually, so she should get patched up first.

“So how does the thing upstairs come into this?”

“Oh, yeah. Baba Yaga’s magic uses the people who come into her… territory? So it forms the perfect lure for each person it hits on.”

“A type of seduction,” Alucard says, eyes flashing. “I see.”

“Which means, by the way, that you apparently really liked that chamberpot.” Alucard’s expression drops, and he gives Trevor a look that can only be described as salty.

“Puzzling,” Sypha says, looking around. “So is everything here supposed to be a copy of what we’ve seen in real life?”

“Uh, kind of, I think. Or, a mashup of our perfect ideas of things with the best experiences we’ve had layered on top to add… something.”

“A potent magic.” Alucard’s amusement seems to have faded. He looks serious now, and brooding. When doesn’t he fucking look like he’s shouldering the world’s problems and suffering oh-so-nobly? Trevor thinks resentfully. “I admit, I am weaker on magical theories than I should be, but the concepts you are brushing on are consistent with very high-level wild magics, similar to those the high Fae use to ensnare. Animal needs layered into complex desires, cemented with experiences to anchor the prey to the trap.”

“She’s a witch, or a goddess,” Trevor says defensively. It feels strange to be defending something that may slide down from a dark corner and snap him up before he knows it, but. His mother’s hands, his mother’s voice, sleeping sisters and a crackling hearth drive him to it. High snows and stories to pass the time: of practical heroes, the firebird and a brave maid and a young prince who seek supernatural aid, dangerous powers and magical tools and benevolent wisdom and it all wells up in him until it flows out in speech: “She’s not some fairy from far off and under hills. She’s a force of nature. She’s part of the land, part of our people. She’s part of us.”

Silence except the storm, again. Alucard has turned his considering look on Trevor now, but he seems somehow more serious than before. Sypha is clearly turning his words over in her mind too, tracing his face with her eyes as she wears an unreadable expression.

It’s too much for him. He whips on his cloak, bangs his boots against the door to loosen it from the frame, and unlocks the thing. His throat is burning and his head hurts, and he knows just how to relieve that particular feeling, at least.

“And, with that, I’m off to fetch that whiskey I saw before. Nothing to do but wait for our first trial, or our first danger, or whatever.”

“Trevor,” Sypha calls out, her voice coming soft, birdlike.

The snap of the door behind him cuts off whatever else she’s about to say. He doesn’t want to hear it. He doesn’t want to hear anything but the wind in his ears.

 

 

 

He spends some time alone and feels better for it. The storm is driving, snow piling up fast, but the village is small enough that he doesn’t feel too concerned about getting lost. He finds the house with the whiskey again, bangs his boots off nicely as he goes inside. He inspects the label when he finds the stuff. It’s satisfyingly unreadable, so he pops it open and takes several hard pulls before it makes him cough.

“Ugh,” he says, curling into himself in the small, dark, empty house. “Go me. Some days, I think I deserve all the shit God piles onto my daily plate.” The wind howls outside the house, ice starting to cut patterns on the glass. After the cozy warmth of their borrowed house, the cold feels good. It feels hard, forces the smoggy, dripping shape of his thoughts to snap into frozen clarity.

“’She’s part of us,’” he mimics his own words, tone high and cruel, drinking freely from the bottle as he paces. “Doesn’t mean shit to me.” The wind falls for a moment. He listens out of habit, ears pricking for potential danger. Nothing. “My fucking family was ‘part of us’ and the whole damn country bit our hands off and left us to bleed to death in the dirt.” He kicks a chair over vengefully. He looks at its shadowy outline in the darkness of the house and takes a pull of whisky again. The chair still lies there.

He sighs and rights it, tucks it neatly back into place at the table. “Sorry, buddy. Not your fault.”

Talking to furniture, he thinks morosely, probably means he’s had too much to drink already.

Trevor sits in the chair, petting the arm now and then, and continues to drink. Finally, on a whim, he says: “I lied.”

No sound but the storm. Snow starts to hiss against the windows. It’s too dark now for him to see it, but since it sounds like sand, and based on how cold it’s getting in here, the temperature is dropping fast. He should probably go back soon.

“I lied,” he says again, putting the bottle on the table so he can lean back in the chair and cover his face with his hands. He leans back like that to face the ceiling, elbows up, eyes shut. He feels the heat of tears slithering out. “I lied. It means a lot to me. Baba Yaga, the Belmont name, Dracula- it’s all part of this stupid, brutal country.” He’s had too much to drink and his words are slurring. They’re coming out like they have a life of their own, but it feels better to air them in the darkness where nobody else can debate him, or sass him, or- worse- pity him. “I hate it. Everything in this damn country keeps telling me to die, die, die.” His tears drip into his hair. He stifles a sob, sniffs heavily instead. He keeps his hands on his face. “But I love this fucking place. This is my home. This is my land. I don’t know what to do with myself anymore, and those pure-hearted idiots- it’s simple for them, isn’t it?”

The storm, if possible, seems to pick up even more. Trevor holds still, huffing in increasingly cold breaths as he tries to regain some semblance of self-control. The whiskey was a mistake. He can’t stop leaking tears, but it’s not about anything in particular right now. Another sign he’s had too much to drink. The sand-snow rattles against the windows now and then. It’s quiet.

There’s…

a

s o u n d.

Trevor freezes, ears working overtime. The wind has slowed again, and in the space of that non-noise he feels like his whole brain is pouring energy to his ears, to try to pick out what that was. Moving his hands off his (wet) face, he grips at the armrests of the chair. Did it come from outside? Or upstairs? The roof? Where? Where?

Trevor takes a quiet calming breath, but it’s colder than he expects and catches in his throat. Okay, definitely time to go.

He opens his eyes.

Two white-silver orbs glow in front of his face. They’re huge, the size of oranges, and there’s a strange peaky knob in between them. His brain can’t make sense of the sight but his body knows before the rest of him. He jerks, scrambling down out of the seat, under where the undulating shadow of something long and skinny and drawn is wrapped over the ceiling- not just where he was, but everywhere, everywhere. He scrambles to his feet, moving before the shadow can. There’s a sound like ripping wood, like a log coming down and tearing itself apart as it does. Trevor scrambles to the door, hands rattling desperately at the knob, pulling and pulling until it finally opens, spilling snow into the house. He can feel the chill approaching at his back, glances over his shoulder and sees those moon-orbs have turned to face him, glowing, illuminating that long knobby dollop of flesh that’s stretching forward into the darkness towards him.

He screams. Runs.

 

 

 

The village is small, but he’s suddenly scared enough that it seems entirely too big.

He slips in the snow, staggers and crashes into a wall, but he’s on his feet again and off before he can think about it. He can see the buttery warm spill of heat from the house they’ve chosen, is reaching for it with every fiber of his being. His muscles scream in protest. He’s never run this fast before in his life, and he can still feel the cold, the cold, the cold, chasing after him. He’s too scared to look back again. He knows that if he sees those orbs following him one more time, he’s done, dead and gone and frozen, and with him Sypha and Alucard’s chances of defeating Dracula, and with that his country’s chance of becoming something he loves again instead of simply a place to die, and he runs, and runs, and runs.

“SYPHA,” he screams, body screaming, the storm fighting him. “ALUCARD!” He throws himself against the door, rattles it, starts kicking it and kicking snow away from it. He’s screaming for help and he can feel the cold touch his heel, sliding up his body intimately like the touch of the dead. “OPEN! HELP! PLEASE!!”

He’s sobbing again, but his tears are freezing on his face and he can feel one of his legs starting to slow. He thinks he can feel bony hands like a vise clenching down on his ankle, sliding up the frozen leg in a parody of a lover. He’s going to die. He’s going to die and he doesn’t want to.

“OPEN UP! SYPHA! ALUCARD! PLEASE!”

Can’t they hear him?! The hand is getting further up and his leg feels like a memory, and he’s still too terrified to turn around because he knows, like a plant knows the approach of wintertime, that if he turns his head he will die like a rabbit, blood on his tongue from a burst heart.

“Oh god, please,” he says, because the hand has reached the small of his back and he can’t hold himself up anymore, “please, please open,” and the hand is going up to ease that ache between his shoulder blades, and it isn’t what he wanted, but it does ease that ache of fear he’s had for months and years, and that’s a novelty. “Please,” he whispers, sliding down against the door limply. The hand makes it to the base of his neck and cradles and he feels his eyelids starting to droop. Something is moving in a way he doesn’t recognize from the corner of his vision. When he tries to focus on it it makes him sick, so he thinks about Sypha’s big, shimmering blue eyes, and Alucard’s sleepy gold ones, and he scritches his nails on the door one last time, weak as a kitten flexing a paw in a dream.

“Somebody please help me,” he breathes, and the hand touches the top of his head. It tenses and he has a sensation like being forced underwater- there’s pressure- there’s darkness and movement and the faint but approaching glow of white-silver-

He hears a distant noise, is dimly aware of falling forward. He can’t feel anything at all.

It feels like what he’s been trying to drink himself into for years.

 

 

 

“I don’t want to die,” he whispers, to somebody, or something. He can’t tell where he is, or what way is up. “I can’t die.” He can’t feel his body.

“Shh,” says a voice, but he’s so far away from everything that he doesn’t know who it is. What it is.

“I have to,” he says, but it’s a fainter whisper than before. He can’t remember what he has to do. He just knows that it’s important.

“Shhh.”

Chapter Text


 

 

“I’m not afraid,” he says, feeling argumentative. “I just have something I have to do first.”

“Hum,” somebody says, sounding doubtful, placing a hand on his forehead and ruffling his bangs.

“I don’t get frightened, not by death or anything else,” he says again, ire rising. “I’m-“

 

 

 

He wakes up.

 

 

 

He can see the ceiling, and the darkness all around. It’s still deep night then. The hearth is there when he turns his head, and so is Sypha, curled between him and the fire. Trevor blinks.

It was just a dream? Or… some kind of drunken delusion. Ugh. Well. That was…. Embarrassing.

They must have dragged him in from the snow, he decides, luxuriating in the warmth from the low-burning fire. It feels like they found a straw mattress, because he can’t feel each individual stone under his hip, though he can feel the odd poke of a stalk here and there. Sypha curled against him isn’t bad at all either, though he feels a bit guilty thinking it. Some of her hair is resting on his hand, and he toys with a curl idly. It gives a satisfying bounce, and he smiles at it faintly.

No more whiskey, he decides. That had been one hell of a vision, and frankly, he never wants to see it again.

Something shifts against his back, pressing closer in a hard line. Now that he thinks about it, it feels like there’s an arm draped over his waist.

Trevor blinks again, but much more rapidly this time.

He can’t tell too much lying where he is- only the vague impression of bodies, and that they’ve apparently found a gray-and-red quilt, which seems to be mostly over him.

Huh.

He finally moves to sit up- and promptly swoons back onto whoever is behind him, the world spinning.

“Hell of a hangover,” he says by way of apology to the source of the irritated grunt behind him. Alucard, his brain supplies practically, not having the mental resources for much else.

“A hangover?” Alucard props Trevor back against his chest and half-rises, and hell if this isn’t embarrassing.

“Sure,” he responds, trying to extricate himself from the friendly local neighborhood vampire’s grip.

“Trevor, you-” Alucard says as if to a child, not letting go. Trevor considers himself pretty strong, but motherfuck is Alucard a strong bastard. He must have been holding himself back in their battle in the catacombs, the sneaky fuck.

“Trevor?” Sypha stirs and turns, her hair going in all directions.

“That’s me,” he says instead of, ‘why do you sound surprised,’ or, ‘you look adorable,’ or, ‘Alucard, your chest is muscled and I am more content lying here than I should be.’

Trevor!” She flings herself on him, burying her face at the junction of his neck and shoulder. She hangs awkwardly on his right side, as if afraid to touch him elsewhere. He raises an arm up to her on instinct, surprised to find that it’s… more taxing than it should be.

“Ahem,” says Alucard, who is now bearing the weight of two people in what’s probably an uncomfortable position.

Sypha gives him a little squeeze before pulling herself off of him.

“I took off your pants, by the way.”

 

 

 

Alucard sets to building the fire back up while Sypha grabs some snow to make tea. He can’t help but shudder when the door opens, though he tries to keep himself still. He sees Alucard watching him from the corner of his eye. The vampire is wearing a sleepshirt, long and woolen with short half-sleeves. So is he, actually, now that he thinks about it. It looks dumb on Alucard, he decides. It doesn’t make sense to have a vampire in sleeping clothing.

“I guess the whiskey was a little much for me,” he says casually. He’s willing to be scorned and scolded, especially since he deserves it by his reckoning. Venturing out into a storm, alone, to get drunk? He’s lucky he didn’t chase himself into the forest with idiot drunken delusions.

“Lie down, stay there.” Sypha crouches down at the mattress to press at his chest. She’s wearing a nightshirt too, a soft cotton shift in the same color as her robes.

“I’m not made of glass,” he grouses, moving to sit up again as she lugs the bowl of snow to the kettle hanging over the fire. Alucard, leaning over the hearth, raises an eyebrow but says nothing. He just stands there watching. He has an unreadable expression on his face. “I’m hung over, and it was stupid of me, so…” flipping the quilt off to stand and help Sypha, he freezes.

The pain hits him abruptly- using his legs feels like moving through burning mud. He gasps, finds the breath heavier on his chest than it should be, and realizes he should probably look himself over with fresh eyes first.

“We didn’t hear you,” Alucard says. Trevor looks down at his bare legs, cut and sliced in peculiar patterns that slowly climb up. He can’t quite place the shape and tries to puzzle it out, but moves on when he realizes why Sypha had positioned herself so oddly: his left arm is tied loosely to his chest, bound in a firm splint. He gives it an experimental wiggle, or starts to.

“Oh god why did I think that was a good idea,” Trevor gasps. It’s broken, or something just like. Sypha busies herself with finding cups, flicking looks back at him now and then.

“Sypha wanted to go out and look for you, so we opened the door to do that, and…” Alucard gestures. “You were there, like this.” Sypha turns, opening her mouth to say something. She freezes before shaking her head and turning back to the mugs. “There was… something, on you. Fire drove it back a little, but our voices seemed more effective.”

“Huh,” Trevor says. He’s stuck on the marks on his legs. His whole body hurts, and his throat is on fire in particular. His head is muzzy. His hands are bandaged, the fingertips raw and bloody like he’d tried to claw out of a grave.

“Do you remember anything?” Sypha snaps him out of his reverie by crouching down in front of him. “What happened? What did this to you? We saw almost nothing- a shadow, if anything. Only that it was long, and swift when it receded.”

“I… ugh.” He thinks back.

Luminous orbs. Flesh that moved like nothing he’d seen. A hand on his head, pushing him under.

“I don’t think we have any reason to doubt what did,” Alucard says, stepping away from the fire. He seems content that it’s high enough to keep the cold at bay, because he sits down on the mattress next to Trevor again. “Trevor himself told us before he left: Baba Yaga.”

Right, before he flipped out on them and broodingly drank himself into oblivion in a raging blizzard. ‘Left’ is so much nicer.

“I meant more, what does she look like? Did you notice any elemental properties? Any weak points?” Sypha puts her hands on her hips, looking very bossy and stern. Trevor feels fondness bubbling up at the sight.

“I was caught off-guard, I suppose. Then I fled like a coward.” He looks around for his whip, sees it sitting close by on the kitchen table. “It… I didn’t see much.” Shaking his head, he looks down at the cuts again. It looks like…. Ah. From hands big enough to span his legs, flat claws that scrape at his shins, that’s what it looks like. “Just eyes. Big, white, round eyes. And some kind of..” Flesh, moving in ways he didn’t know or like. He shudders. “I don’t know what came over me. I ran. I didn’t even fight.”

“You would have died,” Alucard sooths, or tries to. Trevor’s eyes flash.

“Thanks for the confidence,” he spits. “But I’m sure you could have done a lot better, eh?”

“No, Trevor-“ Sypha cuts in, but she sounds uncertain and falls silent. The kettle starts to spit steam. The house rattles from the wind.

“I never said that.” Alucard is staring him dead in the eye, lax and passive in the worst way. It makes Trevor ache to punch his stupid fangs out. “I feel confident that I may have ended in the same shape you did, or worse.”

“Worse,” Trevor says dryly. “Thanks, very patronizing. I feel so much better.”

“Because I wouldn’t have had the sense to flee,” Alucard clarifies. “There is a degree of natural arrogance that comes with my- my state of being. Most of the time, it is only sensible.” He tips his head. “Most of the time.”

“You broke your arm and dislocated your shoulder, but we don’t think your shoulder is broken too. Your hands are hurt, too, but only superficial wounds, thank goodness.” Sypha gestures at his legs, then pulls the blanket up over him again to the waist. “The rest of it… I think it’s a spell more than physical damage, but either way, I can do nothing about it.”

“You don’t know any healing spells?” Trevor had presumed, since she was so proficient in fire and ice, that she would have some practical healing kit as well. This is a bad surprise.

“Of course I do!” Sypha flares up, clearly outraged. “But this is. It’s too strong for me, Trevor. I can’t even touch it. Only time will mend it.”

“Oh, well, that’s a relief.” Sypha smiles at him hesitantly. Alucard just looks resigned. “Because if there’s one thing I know we have a huge, vast amount of, it’s time. We can just saunter on over to Dracula’s Castle in a year or so and it will be no big deal either way.”

“Then maybe you shouldn’t have gone off drinking by yourself!” Trust the Speaker to call him on it, finally. It’s hard to feel resentful, because the more he thinks about it, the more exponentially idiotic it gets. “You stormed out like a girl who had just been rejected for the first time, Trevor, honestly, it was so stupid! You got passionate about something, it isn’t the end of the world. It was…” Sypha leans in a little and smooths the collar of his nightshirt. Her touch is light, and gentle, and tenderly corrective. He misses being touched like that, he realizes with a jolt. He misses being touched at all outside of a fight.

“It was wonderful,” Sypha continues, tipping her head just so and looking at him just so. Alucard, next to them, is silent. “You burned bright again, just for a moment, like when you were helping the people against the hoard back in Gresit. I felt the passion in what you were saying, and it reminded me of the greatness of our duty here.”

Alucard nods once, though his eyes slide to the side.

“…. Okay.” Trevor waits for the other shoe to drop.

“We were- I was frightened. You took so long, I was worried you had gotten lost and blundered into the woods.”

“Hey.”

“Given your tendencies, entirely likely,” Alucard sniffs.

“You were so cold,” Sypha says, and clutches at his hand. Trevor jumps, or sort of half-jumps given how much everything hurts. “We thought you were dead already.”

“It was a challenge to re-warm you without causing tissue damage,” Alucard helpfully adds.

“Is that why everybody is wearing a nightshirt?”

“I took your pants off,” Sypha says very firmly, with an edge of smugness that leaves Trevor feeling very squiggly inside, whatever emotion that translates to, thank-you-very-much-body.

“I supervised,” Alucard informs him, as if to reassure Trevor that his virtue hasn’t been compromised.

“Well, thank you. Now I can be wed with all honesty now, knowing that I am pure of body if not soul.”

Sypha traces his knuckles with her fingertips, Alucard shifts a little closer, and Trevor is suddenly, abruptly, with no distractions or diversions, aware that he is sitting in bed together with two gorgeous people and nobody else around for miles.

“We wouldn’t want Sypha to defile you,” Alucard chuckles, a faint smile playing about his mouth.

“I wouldn’t!”

“Are you so sure? I seem to recall you demanding his pants a few hours ago. What did you say?”

“That was for sewing him a new pair!”

“Oh, yes. ‘I am tired of waiting! Take off your pants!’”

“Tailoring!”

“Yes, yes.”

“New pants!”

“Oh, absolutely.”

“His are so threadbare.”

“So he said.”

… And a broken arm, and slashed up agony sticks he’s pretending are legs, and some kind of full-body ache that feels like he’s getting sick. Fuck his life. Even if he wanted to, even if they wanted to, there’s no way he has it in him to do anything more but lie back down and close his eyes.

“Wait, drink something warm first, before you go to sleep again,” Sypha starts to fish for a mug, but he’s out before he even fully gets horizontal.

 

 

 

He wakes up again in the night, just once more. He can’t place what’s woken him at first. Lying there silently, it takes a while for him to notice that he’s alone in the bed. It’s hard to fight against the exhaustion pulling him down- then he hears a faint noise again, and he’s holding still, eyes mostly shut, scanning the room as best he can.

The fire has dimmed again, back to a sweet cherry-red that sends a rare spark out silently. It’s dark outside still, and past that, with the shutters drawn, it’s hard to tell how far off dawn is.

Where are Sypha and Alu-?

“Mn,” comes the noise again, a stifled, shuddering sound. He sees them seated at the kitchen table, alarm surging through him for a moment- has this been some kind of insane long con, is Alucard savaging Sypha, his whip is so far away and his body is so heavy-

But the alarm dims when he realizes that Sypha is the one sitting on Alucard. On his lap, actually. She’s bent over him, has him in her hands, is…. Yes, no mistaking those soft noises. She’s kissing him. His fine-boned hands are resting on her sides, fingers caressing lightly now and then. Alucard’s the one making the soft noises, feet shifting occasionally on the stone as if he can’t contain himself.

The bottom drops out of Trevor’s stomach so fast he feels dizzy.

They’re-? And he’s-? So she-? But what-?

He shuts his eyes, can’t scrub the image of Sypha cradling Alucard’s face in her hands out of his brain no matter how hard he tries. Can’t erase the image of Alucard’s closed eyes, expression rapturous, his face turned up trustingly to Sypha’s, lips slightly parted, a hint of fang visible if you look for it.

It takes a moment to work out what he’s feeling. So. So what? He’s heard plenty of people fuck, even more of them kiss and pet like that. Hell, he’s seen his fair share too. They’re all young (relatively), energetic, you name it. It’s normal, even if one of them’s a vampire and that’s a little weird.

Trevor mentally presses at the painful ball of hurt and jealousy seething around his chest. He’d thought that maybe… but he’d thought wrong, hadn’t he? What had he expected? He’d tired and scarred, not just physically but mentally, and he’s threadbare and acerbic and he can’t stop picking at everything and anything, prodding to make fun and show the world that he doesn’t care if he’s been given up on, because he gave up first. Sypha smoothing his collar, Alucard holding him up- those are small, casual gestures normal people give to each other, aren’t they? And here he is, feral and roaming the wilds, misreading and putting his hopes in the wrong fucking place like a desperate creep.

He flashes back, suddenly, to screaming their names and pounding on the door. ‘We didn’t hear you,’ Alucard said. His hands ache in their bandages. He tries very, very hard not to think about what they might have been doing when he was clawing at the door so hard he broke his fingernails.

Too late. If he’s being left out in the snow, literally, if his bitterness has built this place for him, he might as well make his bed firmly in the stuff.

“Is this what you were up to when I was trying to get in?”

Alucard startles hard, pushing the kitchen table back with a loud scrape. He curses, softly, eyes finding Trevor’s. He looks guilty, the darkness of the room rising shadows up around his face. Sypha whips her head around, eyes huge, nightshirt laces loose around her chest, her hands rising to cover herself.

“Hey, don’t mind me. Keep on at it. Maybe just go upstairs, if you can. I need my beauty sleep.” He turns over, makes a show of gathering the quilt around himself. Tries to rein himself in, fails. “Nobody left outside to let in, now, after all.”

“How dare you,” hisses Sypha, all previous softness for him gone from her expression. Alucard’s gaze flickers between the two urgently, and if he wasn’t so filled with this stupid petty ache, Trevor would find that funny, would find that deer-in-the-lamplight expression incredibly amusing on a vampire, of all things. Sypha steps off of Alucard, forgetting her loose nightgown, and stalks over to Trevor. “You absolute selfish ass!”

“That’s me,” Trevor agrees in a mild tone that he knows will only make her angrier. “Your tit is hanging out, by the way.”

“You left to drink yourself into a stupor in a storm, you absolute moron!” Sypha’s getting angier, and Trevor smirks at her because he can’t bring himself to do anything but provoke. It’s the way he’s always done things, he supposes, ever since the whole damn country turned on itself and started gnawing its own legs off one by one. “And you think that we ignored you to- to-!“

She stutters, trying to continue, but suddenly fat tears are rolling down her face, and Trevor’s satisfied expression rapidly dissolves into absolute horror. Alucard, seeming to have finally gotten his feet under him (and, probably, on reflection, his erection under control), stands and gathers her into his arms.

“Are you incapable of doing anything but biting the hands of those that feed you?” He looks scornfully down. “Sypha and I cannot complete our task alone, and you continue to insist on placing yourself into dangerous positions. We extended ourselves greatly to keep you from the precipice of death. Our duty can only be accomplished-”

“Sorry I almost ruined the prophecy,” Trevor shoots out, though he’s lost some steam in the face of Sypha, tough fire-and-ice Sypha, crying.

Sypha wipes at her eyes with the heels of her hands in a childish gesture, then rears back and kicks Trevor’s legs.

The agony that sweeps through him makes him white out. When he comes back to himself, Sypha has her back turned to him and is angrily stoking the fire with her bare hands. Woah. Alucard won’t look at him either, but that’s not new.

“Fine,” she spits, shaking the logs out like wet laundry and piling a few more on. “Fine. You lie here by yourself and think about what a cruel thing you are, and we’ll go upstairs.”

“Good,” Trevor croaks around the slowly-dimming pain in his legs, and aches. “I’m not into having to play accidental voyeur, thanks. Some people like that, though. They might pay a coin or two, so we can keep that in mind if that’s what you’re into too. Might be helpful for the journey, if we come on any financial-”

The fire flares up the chimney like some kind of perverse river. Alucard jumps, pushing himself between Sypha and Trevor as Sypha whips around, flames flicking into and out of existence in her hair.

Trevor blinks at that- at the vampire leaping to defend the hunter lying prone.

“Sypha,” he says, tone firm but pleading. “No. He is in pain, and he cannot-”

You,” She yells over him, finger jabbing out, which he leans back from warily. “You are in trouble too!”

“Wait, what,” Trevor says, feeling like things are rapidly falling away from where he was aiming for.

“Why am I,” Alucard starts, forcing a calm tone of voice, but he’s yelled over again:

“What was that about my wanting to go look for him?!” She throws her arms wide. The fire is still an unending torrent behind her. Trevor winces- so they hadn’t even wanted to find him, huh? Shouldn’t have expected otherwise. “You were the one pacing so hard I thought you were going to wear a hole in the stone, but when he asks what we were doing you go on about the prophecy, and how I was the one worried sick?”

“You-?” Trevor says, gaze darting to Alucard. Alucard looks back at him guiltily, shoulders hunching up.

“For your information,” Sypha hisses, “He told me unceasingly that alcohol makes it easier to freeze, that he had heard wolves the other night, that humans could become hypothermic at surprisingly low temperatures., and on and on and on. And I told him you needed space. That you needed time.” She throws her hands up, makes an angry, animal noise. “This damned house is silent as a grave in all the wrong ways, and you think we were fucking while we were tearing our hair out waiting for you to come back to us?!”

Finally she falls silent. The fire in the hearth slows, then quiets until they’re left in near-total darkness. The wrath of her flames has eaten up all the wood she had added to the fire.

Trevor feels poleaxed.

“I-“ he starts, voice cracking. He can see Sypha dimly, standing stiffly in the dark. Alucard is still standing between them both.

“Never mind,” Sypha says, swaying into motion. “Fine. We’ll- I’ll go upstairs. Alucard, if you want to join me… it’s fine.” She starts towards the stairs, giving Trevor, and Alucard in front of him, a wide berth.

Alucard moves after her in the dark, steps audibly more certain.

“I’m sorry,” Trevor says, quietly, nothing more than a whisper. He shuts his eyes, squeezes them shut hard. “Sorry.”

Sypha goes upstairs, moving slowly. Alucard follows.

Trevor pulls the quilt over his head so that he’s fully cocooned. He’s so wracked with guilt, with pain, with loneliness, with hurt, with shame, that it all settles in him as some kind of all-encompassing numbness. He hasn’t felt this way since the first mass grave he came across, and before that, since he pawed desperately through the ashes of his home, hoping to find even one of his sisters, if just to bury her.

The house is silent. He’s alone. He’s alone, just like he wanted.

“God damn me,” he breathes into the darkness.

A hand touches his heel.

He’s screaming before he realizes it, body laboring to get away despite his injuries. He’s alone and vulnerable, and his whip is just far away enough that it feels like a million miles away. He doesn’t even have the fire, or the light, and he’s being bundled up and held still, immobile, pressed down-

“See,” Alucard says, holding Trevor tight to him, his chin tucked on the top of his head, an arm wrapped around his hip and another around his chest. “I know that you’re angry. But we can’t.”

“Oh,” Sypha sighs, fire-and-ice Sypha, and she’s all warm breath and gentle fingers as she peels the quilt down off his face and rubs her knuckles on Trevor’s cheek, gone pale and cold with stress, with fear. “Oh, Trevor. You’re like a wild animal sometimes. What’s wrong with you? Not everything has to hurt.”

Trevor feels twice as shitty now, but for additional fun reasons like ‘panicking like a child in the dark’ and ‘prompting Sypha Belnades, Speaker Magician of the Prophecy, to muse on his psychological and emotional fragmentations.’ It’s like there’s a sale on ‘Shit Trevor Belmont of the House Belmont Will Feel Mortified About Until the End of Time,’ and he’s just gotten an unexpected windfall.

“I’m sorry,” he says again, throat raw and painful.

“I know you are,” Sypha soothes. She looks as contrite as Trevor feels. “I lost my temper. We were frightened for you. Not because of the prophecy, but because we care for you.” Her expression sharpens, and she raises a stern eyebrow at Alucard. He coughs, not relinquishing his hold on Trevor.

“I… recognize, that from my father, I may have accidentally picked up some… behaviors, about specific humans. I do not mean to imply that you are incapable of minding yourself. Only… fussing is natural for me, sometimes.”

Trevor tries to sort through that, but each time he does, he comes to the core meaning of, ‘I learned to fuss about humans because my father fussed about his human,’ which is entirely too weird for him to dwell on. It’s one thing to know, intellectually, that Dracula set the hordes of hell on the country because his wife was killed. It’s another to hear about their tender relationship dynamics from their son.

“Hum,” Sypha says. She sounds like she’s smiling a little. “See? That’s sweet.”

Alucard doesn’t say anything back, but his chin stays where it is, right on Trevor’s head.

“Let’s go upstairs. We found a proper bed up there, but didn’t want to move you too much while you were unconscious.” Alucard nods, untangling himself from where he’s been holding Trevor down and picking him up as easily as Trevor himself would pick up a kitten.

“Hey!” He flails with his one good arm, ignoring that prim look on Alucard’s face that totally means he wanted Trevor to feel uncertain but will never admit to anything of the sort. Sypha plucks the quilt up and tosses it over her shoulder. “Wait- can somebody- uh, can I have something to drink first?”

“Oh, yes. Of course!” Sypha busies herself with a mug and a pitcher.

“Drink carefully,” Alucard says sternly. “Do you need one of us to hold it for you?”

“I’m fine,” Trevor tries very hard not to grouse as Alucard puts him down on the bench- jarring his legs hurts, but the vampire seems to be trying to be as careful as possible. Sypha hands him the mug, hovering close by in case he drops the mug after all. One-handed is hard, but not terribly difficult just for drinking.

He takes one sip, then another, and then he’s guzzling down the whole damn thing and holding out the mug for another go. Alucard gets the pitcher this time and pours, a hand sliding under Trevor’s to support the cup.

“Holy shit, that stuff is amazing,” he gasps, when he’s got his second mug emptied. “What the hell is it?” Had Sypha or Alucard brewed up some kind of healing potion while he was out of it? It tasted clean, and good, and just….. perfect. “I’ve never had anything like it.”

“That would be water,” replies Alucard flatly and with an edge of horror.

Chapter Text


 

 

There’s a certain intense brightness to a sunny morning immediately after a heavy storm that is unmatched even in the height of summer. The dimension of the light is different- leaner and harder, somehow, thin and piercing but more concentrated. It’s blinding, especially set as it usually is in the bleak darkness of consuming winter.

This special sort of brightness is what wakes Trevor the next morning, knifing through the slats in the shutters straight into his eyes.

“Fuck,” he groans, squinting and grimacing at the light.

There weren’t any pillows on the bed when they got upstairs, but there was a second quilt. Between two people and under two quilts, he had slept… better, actually, than he had in quite some time. The bed wasn’t anything special, just a wooden frame and a stretched-canvas base covered in a few dense layers of old sheepskins worn thin. It smelled heavily of sheep still, but in a clean way. At least the wool had been washed before being used, unlike some deeply questionable inns he’d come across in the past few years.

Now he lies still, breathing, feeling the ache in his body from all corners. His legs hurt a little less, so that’s something. It doesn’t burn to try and move his toes, at least. That’s something too.

Alucard is between the door and him and at his front this time. He’s surprisingly warm, but perhaps he’s…  soaked up the heat- like a bed brick in the hearth- and is radiating it out? He also seems to have a natural tendency to gravitate to his throat- the faintest puff of breath, now and then, is tickling at his collarbones. Trevor’s pretty sure he should be less okay with that than he is, but… after last night, he’s somewhat inclined to cut him a break.

He tries to squirm to get himself some space and is rewarded with a hard press of Alucard’s body to his, in more ways than one.

Uh.

Um.

Well.

Sypha seems to be up already, though he can’t hear anything. It seems like she was right about the acoustics in this place. Probably the magic, causing distortions or something, but damn if that isn’t inconvenient. He hadn’t ever thought about it before, but it feels strange to not be able to hear what other people are up to around him, like he’s lost one of his senses, had it cut right out of his head.

The ache in his bad arm is growing now that he’s awake, and his hands, too. He really needs to clarify if Sypha can or can’t heal him up- bones take a longer amount of time than they have to heal. Realistically speaking, too, this likely won’t be the first time on their journey that either he or she breaks something.

A hand slides down to his belly; Trevor’s eyebrows dart up to his hairline.

The hand rests there, a little under his bellybutton, fingers spreading in that soft way particular to the movements of the sleeping. Trevor stares at the ceiling.

He doesn’t feel that inclined to cut him a break.

“Hey, rise and shine-” Honestly, he figures he should elbow the vampire in the face, or wherever he can reach, but he’s also sort of forgotten that his good arm is pinned under that long, lean body, which is by the way much heavier than it looks (he’s totally making a note of that for later harassment). All that his efforts yield is Alucard tucking himself over him a little more, the hand going to a less precarious position on his hip. The shift in weight is starting to hurt. Trevor stares at the ceiling some more.

“Alucard.”

Nothing.

“Alucard!”

Silence.

There have been other days when he’s been up and at ‘em, sometimes even (frustratingly) before Trevor himself. He knows this isn’t some kind of stupid daylight-induced vampire coma.

He struggles against the prone, heavy, body over him some more, but he can’t get leverage with his arm and shoulder bound up and slow-simmering in pain, and he can’t kick his way loose because his legs feel about as solid as slush.

“Goddamnit you son of a demon-eyed mange-balled goat, get off of me!”

There’s no discernable change in Alucard’s breathing. Trevor considers yelling for help from Sypha but finds that problematic on two counts: one, the acoustics of the house clearly don’t lend themselves to that, and two, fucking humiliating, no thanks.

“At this point I don’t even have a breakfast for God to shit into,” Trevor hisses, contemplating biting Alucard to get him up. Wait- no, bad idea. Very bad idea.

“Shhh,” murmurs Alucard, still asleep, and trails his mouth up Trevor’s throat, tongue dragging along his Adam’s Apple and touching, sleepily, at the tender spot on the underside of his chin. Frozen in shock, Trevor can’t do much more than make a confused, strangled noise. It feels- good, good if he’s totally honest here, but is also, on so many levels, not what should be happening right now. So. Also bad. Weird. Weirdbad.

“Wake up wake up wake up,” Trevor starts chanting, getting progressively louder. He tries to wiggle again and is pinned- pinned!- by Alucard’s hand on his hip. “Seriously, this is absolutely less hilarious than it was five minutes ago, which by the way wasn’t terribly funny to start with. If yooaaaaAAAAA-!”

Sadly, this is not a cry of pleasure from unknown delights- Alucard has slung his arm over Trevor’s shoulder and is applying pressure on his arm. Trevor thrashes instinctively, kicking despite the pain.

“Trevor, what are you-“ Alucard props himself up sleepily, giving Trevor some respite from the sear of agony, his voice rough and tired.

“GET OFF!”

Ah. Now he can elbow him in the face.

Satisfying.

 

 

 

“I’m so glad that you two can be alone for five minutes without causing further injuries,” Sypha grumbles as Alucard serves her breakfast.

“He healed,” Trevor says, completely unapologetic. Also very fixated on the porridge with egg he’s about to be served. By a vampire, who licked him (which he has not mentioned even though he’s pretty sure that would get him out of the doghouse), but eh, it could be worse.

“You should apologize,” Sypha says. “You’re lucky you’re getting breakfast.”

“I’m injured,” Trevor says, still completely unapologetic. Alucard hovers the bowl in front of him like a boy teasing a dog, jerking it out of Trevor’s reach when he lunges for it. “And you wouldn’t- ungh!- wake up, you bloody bastard! Give it here!”

“You could have tried…“ He jerks it up again, watching Trevor with an expression of cool, disdainful amusement. He’s still sore over the (very) temporary black eye, clearly. “…waking me up in the normal fashion- calling my name, for example.”

Honestly,” Sypha snaps, grabbing the bowl and kicking Trevor’s legs out from under him so he flops ass-first onto the kitchen bench with an ‘ow!’, “I wasn’t just referring to Trevor!”

“You know, I am actually in a lot of pain, and being kicked in my legs constantly isn’t helping.”

Alucard snatches the bowl back from Sypha, raises an eyebrow to her, and serves it to Trevor with aplomb. Sypha raises an eyebrow back, then turns to Trevor, abruptly solicitous once more.

“Do you need a pain killer? I think I can make a medicinal drink if I go foraging- the woods aren’t terribly far off, and-“

“You are not-“ Trevor points at her with his spoon, feeling a dim blossom of horror spread through him, “walking alone into the woods while Baba Yaga is on the prowl putting us through Hell knows what trials.”

Alucard and Sypha stare at him in flummoxed silence. Sypha has a spoonful of eggy porridge halfway up, and Alucard is frozen in the act of checking the water jug to see if the next batch of snow has melted yet. They look at each other, then Trevor, who is looking back at them grimly.

“And yet that’s precisely what you did last night,” says Alucard slowly, as if talking to a very stubborn but very lovable donkey.

“That’s different,” Trevor shoots back.

“Really.” Sypha looks doubtful. She’s still wearing her sleep shirt with loosened laces- Trevor isn’t sure if she knows that he can see most of her breasts through them if he looks. He’s trying not to.

“How so?” Alucard asks, sitting himself down on the third bench, a bowl with a much smaller portion of breakfast in his hands. He still has an egg on top, though. Interesting.

“Because I went out to drink, not gather ingredients.

The silence turns scathing.

“So your excuse is….” Sypha chews, swallows, and squints so hard she looks hung over, “that you are an idiot?”

“Yes,” Trevor replies as regally as he can manage, “that is exactly my defense. Don’t follow in my illustrious footsteps, since there’s really only room in this world for one Trevor Belmont.”

“At least he’s got that much right,” Alucard mutters into his bowl, which prompts another spirited round of bickering. Sypha joins in this time.

 

 

 

Sypha can heal his arm, it turns out, but she’ll need a day or two to rest. She drew heavily on Alucard as a reservoir last night, and they’re both exhausted from the effort. Trevor has the good sense to be embarrassed, and offers to do a great deal of household tasks in compensation that are immediately shot down because his arm is still broken and he can’t actually walk too well by himself.

So that’s how he ends up sitting on the windowsill from the upstairs, watching Alucard dig the house out and Sypha melt them an arena with her magic. It feels lousy to be perched there watching them work, like some kind of invalid. Technically he is an invalid, at least for now, and technically he’s actually keeping watch, but Trevor has the bad feeling that Baba Yaga is a nighttime-fun event only, and the worse feeling that Sypha and Alucard think so too, meaning he’s basically a windowsill-warmer.

“-a few rounds of practice! And after, we’ll change your bandages.” Alucard kicks at the snow. They got a few feet last night, unseasonably. It’s melting, but not terribly fast. The skies are clear now, but all three of them can smell the sharpness in the air- the sun is nice but not here to stay.

“Ugh.”

“Don’t complain. It’s unbecoming.” Alucard beats at the snow with a broom for a little more before giving up.

Sypha wipes her brow, sweating despite the chill.

“Okay, I think we’re ready.”

Alucard turns and inspects the area she’s cleared. He obviously finds it suitable, because he draws his sword with his spooky vampire woo powers and nods to Sypha.

Trevor and he have sparred plenty of times since they started on the road. It isn’t that Sypha has avoided getting into it, specifically, but, … huh. Now that he thinks about it, maybe Sypha has been avoiding it. Weird. She sure seems to like watching…

“Trevor,” Sypha says, leaning over him. She has a hand on his chest.

“Mmmnwoah, you mastered teleportation?” Trevor slurs, brain working to catch up. “Nice work.”

“You fell out the window, though hopefully the snow cushioned you,” Alucard tells him from somewhere to the side. “Do you have any new injures, that you can tell?”

“I’m all good, really,” he insists. “Though I would like to stand up, thanks. A little room?” Sypha tucks herself under his good arm and lifts. She’s sweaty and has a small cut on her face, her curls sticking to her neck and face. Her Speaker robes are radiating heat- she’s been working hard out here. They must have been going for a while before he fell. “I don’t need help to get up, thanks.” Actually, he does, but a man has his pride. Sypha stays silent, features pale and young-looking under the weight of anxiety. The air is crisp, the snow cold and wet under his socks. There are some holes burned in the snow, revealing churned mud below.

Alucard takes Trevor from Sypha, gives him a glare when the hunter growls at him. He steers them into the house, allowing Trevor to pause to wipe his feet off a little on the entranceway.

“So who won?” Trevor tries to keep his tone light, trying to shake Sypha out of her brooding.

“Nobody, because that isn’t how practice works,” Alucard sighs, rolling his eyes. He makes to lay Trevor down on the straw mattress still in the kitchen, but Trevor fights him. “You need to lie down, and rest. Why are you like this?”

“It’s how we’re made, Belmonts,” Trevor sasses back, freeing himself to sit down on the bench and thump his chest one-handed. “It’s one of my many redeeming traits. A little booze, a little brawl, and I’m all good.” His shoulder and arm hurt still, and his legs are feeling less stable than they were before. To be fair, he feels like he’s borne his injuries thus far with relatively good grace. Sure, it’s been less than a day, but he can already feel impatience scraping down his spine. He’s not used to staying put, even when he is injured. Staying put means staying close to whatever, or whoever, he’s pissed off, which sometimes includes entire townships. He’s not used to doing much more than going on his way, falling through life and trying not to get hit by the debris he’s pulled down after him.

If he’s honest, he isn’t sure how to deal with the fact that Alucard and Sypha have been pulled in as debris in this case. They’re stuck looking after him because he did something spectacularly stupid. They’re stuck here- if he hadn’t gone and broken a few bones and gotten chewed up, they could at least be trying to run for it, get out of Baba Yaga’s hands, or be trying to hunt her down and trick their way out of her grasp. They’d probably have failed, but they could have at least tried. They could have left him, but instead they’re pinned down watching after him.

They should have left him. Screw the prophecy- or, at least, they could well likely find another hunter, and if they managed their bigger task, they could just say it was him. Nobody else would know the difference. The Belmont line, continued, in a sense. No need for it to actually be a Belmont proper.

Sypha is still brooding, but she’s closed her eyes and is counting something on her fingers.

“Stubborn,” Alucard breathes. His tone is soft, gentle, which prompts Trevor to glance up at him suspiciously. It’s so at odds with Trevor’s own line of thought that he can’t help but get his back up. “You don’t have to push yourself so hard. You won’t recover if you keep tormenting yourself this way.”

“I see you’ve forgiven me for the black eye this morning,” Trevor shoots back. Alucard’s mouth twists down for a moment, but eventually he tips his head and crouches in front of Trevor.

“You seem to be having a hard time getting past that yourself.”

Hey. Wait a second. “That’s just-“

“I think you took it harder than I did.”

“Now hold on-“ Alucard’s showing his teeth a little in a faint grin, tilting his head as if he’s about to tell a great joke (unlikely).

“If you-“

“I need to go into the forest.” Sypha bursts out.

Trevor’s head whips around.

No.”

Alucard stands up, looking similarly unamused.

“Trevor is correct for once, Sypha. What madness has seized you?”

“I need supplies to make a healing tonic.”

Trevor scoffs. “You said that in a day or so you could patch me up all the way. No need to go sticking your neck out.”

Sypha throws her hands up. “I can mend your arm, Trevor, but I cannot fix the rest of it no matter how rested I am! Magic doesn’t work that way!”

“What rest of it?” He’s momentarily thrown for a loop. “The rest of it will just mend on its own, Sypha. We don’t need you to- to-“ Alucard and Sypha stare at him expectantly. Finally he shrugs, looks away, and says, “to uh, to put yourself at risk.”

“You are falling ill.”

“I fell out a window, I’m not coming down with consumption.”

“I certainly hope not,” Alucard mutters, looking alarmed. “We don’t have any antibiotics.” Sypha looks like she’s about to ask what the hell that is, but shakes herself out of it and goes on.

“He has a fever. He is weak, and despite finally getting some real nutrition, he fails to recover.”

He is right here and can hear what you’re saying.” Trevor gestures at himself. Sypha turns to him, face stern.

“I know this is a foreign concept for you, but people are supposed to look after one another! You cannot possibly continue to insist that you are in perfectly fine health. Stop this. You’re not helping anything by playing the- the- the big tough man! The best thing you can do right now is rest and let us take care of you!

“How the hell am I supposed to feel okay with that when you look like you got dragged down the main alleyway of Gresit by wild horses after a light morning spar?!” Sypha flinches back, raising a self-conscious hand to her hair. Trevor keeps going, but that image burns itself into his head. “How can I possibly rest easy when neither of you even knew what we were walking into until the snare snapped shut on us!? I have pretty fucking good reason to not want to sleep the day away like a peaceful babe, Sypha!” Frustration roils in Trevor, but he clenches his teeth before he can spit out anything he regrets. Sypha’s expression turns fierce once more.

“Maybe if you did, you’d actually be recovering!”

“I think I’ll decline, thanks. Peaceful babes have a bad habit of turning up dead in the cradle these days, don’t you know.”

“To be fair,” Alucard insinuates himself smoothly into the conversation as Sypha bristles, “neither of you are wrong. Trevor is correct- we are in a vulnerable position that doesn’t easily lend itself to a swift, confident recovery, and he hasn’t had much time to mend regardless.”

“He is getting worse, Alucard, and-“

“And I was raised by scientists, Sypha, and yes, I recognize that he is in fact falling ill. You are also correct- something must be done, unless we plan on losing more time, and.” He cuts himself off, shaking his head.

“I’m not getting sick,” Trevor insists. Sypha walks up to him and smacks a hand on his forehead.

“You are hot to the touch, and you passed out and fell out a window.” Trevor tries to lean back from her hand, but the table meets his back before he expects it to. She isn’t wrong, probably: her hand feels deliciously cool on his skin. “I am going into the forest, and I am getting the herbs I need, and Alucard will stay here with you.” She fluffs her robes.

“No,” says Alucard. He gives Trevor a worried look, but continues to Sypha, sternly: “Trevor is best served by your being safe.”

….. uhhhh. He’s not wrong, but…. “Now hang on,” he tries.

Sypha rears up, pointing at Alucard.

“You need to help him change his bandages, unless you also have an interest in him getting an infection.”

“I’m uh, against that, but, actually, both of those things, so if you could both-“

“I cannot allow you to place yourself at risk. Trevor will be fine alone.”

“He fell out a window.” Sypha’s tone is getting very flat very fast.

“Then we can leave him not on a window when we go.” Alucard, by contrast, sounds very reasonable and pleasant. His eyes are going sleepy, though, which means (in Trevor’s experience) that he’s rapidly losing his temper.

“It will be full daylight.”

“I wasn’t aware that Baba Yaga was a full-blooded vampire. In truth, we have no evidence one way or another that she won’t approach in the sun.”

“Generally, that is how monsters and the like work,” Sypha flares, shoulders popping up. She looks like she’s about to start yelling again. So does Alucard.

“Hang on.” Trevor stands up. He can’t shake Sypha’s expression, that little touch to her hair. “Sypha should go alone.”

 

 

 

They argue a little more, but with Trevor and Sypha on the same side, there isn’t much Alucard can do. He stands in the doorway as she pulls on her boots and watches her with as close to a kicked-puppy expression as he can pull off with aristocratic grace oozing from every pore.

Trevor watches her go a little more philosophically, contemplating the determination set across her shoulders like a line of armor.

“Please be careful,” Alucard begs, drawing her into his arms. Sypha glances to Trevor, who shrugs and looks away, then melts into his embrace.

 It doesn’t hurt the way it did last night, but it doesn’t make him feel any fuzzier, that’s for sure. There’s no reason to allow jealousy to take root- it’s a normal thing in life. Some people have things you don’t- family, power, pigs. Intimate relationships. That’s fine. Trevor is used to it. He squints into the sun as it comes in the kitchen window, trying to give them privacy, trying not to catch that Alucard kisses her on the mouth before letting her free again.

Then Sypha is stepping up to him and leaning down, and what the hell is going on, because she’s sweeping his hair aside and giving him a little smooch on his gross sweaty forehead.

“Don’t bicker while I’m out. I will return very soon.”

Trevor narrows his eyes and points a finger at her. “If you hear any strange noises in the underbrush, come back right away.”

“Is Baba Yaga a boar, then?” Sypha brushes her hair behind an ear.

“Nooo,” Trevor draws out, eyes darting from Alucard to Sypha and back again. “Or, I don’t know. Maybe she could be! It’s solid advice anyway.” She laughs. The sound makes Trevor- it- it makes him happy, he guesses. It makes him happier than he probably has a right to feel.

“All right. Please rest. And, Alucard, please take good care of him.”

“I will do my best,” or so he says, but Trevor has a bad feeling about the way that Alucard is eyeing him.

She’s mostly out the door with a basket they scrounged up on her arm before Trevor screws up his nerve to ask her something.

“Sypha- eh…. Do you mind if… when you come back, do you want a haircut?”

(Long loose hair matted with ash, caked and sticky with burned blood. It fell off and clung to his hands like animal fur when he touched her.)

Sypha combs her fingers through her hair thoughtfully, tipping her head. She casts a look over Trevor, then Alucard. Up and down, up again- just like the other night. Alucard fluffs his own mane as he looks Trevor over.

“I think we all could do with one. Do you think you could draw a bath? I saw a tub upstairs. I can heat the water when I come back.” Sypha looks beseechingly at the two of them.

“I think we can manage that,” Alucard replies.

“… Hm. I think I’m a little excited.” She winks at them, a girlish, outsized gesture that sends her curls bouncing, and then she’s gone.

 

 

 

The second the sound of her footsteps is far away enough for comfort, Alucard rounds on Trevor.

“What in the hell was that? Did you want to talk to me so urgently that you were willing to risk her life?” He’s practically spitting.

Trevor stretches his legs, giving the vampire looming over him a smug look.

“Why, whatever would I want to talk to you so badly about?”

Alucard gives a low cry of outrage and lunges forward, sinking his nails into the table behind him. He’s forever being boxed in by this asshole, isn’t he?

Like this, they’re entirely too close. Alucard’s furious, teeth bared, eyes bleeding red around the edges. Trevor eyes his whip, curled next to him, but in a gesture of goodwill leaves it where it is. If Alucard is angry because he’s worried about Sypha, he can’t really fault him. Plus…. He fell out a window today. There’s very little chance he can fight off the son of Dracula right now.

“About our liasons,” he growls, voice pitching even lower, until it vibrates in Trevor’s bones. “Do you have to be so petty as to place her in danger simply to tell me something I already know?! She approached me. Perhaps a Belmont,” he sneers the word, “would be a stronger man, but I am not.

Trevor is gobsmacked.

“Oh,” he blinks, “uh. No. That’s…. really not where I. Huh. Where I was going. That’s…. your business, I really. Huh.”

Alucard narrows his eyes at him, still metaphorically breathing fire. “Explain.”

“I was just thinking that….” Her hesitance to join in their practices, that motion of bashfulness when he called out her exhaustion, the way she’s looked at them in the past as they fought, brimming with admiration, with excitement... it all leads Trevor to one particular thought. “I was just thinking that she might need to feel like she’s being trusted with her share of things.”

Trevor watches Alucard carefully, maintaining his casual, easy posture. He hasn’t misjudged- Alucard tips his head, thoughtfulness replacing rage. His nails ease, and his fingers come to rest on the wood, instead of turning it into a glorified scrap of kindling. He tilts his head, hair pooling on the bench near Trevor’s thighs.

“… She is still in danger.”

“Not if you go after her and keep an eye on her from a distance.” Trevor gives him a sly, cocky smile. “Just make sure you don’t get seen.”

“It seems… dishonest.”

“Oh, yeah, it definitely is.” Alucard tosses him a disgusted look, which Trevor only responds to with a waggle of the eyebrows. “Pretty rude, and downright counterproductive if she catches you.”

“You’re terrible, truly,” says Alucard, but he starts to smile a little.

 

 

 

He changes Trevor’s bandages first. The scrapes on his legs still radiate pain, but less than the night before: “The curse is fading, I would think. I’ll have Sypha look at it tonight, just in case.” His hands are still raw, but doing better. His arm and shoulder…. Eh, less the said the better. Alucard re-checks the splint, re-ties it to his chest, and makes him promise to leave it be.

Through it all, his hands are steady, sure, and swift. It’s a dead giveaway that his mother was a doctor, and his father…. To be honest, Trevor still isn’t sure how to sit with that knowledge, that Dracula knows enough to have taught Alucard and his mother this weird, far-off knowledge of healing. Vampires- pure ones, anyway- have no need of splints and sterilization and clean bandages. But there’s Alucard, wrapping him up neatly like a present, and Trevor, not leaking pus everywhere. Nifty.

Here’s where it gets weird: Alucard turns into a wolf.

 

 

 

“Woah,” is really all he can muster. Alucard ticks his tail once, licking at his chops. “Can you…. Understand me, like that?”

The wolf whines.

To be honest, it’s been such a long time since he’s seen a wolf that he’d forgotten how big they are. As deer and other larger game had started to flee the land, so too had their eternal pursuers, the wolves. At first the country villages had been grateful of their departure, until the reason behind it started to become clear.

Alucard is probably of average size, but he still comes up to Trevor’s chest when he’s standing. Like this, with him sitting down, he towers over Trevor with ease. The wolf has a handsome golden-white ruff and dapples of black on his heels, with clever golden eyes. His ears, muzzle, and spine are touched with that shimmering gold color as well.

He makes a beautiful wolf, Trevor will give him that.

“I guess you want me to open the door for you.” Alucard nudges him back on the straw mattress, drags up the red and black quilt with his teeth and does his lupine best to tuck Trevor in. Sadly, wolves aren’t made for the life domestic, so all he manages to do is get one edge wet and put a tiny hole in another corner. “All right, all right. Stop stepping on me and go find Sypha and leave me the hell alone.”

He pulls the door open easily, which is, hell, eerie to see, and trots out merrily.

Trevor flops down with a sigh, adjusting the quilt.

There’s a noise.

He bolts upright, whip curled in his off hand.

Alucard flattens his ears back, baring his teeth in what he sure hopes is a conciliatory gesture.

“Get the hell out of here, you nervous bastard.”

 

 

 

He rests fitfully at first, fighting against true sleep, but each time that he wakes up to a noise that turns out to be nothing, it makes him less alert. It’s foolish of him, he knows, but finally exhaustion wins out, and he passes out completely.

 

 

 

Trevor opens his eyes blearily. Based on the light, the sun is setting. It’s hard to tell because the damned house is cursedly silent at the best of times, but he… thinks? Nobody’s come back. A glance at the hearth confirms it: all the logs are where they were when he fell asleep, the fire a low pile of embers.

Fuck.

First things first, he has to get the fire up. He tries to stand but shakes halfway up, shivers running up his spine and settling in his shoulders, so he settles for crawling over and tossing the logs in that way. That feels exhausting too, leaves him as winded as running from a hoard of demons.

“How far the great have fallen,” he sighs, pulling the quilt around his shoulders.

He hears a sympathetic hum of agreement from somewhere behind him. Cold nips at his ankles, creeps up the slices on his legs like the cuts are rungs on a ladder.

Oh. Oh fuck.

“It is hard, these days,” says a voice, gravelly and rough, old and cold as the earth itself. “The good times, they don’t come.”

He doesn’t know what to do. There’s absolutely zero chance of him winning in a fight against Baba Yaga, not with him having to crawl to put wood on the fire.

“There’s no such thing as endless night,” Trevor chokes out, sounding much more sure of himself than he feels. “What can we do but endure?”

Baba Yaga gives a tired groan, the sound like a mountain shedding a layer of rock.

“Young boy, bring your grandmother a drink of water.”

“I- I’m not in…. the best of health, right now, grandmother. Please forgive me if I spill.” Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Another sympathetic hum. Something is… moving, above him, and just out of sight. Jesus Christ and the Father Almighty.

He struggles to his feet, wobbling like a weak fawn destined to be killed by the cold, and staggers to fetch an immortal being a cup of water. Using his chest to support the pitcher as he pours feels reminiscent of when he was younger- he stayed small for longer than some of the other boys, didn’t start to shoot up and fill out until later in his teenage years. It feels nostalgic.

“Hurry up, boy. An old woman can only wait for so long.”

“All right,” he grouses before he catches himself and changes his tone back to neutral respect. “I have it here for you.”

“Good. Bring it to me and sit at my feet.”

Fuck him.

He nods, not trusting himself to speak, and shuffles over towards where the voice is coming from. He can feel more than see the motion of whatever is happening on the ceiling, and, as he turns around, he can see that the door has fallen opened and the snow has started to fall again. There’s a little pile of it on the threshold. Alucard probably didn’t latch the door when he left, being a fucking wolf.

“Here you are, grandmother.” He holds the cup out with both hands, keeping his gaze averted. That old, content chuckle comes again.

“Come closer, boy. Rest your head on the bench here and your grandmother will hear your tale.”

Trevor shuffles nearer, gaze fixed on the groun, catches sight of the bend of one rail-thin knee, a thick red woolen skirt with a skull-patterned blue apron draped over. A hand, just a skeleton with sun-goldened knobby flesh wrapped over it, enters his field of vision, groping for the cup. It grabs around his wrist and gives a little jerking pull.

“That’s my wrist, grandmother,” he says, instead of, ‘I recognize those nails,’ because it isn’t nice to comment on the enormous flat-ended talons that are long as his hands are.

“Oh, my mistake. Come sit. Come and sit and talk.” She readjusts her grip, now on his hand.

“That’s my hand, grandmother.” He doesn’t know what will happen, but his gut tells him he’d better be damned sure of what he gives her before he releases it to her.

“Oh, goodness, it is hard to grow old. Sit down and lay your head down, young boy. Speak with me.”

“Hold out your hands, grandmother. I’ll settle the cup in them for you.”

“Ahhhh. What a good boy you are to an old woman.”

Another hand slides into his field of vision. The claws are even longer on this one, and there are callouses rising in thick ridges along the palms, as jagged as mountain forests. As he goes to put the mug in between the two hands, he realizes with a hot flash of horror that each hand has two thumbs, black and twisted in strange places. He clamps down on the emotion- clamps down on any emotion- and presses the stoneware into her steel trap hands.

“There, grandmother. The water is fresh from the snow.”

“Not good well water?” She sounds put out, and the hands freeze, having been drawing the cup up to where that motion, that nausea-inducing strange undulation is occurring.

“The wells can’t be trusted these days. Bodies and sickness and filth,” he says, dropping onto the ground near that fearsome knee.

“Oh my,” Baba Yaga coos, and raises the mug up.

“Have you seen my friends, grandmother?” Trevor feels a clench of fear at the question, but he has to know. He has to. There’s no point to scraping through this if… no. He can’t even finish that thought.

“They’re on their way here,” says that voice, sighing like the wind over the fields in fall after the harvest. “What are you three up to, anyway, lighting your fires in this hearth?”

Trevor looks out the door helplessly at setting sun. The snow is falling heavily again, though the wind hasn’t picked up yet. The faint smear of orange over the hills is strange to see through thick flakes of snow- usually when it’s falling that thickly, the clouds press out all visible light.

“We’re going to kill Dracula.”

Baba Yaga snorts.

“My goodness. What a trio of fools.”

“It’s that or leave the country to endless night,” Trevor sighs, resting his head against the bench and closing his eyes. He’s so tired- physically, but of all this shit too. He hears the shift of wood- it sounds like she’s leaning over to peer down at him, but the sound keeps going well beyond what it should be. Scraping from the rafters makes him want to open his eyes and look, but…. Ugh. His shoulder throbs. No, no. He’d better just stay here, where she told him to stay.

“So you won’t just endure,” Baba Yaga chortles. An obscene slurping comes from above him.

“We can’t, not Dracula. I can’t.”

“Is it for them? Your little friends? All you little ones look so young to me. Ah, ah. That’s good stuff.”

“I…” To be honest, he doesn’t know. He’s never thought of it that way. “I suppose it is, in a way. But it’s… more for….” For his country. For his country, which took everything he loved and burned it to the ground and spat on it, and set him to wander the earth like some kind of cursed descendent of Cain. For his country, despite all of that. Perhaps because of it- there’s a burning in him to restore the Belmont house, to make his people and his land know the Belmont name again, to call it as a benediction, to raise the name in praise. To regret the evils they visited upon his sisters, his mother, his father. To lament the harm done.

To lament the harm they’ve all done to each other. To recover, and have harvests and festivals again. To have home again. To help his home.

To help.

The realization of his motive stings. He doesn’t know why, precisely it does- maybe it’s because he’s spent so much time growing armor, so much time scabbing over deep wounds, so much time cringing from kindness and anticipating harm, and being right each time of the danger. It feels terrifying to nurture a hope that…. straightforward, a hope that honest. It feels harmful to keep something that precious in him.

“Oh my,” Baba Yaga says, startling Trevor out of his reverie. “I didn’t think they made them like you anymore, you brave idiot.”

“I have to try,” he says, miserably, aching. “I can’t just give up.”

“No indeed,” she confirms. “No, indeed.” Another extended slurp. Another. A droplet of water lands on his face, surprising him. His eyes jerk open, and as if drawn by a string, he turns his head and looks up.

Terror freezes him. There are those luminous orbs again- eyes of some kind, reflective in the sunset like a mirror. Something dark and rattling is barely detectable under the silver veneer, something that Trevor knows he has to look away from before madness slides him away from his goal, forever. He can’t make sense of the body he sees- there are colors that shouldn’t be there, layers of skirts in directions he can’t understand, miles and inches and curls of arms and legs and bony joints, and that undulating thing that he still doesn’t look at, that writhing glob of endless flesh between those two orbs.

He stutters, eyes going wide, feeling his mind starting to crack like a nut. The orbs draw closer, and one hand spreads, spider-like, grabbing straight for his face.

The darkness closes in as the claws tighten on the back of his head.

“What a beautiful boy,” Baba Yaga croons, as Trevor sways and then collapses. Arms from too many directions catch him, support him, lay him back. Their cold touch makes him shiver. “What a beautiful young boy.”

Chapter Text


 

 

“-hope that nothing has… oh. Oh no. Trevor!” He jerks. “Trevor!!” Another shudder. “Get him down from there!” A woman’s voice. She sounds shrill, terrified. He can’t feel much of anything, his world dark and closed around him.

There’s a noise like a knife on wood, and then suddenly he’s falling. He can’t even bring himself to feel worried about that. He’s so tired. He’s so, so tired.

Somebody catches him, grunting with the effort, lays him down prone.

Trevor!” He lies still where he is, trying to remember. “Wait- is he-?”

“I can’t tell,” comes a male voice, one wrung tight with fear.

“Talk to me, Trevor. Talk to me. –Come, here, bring him inside- god, this is exactly what I was- god!” The woman’s voice stutters into tears. “Why couldn’t you have just kept watch over him like I wanted you to!?

“He said-” comes the male voice again, but Trevor can’t place who that could be.

I don’t care.” Heat blossoms on his face. He can feel hands, hair, lips. Wetness. She’s still crying. “Trevor, please, say something, can you hear me? Trevor. Trevor.” She shakes him a little, fingers plucking at his chest, tone a hair away from begging.

“Esthe,” he whispers. To breathe- agony. To speak- agony. “Esthe. Don’t cry.” Knowing that Esthe is crying over him? No, no. He can’t bear that. He can’t bear that.

“I’m- Trevor-“ she sounds confused.

“Don’t cry,” he tries, once more, before he falls back into darkness.

 

 

 

Trevor wakes but doesn’t stir, trying to place where he is, what’s happened. He can feel the now-familiar press of mattress under him, the light warmth of the quilt over him. It must be blackest midnight, because as he slides his eyes opened there’s nothing, only the faintest blur of shapes in the dark.

His arm hurts again- what’s new? His legs and ankles hurt in new and fun ways too, but nothing he feels terribly alarmed about. His spine aches and his face hurts and his body feels weak, fragile, but all said, he’s gone through worse without being grabbed on the face by an immortal legend of untold power. The pain is there, but at an arm’s length, as if it’s a wolf sleeping at his feet. Well, well. He’ll have to brag to Sypha in the morning, just to try to cheer her up a little. Or annoy her.

…. Oooh. Yikes. He’s not sure what shape she found him in, but he’s pretty sure he can remember Alucard getting a tongue-lashing because of it. Ugh. He’ll…. Try to smooth that one over. That was his fault. Stupid of him. It seems to be a trend, lately. (Who’s he fooling? He’s never made a smart move in his life, outside of battle.)

A hand slides down his hair, nails scratching pleasantly at his scalp. Trevor huffs out a soft breath, melting into the touch. Huh. He’s… he’s got his head in somebody’s lap, doesn’t he?

“Are you awake?” Alucard. Ah. Is he…. Lying in Alucard’s lap? Seriously?

“Yeah,” he sighs, shifting to feel where he is a little better. He’s curled on his side, bad arm up, legs and good arm tangled with somebody that feels slim and soft and small. Sypha, he presumes.

“Thank god,” Sypha breathes, surging up from her place at his side, coming in close and kissing him on his face, his jaw, his forehead, his throat, his hair- anywhere she can reach. All the time, her hands are on him, petting and smoothing and caressing. It’s like she’s trying to drown him in her attentions.

It’s. It’s a little much.

“Woah,” he tries to interrupt, but she just kisses his cheekbones, kisses his eyes, kisses his hand when he brings it up to try to fend her off.

“Sorry,” she says tremulously, clutching at his bandaged hand with both of hers.

“I am also relieved that you…” Alucard falls silent. There’s a long pause. He resumes stroking Trevor’s hair. This is, like being kissed everywhere by Sypha, weird, but also nice. Ugh. Weirdbad again. “I made a choice, and I chose wrongly. You paid the price. I can only apologize.”

“I’m not dead, thanks. It’s fine.” Sypha and Alucard remain silent. “… Don’t just leave me hanging here.” More silence. Trevor fights down a violent flare of adrenaline that leaves his heart thundering and his body vibrating with the need to move. “What?”

He tries to grope for his whip in the dark, only finds Sypha’s hands. She grabs at him, fingers smoothing over his bandaged knuckles. He can’t tell, just by pressure, if that’s actually her hand or if it’s a set of talons, a clenching manacle with a set of dead-black double-thumbs. He can’t tell, just by motion, if Alucard, who has moved a hand to gently but firmly pin him to his back, is there at all, or is just a madness cast by the light of two glistening, moon-silver orbs. He squints in the dark, catches sight of a faint motion just out of sight, a wriggling thing

NO!”

He bolts to his feet, throwing off the hands on him. He can’t move very fast, not even as fast as he did before Alucard left, but god help him he’ll try. He’s scrabbling for a window when the hands catch him, dragging him backwards, forcing him onto his side on the ground, laid out flat like a sheep ready for shearing. He kicks, tries to bite, screaming like a dying dog the whole way, but the hands are stronger than him, and he can only get so much motion out of his body, broken-down and tired as it is. Something hard and lean folds over him, pinning him more firmly than before. He moans, chest heaving, still struggling.

“Trevor, Trevor, please, please-!” it sounds like Sypha, but he can’t see her, can’t trust her, can’t, can’t. A body flings itself on him, warm and soft and alive, and arms close around his neck. “Please know that it’s us, Trevor. Please trust us. Please. Know us.”

He stays still. His body shudders violently. His heart feels like it’s about to beat straight out of his chest, flutter up and vanish to the skies above.

“Trevor,” Alucard says. “Forgive me.” There’s so much guilt, so much heavy, burdened regret, in his voice.

“Why don’t you stoke the fire up,” Trevor chokes out. “What are you so afraid of me seeing?”

Oh,” Sypha says, and Alucard curses, and suddenly Trevor just knows.

 

 

 

“Sorry about that,” he says, feeling meek after his violent bid for freedom. Sypha runs a hand down his arm- she’s even more touchy now, probably half because she’s still worried, half because he’s suddenly unable to see most of anything. “I uh, just. You know, wanted to make sure.”

“Of course,” Alucard agrees. He at least seems to be in good spirits. “I have to say, if that’s how hard you fight when you’re on your last legs of health, we may be in better shape for approaching my father than I anticipated.”

“Huh?” Trevor thinks for a second. A wicked grin blooms on his face. “Wait… did I give you another black eye?”

“Of course not,” Alucard grouses, at the same time that Sypha says, flatly, “Yes,” from her new place at Trevor’s side.

“You don’t seem too worried,” Sypha picks up, and though he can’t see shit right now, he’d bet money he doesn’t have that she’s looking him up and down again.

“Could be worse,” Trevor agrees. “And anyway… what am I supposed to do? Either it goes away, or it doesn’t. Not much I can do about it.”

“No,” Alucard agrees, tone dipping into sadness again.

“But you….”

“What, do you want me to go wandering around in the storm to drink some more whiskey?” He means it as a joke, means it to poke fun at himself, to redirect her into feeling irritated at him. Instead, Sypha lies her head on his shoulder, wrapping herself around him as best she can.

“Please, Trevor. Please take better care of yourself. We need you.”

Hell if that doesn’t stick him where it hurts. Trevor squirms, hemming and hawing.

“Promise me,” Sypha begs, her breath pooling warmth through his sleep shirt. It feels like a different one than he’d been wearing- this one has laces, is shorter by quite a bit. It might actually be one of Sypha’s spares, which feels like it should be sort of humiliating. Eh. It’s softer than the first one he had. Hard to feel embarrassment when he’s tucked into the softest nightshirt he’s ever worn.

“Alucard- a little help here?” He can’t promise her what she wants. He never could, as a Belmont, and he especially can’t now they’re chasing Dracula’s tail.

“… Perhaps a little space, Sypha.” She makes a noise and refuses to let go. Alucard sounds wheedling: “I’ll draw you a bath.”

“Who can resist a bath,” Trevor says, bouncing his arm where she’s latched on to him. “Or, I mean, I can, but you seemed pretty excited about it earlier today.”

“You are having one as well,” Sypha insists, though she starts to disentangle herself from him. Trevor takes one mental poke at the snare of regret and relief that brings him, then decides to leave it well enough alone.

“I don’t know,” he says, listening to Alucard pacing around them to open the door. Sounds like he’s collecting more water for the pitcher, based on the crunching of his steps and then the faint wet squeak of compressed snow. “Might uh…. Do something. Something bad.”

“Oh yes, heaven forbid you are clean for once,” Sypha tsks, fully detaching from him to stand. He’s getting better at understanding what he hears, is getting a better sense of the sound of the house around him. “People wouldn’t pass out in shock at the merest whiff of your stench, what a tragedy.”

“You joke, but one of these days, my earthy, masculine scent will save the day, Sypha. Just you wait.”

“Earthy? Masculine? It is a little more than that,” she shoots back. “It is offensive.”

“You are more than welcome to not bury your face in my ripping, heroic chest if that’s how you feel.” She smacks him on the back of his head, lightly. She’s laughing. Trevor feels a weight lift off his shoulders and smiles in what he hopes is her direction.

“Hmm,” she says, touching his face. Her fingers are very soft as they slide down from his cheek to his jaw. “Hmmmm.”

Alucard comes back. Trevor listens for, and hears: the door shut, the latch catch, the lock turn.

 

 

 

Alucard reveals his greatest secret: a self-filling bath upstairs, in the other room Trevor hasn’t seen yet. He spends some time fussing about the pipes, and frankly Trevor zones out when he starts going on about the implications of the force of the flow in relation to water pressure. Sypha interrupts him by turning one of the levers, and damn if Trevor doesn’t regret not being able to see her expression- she whoops and claps her hands, sweeping Trevor up into an extremely compact dance that he rapidly loses track of. He just ends up swaying on the spot while she shimmies and turns.

“How incredible!” She leads him to the chair by the door tenderly. He resents the softness of her guidance but doesn’t say anything. It won’t help.

“It is…. Convenient,” Alucard allows. Trevor can feel the billows of steam coming out from the water, which is impressive. He feels along the smooth, cool edge of the bath, too. He tries not to give the impression that he wants to see what this thing is, how it works. (He does.)

“It fills up so quickly! It will be ready in just a few minutes!”

“I think we can be excused for using fresh water for each bath,” Alucard says, and Trevor’s eyebrows go up.

“Hang on,” he starts to protest.

“Out,” Sypha says, firmly.

 

 

 

They’re going down the stairs, following the landing, when Alucard stops. Since he’s acting as a Trevor’s guide, he has to stagger to a stop too, grumbling.

“Wait,” says the vampire.

“I can’t do a hell of a lot else, but thanks,” Trevor grumbles.

“Trevor,” Alucard says, and there’s that regret again, that pain and grief and sadness.

“Come on,” Trevor says, holding up his hand as if he can physically fend off whatever’s about to be said.

“I failed you.”

“I can take care of myself,” he replies, but it sounds weak even to his own ears.

“I apologize.”

“You already did.” There’s a puzzled pause. Alucard steps forward, and Trevor hates that it means he’s crowded into the corner of the landing.

“Just like that?”

“Look,” Trevor says, pushing back at Alucard when his back hits the wall. Alucard doesn’t move. He has the feeling that Alucard is inspecting him- blinded or not, he can feel the intensity of that snake-sharp gaze. “I’m sure Sypha had some things to say about what we did.”

“’We’?”

“Yeah,” Trevor says firmly. “But here’s the thing: I’d much rather be the one dealing with this crap than her. I just…. I can make it through. I’ll. Figure it out. I’m used to this sort of stuff. But if she had been the one that Baba Yaga got a hold of…” He doesn’t even want to follow that thought through. “Anyway, I thought you weren’t even going to show yourself, you idiot. What was it? Couldn’t resist showing off your sparkly little fur?”

“There was a boar,” Alucard intones steadily, clearly trying not to throttle Trevor. Trevor makes an impressed noise.

“Really? Did you kill it? I haven’t had fresh meat in ages.”

“Er….” Alucard holds suspiciously still. “Well…. I leapt out to defend her, but…”

“But what?” Trevor pushes against Alucard, but all that does is make the vampire sway closer to him, pin him more tightly to the wall. Goddamned obstinate, that’s what he is.

“…. She was fine. She chased off the boar with no need of my help. Actually….” He huffs, the sound suspiciously wolfish. “I may have. Been injured.”

“By a boar?” Trevor can’t keep the skepticism from his voice.

“Yes,” sighs Alucard. Trevor soaks that in.

“You idiot,” he chuckles, slumping forward to rest his forehead on Alucard’s shoulder. “So you got caught by her for no reason. You noble fool. I’m still glad you were with her.”

“I’m fine, thank you,” Alucard tells him stiffly.

“Of course you are. You’re the son of Dracula, aren’t you?”

“That’s right,” Alucard returns with unexpected ferocity. His hands slide up to Trevor’s chest, pressing him back from where he’d been leaning on the vampire. Trevor can feel his breath on his cheek. “I am. And I could have stayed by your side and defended you, but I didn’t.”

“I asked you to go.”

“When did you-“ but he stops himself, midway, and spreads his fingers on Trevor’s shoulders. “We were coming back into the village when we saw you. You were hung upside-down by your ankles.”

Trevor makes a noncommittal noise.

“Sypha was afraid you were dead.”

“You knew I was fine, though.” Trevor says it with a degree of natural arrogance, that swaggering pride that comes so naturally to him even when he’s covered in goat shit and demon’s blood, even when he’s got a broken arm and a bad case of the blinds.

“Your heartbeat was faint. I could barely hear it. I thought she was right.”

That hangs there, between them.

“What would I have done, Trevor, if you were hung there and dead?” There is something terrible and cold in the way Alucard asks him that, as if he is about to reveal the vast darkness of the universe to Trevor, crushed in the corner under his body.

“Found another man,” Trevor breathes into the space between them, hoping his words will catch and spark and light and blow them apart, sunder them again like they were before all this started. “Found another man and told the world it was me.”

“Impossible,” Alucard tells him. “Don’t you understand?”

“I guess not.” He doesn’t. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t want to die, wants to live, but if he dies, he dies. He’s seen enough men die begging not to. He knows his opinion on it doesn’t matter much, if at all.

“We cannot find another,” Alucard murmurs to Trevor. “There is only one Trevor Belmont. There is only you. It has nothing to do with the prophecy, not anymore. Not if it ever even did.”

Trevor recoils.

“Sypha, too.” Alucard presses on, scenting weakness. “Do you really think she could possibly accept another in your stead? Do you think she wept as we cut you down because she is sensitive? Sypha, who faced down a stone-eyed cyclops because she knew the truth of her task? Sypha, who fought a boar off in the twilight of a witch’s village?”

“Stop it,” Trevor says, staring into the darkness desperately.

“Do you think, Trevor Belmont,” Alucard presses closer, closer, until he’s whispering in Trevor’s ear, a hand wound in his hair to keep him still, “that we would ever lie down at the sides of another man? That Sypha would ever pet and touch and laugh for another like she does for you?” He can’t say why, precisely, but every word is stabbing into him like Alucard is cursing his name, like he’s torturing him with obscenities, like he’s dragging those long nails into his ribs and behind the bone and down, down, down, through flesh and skin and organ. “Do you think I would draw my fingers through another’s hair? Do you think I would pin another man here, in the darkness, and tell him these things?”

“Alucard,” begs Trevor, but he doesn’t know what he’s begging for.

“And why,” Alucard hisses, and there’s a hint of fang in his voice, “do you think I tell you these things?”

“Fuck if I know!” Trevor tries, one last time, before he gives up entirely and lets Alucard draw his head back, lets him place little biting kisses on his throat, makes soft, pleading noises through it.

“Because you are ours,” he growls against Trevor’s throat. It’s the growl of an animal, a beast, a demon. It vibrates through him, reflects and amplifies in Trevor’s chest, leaves him weak in the knees, but not from fear. “And no-one else is.”

“Don’t I get a say in this?” He’s still trying, can’t do anything but struggle against any hold laid on him. It’s in his nature, has always been, and the world has ground it into him further until there’s no peeling his experiences off of him, like there’s no peeling his skin off his flesh.

No,” snarls Alucard, and bites him.

To be fair, it isn’t actually a full, drain-you-dry bite. It’s a part-bite, something Trevor remembers learning about (hazily) as a young boy. It’s a mark of affection, a bonding act that his grimoires and natural histories had been quick to underline as profane and reckless, but ultimately not dangerous. It was an easy way to find younger vampires in isolated locales- they were much more prone to delivering these nips to other members of their groups and clans and nests, had precious little self-control about it.

“Holy Lord Jesus lying prone on a bed of saints,” Trevor gasps, because ‘profane’ seems to have left out a reasonably important part of this whole part-bite thing: the singe of heat that touches him, the way he’s suddenly hyper-aware of Alucard’s body on his, as if he hadn’t already been. Weirder thought: maybe it’s the bite, or maybe he’s just some kind of incredibly perverse vampire hunter who has an uncomfortable fetish for being manhandled by the son of his entire species’ greatest enemy.

Alucard licks at the spot he’d bitten, eyes just barely tinged with red around the edge of his irises. Trevor can only barely see it when Alucard turns his head just so, his long lashes fluttering down to hide the sight now and then. Trevor watches for a second, transfixed by the slow roll of the color as it recedes, leaving only gold again. It’s intimate, as intimate as allowing himself to be held here. He wants to have the energy to respond in any kind, but all he can do is relax in Alucard’s arms and take it. It’s foreign, but it isn’t all bad. It makes him feel…

“HEY,” he shouts, louder than he should. Alucard startles, looking up at him with hugely dilated pupils. Trevor’s vision is oddly focused, strangely directional. He’ll take it. “I can see again.”

“Good,” says Alucard, wearing the sweetest expression on his face that Trevor has ever seen- naked relief, joy, fondness. Trevor, taken completely off-guard by this, can only stare at him.

 

 

 

“I presume if you reconcile with Sypha, you’ll be able to see out of the other one.” Alucard is testing Trevor’s eyesight by moving a spoon here, there, wherever. Trevor is more relieved than he can admit to, that he can see. Even if it’s only out of one eye, for now.

“I didn’t know I was in the doghouse with her,” he lies.

“You are an idiot, but you aren’t stupid,” Alucard says severely, sitting down next to Trevor on the bench.

“What kind of insane spell is this? ‘Make up with your friends,’”

“Aha,” says Alucard, grinning through his hair at Trevor,

“’and you can see again, which you used to be able to do, and also you weren’t even in trouble until I made this happen, but fuck you anyway, Trevor Belmont,’ what kind of curse is that?”

“Friends,” Alucard insists, earning him a testy elbow in the ribs.

“You can’t be a stranger if you’re biting me,” Trevor insists, as if somehow that makes things different, as if it makes acknowledging their closeness less, as if that’s possible at all at this point.

“And why, precisely, is that?”

“Are you really going to insist that you’re the type of man to go around biting strangers?”

Alucard tosses his eyebrows up a little flick.

“Touché.”

“Is that a thing, with vampires? Is that sort of,” Trevor says. He just can’t keep himself under control, not ever, can he? Eh, it’s worth it. He can see again, even if just on one side, and it’s worth it. “Is it considered loose? Just going around nipping people like an overeager puppy. You’d be like some kind of…. slutty…. puppy.”

“A slutty puppy,” says Sypha, from the stairs. Alucard looks like he’s trying to decide if he made a mistake in getting to know Trevor at all. Sypha looks like she’s already made up her mind on a ‘no’ vote. “A slutty puppy?

 

 

 

So that’s a thing: they get into an argument about whether or not dogs can be considered loose.

 

 

 

“I’m not saying that,” Trevor protests. “I’m just saying, you know, if you’re one man’s dog but then you’re getting belly rubs from the miller’s daughter, is that considered proper for dogs?”

“I think you have very old-fashioned views on petting,” Sypha huffs, running her hands along the worn fabric of Trevor’s pants, laid out as it is on the kitchen table.

“Indeed,” Alucard agrees. He’s pulling the shutters closed against the snow for the night. “What if the miller’s daughter and the man have an understanding?”

“Yeah, what, ‘you can pet him on Tuesdays, but he’s mine to pet on milking day’? I don’t think it works like that.”

Sypha gives his pants an irritated tweak. “It doesn’t have to be so regimented,” she says slowly, sticking her fingers through a few holes he hadn’t noticed and wriggling them. “Perhaps they’d like to pet the dog together, even.”

“Woah-hoh-hoh-hohhh,” Trevor drags the sound out, turning his head as Sypha walks around the table so he can see her. “What kind of advanced dog theory is this? I’m barely prepared for elementary stuff. I’ve never even had a dog.”

“We can tell,” comes Alucard’s voice as he checks the door once more, giving it a firm rattle.

“My sister had a terror of them,” Trevor mutters, maybe sort of still a little sore on that. He had wanted a dog as a boy, visions of training it to alert him to the presence of monsters floating through his fluff-addled head.

“Esthe?”

Trevor balks, gaze flying to Sypha’s face. Alucard has gone silent behind him.

She’s looking at him steadily, her curls still wet. They form perfect circular rings, making her look like nothing so much as one of the light-illuminated saints from his childhood church’s windows. She’s got the light of the devil in her eye, though, no mistaking that. She’s got something on her mind and she plans to get it out into the open.

“… no,” he breathes out, steadily, hands shaking. He puts them under the table, knows that Sypha saw them anyway. “Rozalia. She was…. She had a scar, on her arm, from being attacked by one as a girl.” She had been afraid that it would chase suitors away, though all it had done was chase the useless ones off. As it turned out, plenty of good young men loved a beautiful woman with a tragic story. And, uh, a dowry running overfull, that helped too.

“How many sisters did you have?” Sypha looks down at the pants, starts marking the fabric with a dab of charcoal here and there. She had expressed regret at having to mark the fine white fabric, but Trevor had reminded her that he’d probably have them coated in dirt long before anybody commented on a smear of black here and there.

He wants to stop talking about this.

“Plenty,” he grates out, “before they were all burned to a crisp. Can we talk about something else?”

“I want to know,” Sypha says, setting her jaw obstinately. “Did you have any brothers?”

One- Esthe’s twin, but he’d been born sickly and died long before Trevor was born. Esthe had always said that Trevor was her twin come again, snuck him treats and spoiled him rotten, would always indulge his play even as she grew old enough to be readying herself for marriage. It hurts more than he thought it would to even think about it- it’s been a long time since anybody has asked about his family as anything other than a nest of Satan-worshipping demons.

“Trevor?”

“No,” he forces out. “None.”

“My mother and father were killed by an epidemic, when I was young,” Sypha volunteers, hands lightly adjusting the fabric. She’s got no pins, so she’ll have to cut slowly, carefully. “My grandfather raised me in community with the other Speaker children. It is our way. I had a fairly happy childhood with many others my own age to play and grow with. Grandfather loved my mother and father…. So much. He would tell me stories of them.”

“Lucky you,” Trevor says. He turns his head to see Alucard pacing the floor, inspecting the roof and walls very seriously. Is he…. Yes, yes he is. He’s still inspecting the walls for insight into the pipes. What a weirdo.

“I was,” Sypha agrees. “I was very lucky. If I had been separated from my people when my parents died, I… would probably have come to a very different end. I didn’t always have the best handle on my powers, and they were not so strong when I was young as to allow me to defend myself.”

Trevor contemplates that. Speakers don’t have an easy life, that’s for sure- no ancestral mansions, just endless roaming. They’re always fingered as the first to blame when shit hits the fan. Their god, their rituals, their religion is different than the majority of people around them, so in the past few years, they’ve been targeted especially hard by the Church and its adherents.

Wallachia is perpetually poised at the edges of the great empires’ wars, too, which means that aside from the normal domestic struggles, the country has always had to fight against slavers coming to pick up what scraps they could: children, women, men, it didn’t matter. Somebody always had a use for a warm body, either to wield a blade for any army willing to pay, or….

“Your grandfather would never have let anything happen.”

“I know,” Sypha says. “But as I said, too… I was very lucky.”

“Well,” he says. “Good.” It’s a little jarring to think about a younger Sypha. Her eyes must have been huge. He chuckles. “I bet you were a cute lass.”

“I still am,” she responds tartly. “And I have had my fair share of dogs, just so you know.”

“Rub it in, why don’t you,” Trevor sighs. “How did you know Esthe’s name?”

“You called Sypha Esthe, when we cut you down.” Alucard is squinting at the ceiling. It is, thankfully, not an attractive expression on him. If even squinting stupidly into dark corners looked good on their resident vampire-Jesus, Trevor would have just given up on everything, forever. “She wondered if it was… the name of a past lover.”

“Uh,” Trevor replies.

“I did not!” Sypha flares, and wow, her curls spring up in a bounce. She’s dried her own hair in a fit of pique. Handy. “I mean. I did, but I presumed it more likely that it was a… sister, or a cousin.”

“Jealous?” Trevor grins.

“You said you haven’t had any dogs,” Sypha sniffs, pulling the shears out and starting to cut.

Wait.

Waiiiit.

Alucard turns just in time to watch Trevor’s face as he works through what that means. Trevor is too busy working backwards in their conversation to feel irritated at how openly amused he looks.

“Uh, hang on, I need to correct the record, I’ve- I’ve definitely had…. Dogs,” he tries.

“Have you now?” Sypha laughs at him, adjusting her grip on the shears.

“Sure,” he says, gaining steam, trying not to feel mortified. “I’ve petted my fair share.”

“But you’ve never had one,” Alucard prods, crossing the room to investigate the bubbling pot in the hearth, where Sypha is brewing some more of her health tonic for Trevor. With her permission, he’s cooking something of his own from her stash, also for Trevor. (Turns out, it wasn’t the famous Belmont stamina that made him feel so steady when he woke up. Good thing he hadn’t started bragging yet before Sypha showed him the small pot full of her potion.)

“I’ve- I- didn’t have a lot of chance to,” he says, because just when he thought he’d understood he’s lost again. “What, and you have, Alucard? Come on.”

“I have travelled across many lands in my lifetime,” Alucard says coolly, adding a pinch of this and that to his brew. “And found myself in the pleasant company of a few dogs in my time.”

It feels awkward to be sitting here uselessly while Sypha and Alucard both have tasks. Maybe if she’s feeling up to it tomorrow, Sypha can heal his arm up so he can darn their socks finally. Her toes poking out at the ends keeps bothering him. He can’t imagine it’s too comfortable in her boots, either.

“I would expect that dogs flock to your side,” Sypha says, coming around to Trevor’s side of the table to cut.

“Mmm,” Alucard replies, adjusting the pots with a poker. “Do you want yours to go up a little higher? I don’t want it to burn.”

“Go ahead,” she says, pulling her attention from cutting to look at Trevor again. He is feeling decidedly out of his depth. “You would have more dogs if you bathed.”

“I told you,” he grumbles. “I’ve petted a few dogs.”

“For a nice long time?” Sypha asks with a faux-casual tone. She’s sliding down the bench, is practically in his lap. When he remains silent, she grins at him. “See? Bathe a little more. You have to take one tonight anyway.”

“Ugh,” protests Trevor, but not too loudly, because now she is in his lap (mindful of his arm), and like with Alucard in the stairwell, she’s clearly made the choice to get this close because she wants to. He doesn’t know how to take that. Aren’t they together, anyway? - … but the dogs, he realizes, and then tries to go back through that conversation about slutty puppies one more time while she wafts the smell of clean skin and faint lavender up into his nose. Her rump is very soft and very warm, and he wants to have stronger feelings about that than he can muster right now. Alas, his body is one central mass of pain right now, so all he can muster is faint appreciation and gratitude. Appreciation…

“Am I the dog?” he bursts out in shock, just as Sypha moves out of his lap and on to the last stint of cutting.

Alucard makes a noise that is absolutely, one-hundred-percent not him fighting down hysterical laughter. Sypha looks at him somberly over her flashing scissors.

“You smell like one, so close enough.”

 

 

 

He consents to bathe, then take both of the tonics. As he goes upstairs, Sypha and Alucard start bickering about whether or not their respective brews will interact with each other, and in what way. It makes him chuckle- nice to not be the one picking the fight, just this once. He’s weaker than he’s let on, though, so by the time he gets upstairs and into the candle-lit bathroom, he’s sweating and breathing heavily, no amusement on his face. Navigating with only one eye is harder than it looks, too: he keeps bumping into things. Things like… walls.

Undoing his bandages is… hard. There’s the physical strain, the work of a body still trying to mend, but there’s also the toll it takes on him to simply look at the wreck he is right now. He’s supposed to be a last bastion against the wilds of evil, a burning beacon of protection to staunch the tide of darkness, but all he feels like right now is a waste of skin.

He thinks about those dogs again. Despite his pain, he grins a little.

All right, time to take inventory. Two silver handles and a rounded metal spigot, a big white tub made of- he taps it- feels like stoneware, sounds like metal. Weird. Little metal feet, and a mysterious swirl of pipes and tubes reaching into the wall and the floor and vanishing. A little hole at the bottom, with a plug of some strange material attached by a metal chain- for draining, and stoppering, he supposes. Huh. Well, he has to give it to Alucard’s memories- they’re awfully convenient.

It does make him wonder, though, where his input is. Maybe he’s just seen too many villages, too many houses and windows and awnings, for him to recognize what this place is using of his. Maybe.

Didn’t Alucard have some books, too? He could swear he’d seen him bring them in the house on that first night. Where had he stashed them?

“Eh,” Trevor sighs. “I’m worrying too much. Time for a nice…. Bath.” Honestly, he isn’t opposed to bathing, whatever Sypha says. It’s just that, most of the time, he hasn’t got the time, or the coin, to bathe. It’s a vulnerability, like… like petting dogs. Ahem. And he hasn’t had much time for that at all.

It takes him a little to figure out the mechanics of it all, but with his memory of the sounds, he pieces together the sequence of it. Soon enough there’s hot, steaming water flowing in to a clean basin.

Off come the bandages on his legs, and doesn’t that hurt, peeling those scabby things off. The steam helps to loosen them, but he starts a few of the nail-cuts bleeding again before he’s done. His legs are bruised badly up and down, which explains why they hurt so much. He piles the bandages for boiling- a peculiarity of Alucard’s tastes that Sypha had eagerly embraced, listening enraptured to the lengthy lectures on the why. Trevor, never a fan of crusty bandages himself, hasn’t found any reason to object. He also hadn’t found any reason to listen to the lectures.

Finally, the only bandages he’s got on are the ones on his bad arm. After a moment of struggling, he realizes that he’s not getting that off on his own- it’s tied behind his back, well past where he can stretch to reach. And, without getting that off, he isn’t getting his nightshirt off either, which is a pretty pale blue color and barely covers his underclothes. Yikes. He’s been flashing his frankly grimy underwear for the majority of the day, hasn’t he?

“Fuck,” he says, exasperated more at his own fragility than anything else.

He turns off the water, tests it with a finger still bloody from scratching at the door, and damn if that isn’t welcoming. He’ll dirty the water almost immediately, sure, but it will feel good on his battered body. He might even get lucky and end up smelling clean, like Sypha.

His shirt and bandages, though…. Maybe if he lifts his arm up, so the rest of him is in the bath, and rucks the shirt over his head? But his shoulder gives a twinge at the first hint, so maybe not.

“Fuuuuck,” he says again. He debates going back downstairs and asking for help, but that’s…. ugh. He can’t stand it. He’s at their mercy enough as it is, is depending on them for too much already. He doesn’t want to try his luck. Doesn’t want to ask too much, not now, when they’re starting to… grow close? Uh, he’s not sure how to think of whatever’s happening between them, but his pride can only stand so much caretaking before he starts to bristle and growl. He’s supposed to be the one protecting, the one holding things at bay. If the cost is his body, so be it. He’s used to that, not being coddled in warm arms, not being pampered with healing brews, not being swaddled in clean bandages. How long has it been since his home burned? It feels like a millions years ago. A million years since he started to wander in the cold.

There’s a knock at the door.

A thrill of fear slices down Trevor’s spine like a blade.

This is the third time he’s been alone. Every time before…. He can’t take any more of a beating, not right now. He can’t. Sypha…. She’ll kill him, if Baba Yaga doesn’t first. She’ll kill him and she’ll cry on him, and right now he can’t decide which is worse.

The knock comes again. His toes curl with anticipation of pain, of fear. His teeth start to chatter.

“Sorry,” he says quietly, fighting against his own body to sound steady, “it’s occupied. Nobody’s in here.” Still can’t stop himself from barking, even if his bite is basically useless right now. What good is living if he can’t get one last howl in before he goes?

“What are you talking about?” Alucard pokes his head in, eyes sliding from Trevor to his shirt to the pile of bandages.

“Just joking around,” Trevor lies smoothly, disguising the tremor in his hands by pulling at the cloth tying his arm to his chest.

“I can hear your heart, you know,” Alucard says, coming up close and leaning over him. “I can hear you lie to me.”

“Rude. You won’t get any dog’s bellies to pet that way. Or, at least, that’s the impression I get from Sypha.”

“I presumed you would need some help with your bandages. You got further than I expected, admittedly.” Alucard unties the series of knots at his back carefully, draws the makeshift sling-cum-bandage away and inspects Trevor’s splinted arm. “There’s only one dog not baring his belly here, anyway.”

Trevor draws in a slow breath.

“That dog’s in no shape to be petted right now.”

“I don’t think petting is the point, really,” Alucard says levelly, gently flexing Trevor’s arm up with a supportive hand on each part of the splint, adding support. The pain brings tears to Trevor’s eyes. He clenches his jaw to keep from crying out. Alucard sees this, says nothing. Trevor appreciates it. “It’s more about having the dog there than anything else, for now. At least, in this case, it is. Breathe.”

“Trying,” he grinds out.

Alucard supports his arm in a horizontal direction, flat like it would need to be for him to keep the splint dry and be in the bath. “Does that hurt?”

“Eh,” Trevor says, rather diplomatically he thinks. Alucard eyeballs the unshed tears in his eyes and says nothing. That’s diplomatic too, he grudgingly notes. As time passes, the ache eases, until it’s just that- an ache- again.

“Lean on me,” Alucard directs, eyes sliding to the beads of blood on his legs. He starts to help Trevor up.

“When’s the last time you had anything to eat, anyway?”

Alucard goes so still that Trevor actually thinks he’s killed the poor bastard.

“I had some of Sypha’s porridge and egg this morning,” he replies regally, guiding Trevor to the bath like a gentleman on the dancefloor guiding a lady in the waltz. Trevor, never a particularly gracious dance partner, snorts and resists, prompting an irritated stare from Alucard.

At the start of their journey, Sypha and he had tentatively felt out what Alucard would need. He had rather stiffly informed them that, barring major injuries, he could easily go for very long stretches with nothing at all, and normal food if necessary. Further inquiries had been met with frigid stonewalling.

“Look,” Trevor says, pushing at Alucard’s ribs with his elbow. It isn’t quite a jab, but it’s close enough to get the impression across without straight off inflicting another bruise. “You can’t be jumping down my throat about bandages and potions and all that nonsense,” he talks loudly over Alucard’s flashing eyes and opening mouth, “and then pass out yourself, or whatever it is swooning vampire maidens like you do.”

“Trevor,” Alucard says, very gently and slowly, as if speaking to an incredibly dim child. Trevor is starting to realize that this is his default ‘you are infuriating me, but also stupid,’ voice. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you are- if not on Death’s door- at least worryingly close to his front gardens. There is absolutely zero chance of me taking any kind of sustenance from you right now. It is more likely that my father will throw up his hands, repent his wicked ways, and go out to grovel to the people of this land on his hands and knees, head bowed to scrape in the mud and filth of the city streets.”

“Wow,” says Trevor, because he may be an asshole, but he can appreciate a good mental image.

“Sypha and I have made an arrangement, for urgent times, and if you would like to join in that when you are well to my satisfaction, we can discuss it then.” … Huh. That’s interesting.

“Is that how you two got started?” He asks before he can help it, because if there’s one thing he’s good at it’s stabbing himself in the foot.

“Noooo,” Alucard says, tone…. hesitant. “She jumped me in the woods that night near Talva.”

“You said that was a wild animal,” Trevor says, offended.

“It was,” Alucard says somberly.

“It ruined one of your sleeves!”

“Sypha is a woman of unparalleled passion.”

Trevor looks at him in awed silence, an eyebrow canted up.

“I should have thought that through a little more, but it is out now, and you can sit with that image as you bathe.”

“Wow,” Trevor says, and obediently allows Alucard to ease his nightshirt off him and around his broken arm. He’s too stuck on the implication.

“If you ever tell her I told you that,” Alucard says, threateningly, “I will tie knots in your sacred whip every single night as you sleep for the rest of our journey.”

“I’m pretty sure that will scald your hands to the bone.”

“It will be worth it. Do you need help with your underthings?”

“Get your hands off my drawers,” Trevor snaps. “I’m pathetic enough as is without you manhandling my cock.”

Alucard, in that moment, gives him such a look that Trevor has the sinking feeling Sypha isn’t the only person he’ll be thinking hard about in the bath.

He turns his back and waits until Trevor sighs in relief, arm delicately propped up on the side of the bath, before turning around to hand him something.

“Don’t drop the soap,” Alucard says with an absolutely feral smile, and Trevor doesn’t have the faintest idea why he starts laughing devilishly to himself as he leaves.

Chapter Text


 

“Hang on,” Trevor says, jolting. Sypha makes an annoyed sound and grabs his chin, tilting him straight again. “Hang on, you bit me! What the bloody hell!”

Alucard pauses, glancing up from the book he’s reading. He doesn’t say anything, just gives Trevor a very nonplussed look.

“Ask before you bite people,” Sypha says, and then smacks Trevor lightly on the back of the head when he turns further to look at her. It’s more of a tap, really. “Do you want to look like the tragic survivor of the pig wrangler’s family? Stop moving around. Your hair is hard enough to cut as it is.”

“Ugh,” Trevor says, instead of, ‘I couldn’t see him with my one good eye, or you.’

“It was a small bite,” Alucard says dismissively, going back to his book. “It was for dramatic effect more than anything. I’m sure it didn’t even hurt.”

“What a fucking drama queen,” Trevor grumps. He can’t even feel where the bite was, but it’s the principle of the thing. Sypha can apparently see it, though, because she presses a thumb right to the very spot. Trevor jumps, gives her a guilty look. Okay- he can feel that.

“A bit rich, coming from you,” Alucard calls, but then he’s lost in his book again.

“You look like a teenager,” she teases, then bites her lip. “Now hold still.” He wants to move to get a look at her again, but she’s stepped into his blind side and he doesn’t want to piss her off further. He’s pretty sure that he just missed something, but he can’t really tell too well what it was, not like this. His one working eye is starting to hurt, probably from the strain it’s getting as he puts it to work double-time. Actually, he doesn’t know if that’s a thing, but he doesn’t want to ask Alucard and get a fucking soliloquy on the answer.

He gave himself a black eye coming out of the bath, misreading the distance between the door and his hand, and a bloody nose when he walked into the kitchen and turned too far, into the jut of a shelf. It is not his fucking day. Not his fucking week. No- not his fucking— never mind. It isn’t a good time to be him. Hasn’t been for a while, not that he’s let that stop him.

So now Sypha has him seated in a chair, trimming the fall of his hair. She’s done Alucard while he was bathing, but Trevor can’t tell the difference. There’s a pile of shimmering gold hair to be swept up, sure, but looking at the guy, you’d never be able to guess. Does he ever braid it? Put it up? Is there a spell just for keeping your hair straight?

There are some ominous plans to Apply a Salve to him later, so though his wounds are mostly healed enough not to absolutely need them, the bandages are boiled and hanging in soft loops, drying as close to the fire as they can get without immolating. They wrapped his hands up again when he came out of the bath, and his arm is secured to his side again. Swaddled, pillowed, and pampered. Goddamnit.

Sypha tilts his head again, making soft thinking noises. Her thumb slides down again to where the bite must be. Like this, it’s still discomfiting close to being blind, albeit a Sypha-selective blindness.

The insight sears through him like a bolt of lightning.

Oh. That…. huh. So that’s what that was about. So he’d been blind to… Alucard, okay. Alucard, and his…

pressed in the darkness, chest to chest, hip to hip. Possessiveness and a need for reassurance, desire for closeness but frustration at Trevor’s unwillingness to accept a tie that goes both ways, anger that he was rejecting that tie, and under it, fear, vulnerability, worry and the need to grab and hold-

Trevor sighs deeply. Things he should know about his companions, but doesn’t. Or, more accurately, things he’s purposefully closed himself off from. Things he’s blinded himself to. Aren’t you a crafty bitch, he thinks in Baba Yaga’s direction, before hastily recalling the thought in case she can somehow hear. He shudders, mind slipping to that cacophony of legs, arms, fabric,

“Trevor?” Sypha sounds uncertain.

“Did I move again?”

“No,” she says. Her fingers card through his hair, clean and glossy for once. He’d like to think he smells a little more manly than Sypha does, but there’s no denying he smells better than he has. Even he can tell. Their clothes are soaking in a wash bucket upstairs, in the magical bath room. Alucard had taken on the duty of beating the evil out of their rags, so to speak, and by the time he emerged from his proud battle, he had seemed more relaxed than he has in quite a while. “Reach up and see if that’s the right length for you.”

He does, turning so he can see her again. She wags the scissors at him, but when he shrugs and gives a sheepish little grin she smiles back, just a bit.

“Feels okay to me. Thanks for the trim.”

“You do look better. I was worried we’d have to start trying to find hair ribbons at this rate.”

“Maybe Alucard could lend us some spares,” drawls Trevor, expression dropping when he receives no response. He turns around, but there’s no danger- Alucard is just reading, elbows braced on the table, eyebrows drawn down into a frown.

“What are you looking at?” Sypha asks, leaning over the table to peer down.

“I am unsure,” Alucard says, turning the page to reveal a lush illustration of a succubus that makes Sypha laugh a little.

Trevor stares.

“Oh, come on,” she says, when she notices. “Must you be so piggish?”

“Where,” he says, misery sliding up from his belly to weigh his tongue down, dropping his tone to an intonation, “did you find that.”

Alucard’s eyes snap up. The motion is the volatile, quick dart of a predator caught by surprise. Sypha looks at Trevor questioningly, bright scissors still clutched in her hand.

“It was one of the first books I found here,” Alucard explains, pushing it to him across the table like a peace offering.

Trevor draws it to him, flipping forward to the cover of the book. It’s a blur, some kind of indistinct rub of red and gold and black. He peels the book open again, thumbs through. Axe armor. Centipede. Flying skull. Golem. On and on and on, some of the colors blurred together, some of the finer lettering blurred together, some of the more advanced explanations dissolved into a strange kind of word salad.

He leaves the book open on ‘Ice Skeleton,’ a favorite of his when he was young because of the exquisite blue linework around the creature, gradients of blue that formed screaming faces, grinning demons, and soaring animals of indeterminate types. His fingers creep up to touch, his one unbandaged fingertip stroking the page- vellum, warm and textured just like he remembers. There’s the faint bump on the page where the ink starts. The blue feels smoother than its black and green outlines.

“This is your family’s grimoire,” Sypha guesses.

Unable to speak, he just nods.

Alucard looks uncertain. “Do you mind, that I was looking through…?”

“No,” Trevor says roughly, wrenching himself away as if from a physical hold. “Go for it. It’s… just like asking me questions, right? It’s all just from my memory.”

“Ah,” says Alucard, as if he understands something. “I didn’t realize what it was, because it seemed so fragmented, so fractured. I would have told you if I had realized. My apologies.”

Fragmented. Fractured. That’s all he has of his family, aside from the shirt soaking upstairs and the whip at his side: fragmented memories. Alucard doesn’t know what he’s saying, he reminds himself. Trevor wants, very badly, to go outside and scream at the moon.

Instead, he shrugs and takes the scissors from Sypha, turning to put his back to the memory in the most literal sense.

“Let’s get you done. Last but not least.”

“Um….” Sypha scratches at the side of her face.

“What?”

“I think Alucard should do it.”

Trevor shoots the other man a glare. Alucard, looking a bit surprised by this turn of events, blinks owlishly. “What? I’ve never actually, ah…”

“See,” Trevor insists.

“You can’t see straight right now,” Sypha says, sounding apologetic. “I’d prefer it if Alucard…”

“I used to cut my sisters’ hair,” Trevor says roughly, standing up. “Sit down.” Sypha looks at him, clearly torn. Alucard’s gaze darts between the two of them. If Trevor knows the man, he’s currently trying to figure out a way to mitigate whatever disaster is brewing. Well, fuck him. He’s cut his fair share of girl’s hair, straight and curly both. He’ll do a good job.

(He has to. He don’t think his heart can bear it, failing a task as familiar to him as handling his whip .)

Slowly, unwillingly, she sits. Alucard watches tensely, as if they’re about to set at each other with teeth. Trevor fluffs her curls, feels at the nape of her neck to see what texture of hair she has under there. It hurts his fingers, pulls at his damaged hands, to move them like this, but it’s worth it. The old patterns reassert themselves like he’d hoped they would, bringing him back some of his much-needed confidence. Tuck a strand there, bounce a curl here, shake the fluff out to see how it moves. He’s getting an idea of how he should cut.

Sypha is still holding herself stiffly, though.

“How short do you want it?”

“Um,” she says, her hands twisting in her lap. She’s wearing that laced sleep shirt again, having changed into it after she bathed. She hasn’t tightened the laces any, so if he looks, he can see the swell of her breasts through the opening. Hm.

No looking.

“This long?” He slants his hand, tucks it against the nape of her neck. She cuddles into the touch, eyelashes fluttering. “Or this long?” He brings his hand higher, to touch at the base of her skull.

“Short as you can manage,” she says finally, hands easing in her lap. Alucard alternates between watching them and flipping through Trevor’s memory of the bestiary.

“All right,” he says easily, and sets to cutting. She flinches at the first firm ‘snip.’ Trevor closes his bad eye to give himself a clearer feeling of what he’s doing, as if he’s just squinting to get a better view.

Seven full ringlets and fourteen half-curls later, she’s looking much more shorn. Alucard has abandoned the book to watch the process with interest. Trevor struggles when it comes to handling the underside of her hair, working with one hand, but he finds he can compensate by just having Sypha reach up and hold her upper layers up herself.

“Normally I’d just do it myself,” he says by way of apology, running his finger along the smaller curls hiding at the nape of her neck, row by row, seeing how they fall and how they part.

“It’s fine,” she says. She sounds calmer, perhaps soothed by the fact that he seems steady and Alucard isn’t wincing.

Goosebumps erupt where he’s tracing the last line of her smallest curls.

Hmmm.

He finishes more quickly than he’d expected. Her curls are more compact, more tightly-formed than any of his sisters, which means she’s easier to get done neatly and on the first sweep. The scissors are hard to use on her- next time, he’ll probably rustle up a razor, or just use one of his small knives if she’ll abide it.

“How do I look?” she asks Alucard anxiously, turning this way and that in front of the hearth, feeling at her hair. She’s stood to show off at all angles.

“You look very nice,” he says, clearly impressed. “I’ll go take my bath now- the salve should be cooled by the time I’m done.” Sypha and Trevor nod him off, though Trevor gives the little pot cooling on the counter a suspicious stare as the stairs squeak under Alucard’s feet.

 

 

 

“Thank you,” Sypha says, glowing with happiness as she turns to Trevor. “I’m sorry for doubting you. I’ve just… had some questionable haircuts.”

“Yeah,” he says, biting his lip. He leans over and flicks the bestiary closed, then turns it over so he doesn’t have to look at that semi-remembered cover. “Uh, yeah. Some of my sisters had the same problem.”

“How many sisters did you have?” Sypha asks, all wide eyes and fresh-shorn curls, and her hair is still on his bandages and his fingertips.

“Six,” he admits. “All older. Two were twins, though.” Sypha’s eyes grow even wider. She stifles a laugh, politely.

“You must have…. Had a time, of that.”

“They were always good to me. My parents, too. I loved them more than I knew,” Trevor says, and locks his good eye on Sypha. “We were lucky, like you were. Until we weren’t, suddenly.”

She blinks, startled. Her expression tightens into comprehension.

“I’m not one of your sisters, Trevor.”

He scrapes his good hand through his hair, trying to loosen any freshly-cut hangers-on. “I know. I guess. I mean, no, I know. I just…” he gestures. He doesn’t know what he means to say with the motion.

“The way my grandfather found me, when my parents died,” Sypha says, mouth set in a line, “is that I set the caravan of my kidnappers on fire. I couldn’t burn them where they stood, but I wanted to. So I burned their livelihood to the ground around them.”

Aha. He’d…. yes. He’d had a feeling she had been omitting something. That was… he whistles, impressed, wiping the scissors off on the fabric Sypha is keeping them wrapped in.

“Good thinking.”

“It was at night,” Sypha says, desperately, speaking like a woman facing a barn fire with no well.

“Better yet.”

“I killed them,” she clarifies, eyes turning hard and flat. There must be something wrong with him, because that look on her face sends a shudder of heat down into his belly.

“Good,” he says, nudging his leg against hers. She stands before him with a loose sleep shirt, hair freshly cropped, revealing the kind of darkness he already knows everybody has. They’re on a mission to kill a man right now. He’s killed his fair share. What else is he supposed to do? If she’s looking for condemnation, he can’t give her that.

“Grandfather found me because of their screams, and the burning of the caravan. We fled in the night, and from then on, he started to train me in the ways of magic. It was a year before we joined with my people again.” She looks like she’s about to start shaking him.

“You’re lucky,” he tells her. “Like you said. If my sisters had been able to use magic, things might have turned out differently.”

“But they didn’t,” Sypha says, temper finally fraying, “and I can.” The fire in the hearth flutters a little. Trevor leans back, turning his head so he can see her fully.

“I know,” he says slowly. “You’ve saved our asses multiple times.”

Sypha smiles, the expression brittle. “I’m very glad you acknowledge that. Then, Trevor Belmont, can you tell me why you continue to place yourself in danger in instances when you know full well that I can handle myself?”

“Er,” he says, because there goes the fireplace again, flaring up way too high for how much wood it has to chew on. Also: uh-oh, he is definitely in trouble.

“You see your sisters in me? I am nothing like your sisters. I roasted men alive in their beds as a child, because they dared to lay hands on me.” She looks down at him imperiously. Her self-control has snapped. He can’t look away. “You may have your whip, and your sword, but I command magic. I can hold against siege in solitary, if I must!”

Sypha is brimming with tears, fists clenched, head tipped up to look down regally. Trevor inspects her right back, brows knit.

“So why, when I am here, do you insist on throwing yourself in the path of anything that comes to me?! Do you think I’m incapable? Do you think I’m fragile?! Do you think I am weak!?

She yells the last, and the fireplace burns, and burns, and burns. The heat starts to make the bricks blacken, then glow. Trevor stares at that for a long moment, then looks over at Sypha. She’s trembling, biting her lip. Blood trickles from one hand, where her nails have cut her hand. If he was to place a bet on anything, he’d bet that she’s straining to control herself, not struggling to exert that power.

“I only,” he starts, but reconsiders in the face of that burning hellscape of the fireplace, her struggle to control herself. “No, I don’t- that’s absurd.“

“Do you need me to prove myself at every turn?! What is it that makes you think I am incapable?”

“That’s not what I’m saying,” he protests, and it doesn’t help. “I want you to be safe,” he says, and it isn’t enough. She flares again, freshly-cut hair starting to swim with little licks of flame. Still: he doesn’t dare look away from her.

“Here is my dilemma, then!” She starts to pace, hair bouncing as she walks. “You say you have confidence in my abilities.”

“I do,” Trevor says, but his tone is strained because he has to turn his head to watch her as she moves, and it’s only getting hotter and hotter and hotter. He’s sweating- whether from nerves, because that fire is still going and Sypha is still angry, or temperature, he couldn’t say.

“I assume you haven’t been lying baldly to my face for weeks,” Sypha hisses, “which leaves me with one other option for why you never seem to trust me,”

“Now hang on,” Trevor tries to interject, because it’s not that, it’s never been that, but she makes a slashing motion at him and he cuts himself off.

“-which is that, if I am not weak, I must be unreliable in some fashion! I am untrusted! So- what? Do you think I’m unstable? A hazard, somehow? Planning our mutual demise despite all evidence to the contrary? Volatile and not to be relied upon when need arises? Do you think I am simply too dangerous to have at your back?!”

The brick is doing something in the fireplace that looks unsettlingly like melting. Sypha looks ready to shake the truth out of him with her bloodied hands, her eyes glinting furious and hard and suspicious. This isn’t a petty, hot-headed line birthed from a pithy argument. She’s asking a real question, one that sounds like it’s been stewing for quite some time.

Trevor makes a disgusted sound. “Sypha…. Do you honestly think I’m afraid of you?”

He jerks his eyes away from the fireplace to reach out with his good hand.

“The way you speak of your sisters…” She bites her lip, and the heat sinks out of the room like there are no walls, and the brewing storm is inside. The bricks still glow with heat in counter to the sudden darkness. She stares at his hand, her own hands fluttering to her breast. “I can see how a Speaker woman might be displeasing.”

“Just because my sisters weren’t…. weren’t fierce like you,” he says, carefully, because there are so many layers to her response, and he doesn’t feel like he has enough brainpower to pick even half of them apart, “doesn’t mean I don’t… care for you.” It hurts him to say that, hurts like it always does, makes him want to claw his way into the earth and go down, down, down, away from all light in this forsaken world. But Sypha looks so alone and raw, frightened, and he knows how that feels. He can’t turn his back on that. Even if he’s turned his back on that part of himself, or tried to, he can’t turn his back on her. “I admire you. You’re. Better. Better than me.”

“I,” she says, fire-and-ice Sypha, and covers her face with her slim little hands. Her voice is muffled. “Please, Trevor. Please. Let me be- please. I won’t be a risk. I need you to trust me, to help to protect us all.”

“I do,” he says, still reaching out for her. But his body has given up for the day, so that’s all he can do, even though he wants to fold her in his arms and pay her back for even half of what she is, half of what she gives. “It’s not what you- I want to protect you from all of this. You’re so- so-“ he searches for the right word. She watches nervously though her fingers. “You’re so bright, Sypha, just- good and bright. I can’t compete with that, but I can do my best to preserve that. I know Alucard feels the same way. We- I don’t want to see that dimmed in you. Not like.” Not like in me, he thinks, but that’s too far, entirely too raw even for a conversation like this, singed around the edges as it is.

“I don’t need to be preserved, Trevor,” she says, dropping her hands to come close finally, grabbing at his hand with hers. “I want to fight together. I don’t want you to keep hurting yourself for me. I want…”

She falls silent, looking at him beseechingly.

“What do you want?” he asks, in agony, because of course he’ll do it, of course he will, no matter how much it hurts, no matter what the cost is to him.

“I just want you to trust me,” she says, and leans down and presses her forehead to his. Her hands come up to hold his face, running her fingers along his stubble fondly. “That’s all I want. Trust me to bear the burden equally. Trust me to keep us safe, when it’s my turn. Trust me to take care of us. Just trust me.”

She presses her fingers to his temples, bleeding warmth, eyes gentled from her earlier fury.

“Trust me.”

“It’s difficult,” he says, and immediately flushes deep red, because that’s as honest a confession as he’s made thus far. “Not because of you.”

Sypha stays silent, watching Trevor’s face. He squirms under her, words having given way to helpless silence. He’s tapped out, can muster no further words on the topic, on anything. All he has is silence and desperation.

He can only watch her watch him. Their silence stretches. He’s fucked it all up.

“I can be patient,” she says, and and tips her face to kiss him.

Trevor’s eyes flutter shut. Her lips are so soft. She’s so warm. He reaches for her, finds her hip, her waist. His hand spans half of her side. God, she’s so small. She burned the bricks, made them glow. God, he shouldn’t find that as attractive as he does. He shouldn’t want to trust her as much as he does. He shouldn’t want as much as he does. She’s still kissing him. God, god, god. God help him, he’s stuck with these people, isn’t he?

“Let me show you something,” Sypha says, cradling his face in her hands like he saw her do to Alucard the other night. She looks confident, a faint smile on her lips as she shifts to straddle him on the kitchen bench. She’s careful of his arm, of his shoulder, of him. She treats him gently, and it takes work for him to accept that. He breathes out, breathes in her scent. He’ll get better at it. If that’s what she wants, he’ll get better at it.

She kisses him again, tenderly slow, lips soft. “This is how I like to kiss,” she says, and swiftly presses down again, biting at his lower lip to make him gasp, sweeping in when he opens his mouth to tangle her tongue with his. He feels like he’s drowning at sea, has no idea what he’s doing, not really. But Sypha is patient, draws back and licks her lips and tilts her head. “Again,” she says, and he dives up to meet her this time.

It’s not like he’s some swooning virgin. Obligatory rolls in the hay: check. Knowing what a woman looks like naked: check. Knowing how to make the two-backed beast in a mutually satisfactory way: check.

He’s just been too busy for romance since forever. Training and hunting monsters and watching his world collapse and trying to build it again, poorly: none of those have afforded him much time to develop any sense of romantic interest. He’s missed a lot of things that other people got out of the way as young teenagers, weighted down by the Belmont legacy as he was, as he is. He’s never really even had time to nurture a flirtation into fruition. He’s certainly never entertained a long-burning crush and had to try to do anything with it.

He’s never been pinned down on a bench and taught to kiss by a Speaker woman who makes bricks melt.

Trevor breathes out, eyes closing, her hands still on him, guiding him. A tingle of relief drips down his spine, viscous as honey and cool as peppermint, spreads through him like a tincture through clear water. Sypha pulls away, licks his mouth, and gives a contented sigh. The feeling grows. He doesn’t remember the last time he felt this good.

“Are you still mad at me?” He asks, eyes closed.

“Not until the next time you do something stupid and get hurt,” Sypha snorts, thumb pressing on Alucard’s bite again. Trevor bites back a sound.

“I’ll try not to,” he promises her instead. His hand traces circles on her hip. “Really. I’ll try.”

“Good,” she tells him, and puts her mouth to his neck at the opposite of Alucard’s mark.

When his eyes fly open at the touch of her teeth, he isn’t surprised that he can see out of both sides again.

 

 

 

“Hmmm,” says Alucard.

“Go fuck yourself,” Trevor grumps, blushing and feeling stupid for it. Alucard stays bent over for a moment longer, inspecting Trevor’s neck, before straightening up without comment and beginning to separate his wet hair as if to braid it.

“I don’t suppose you know how to braid hair, too?” Sypha asks, feet tucked under her on the bench. She’s oogling the memory-bestiary, lingering on certain monsters. Trevor has been trying to decide on a pattern, but she keeps throwing him off. She seemed enamored of the bats more than was their due, but had no interest in skeletons in any elemental configuration.

“Of course I do,” Trevor huffs, watching Alucard sit down next to Sypha. “But I can’t manage that right now.”

“I don’t need your help to braid my hair,” Alucard tells him solemnly, already halfway down his mane.

“Well lucky you, because I didn’t offe-” says Trevor, at the same time that Sypha elbows him. “Ow. He doesn’t need my help. He just said that.” Alucard twirls his braid up into a bun, and Trevor snorts back a laugh. “Are you serious? A braided bun? You look like a forty-year-old matron.”

“For god’s sake,” Sypha sighs, exasperated. Trevor raises his eyebrows at her, smiling roguishly. She gives him a nonplussed look.

“Do I?” Alucard strides over to where the increasingly menacing salve pot is resting. He’s wearing his pants, and only his pants. Trevor catches Sypha staring at his exposed hipbones and she grins at him.

With teeth.

“Sure. Gain a little weight and you’d be perfect. I’m afraid you will need an apron, though. Maybe Sypha can make you one.”

“Do you suppose it is unethical to gag and bind a man who cannot currently fight you off?” The way Alucard tips his head as he asks the question makes him resemble nothing so much as an overlarge owl.

“Hey,” Trevor barks.

“I suppose it depends on the reason,” Sypha says, flipping through the bestiary some more.

Just a minute,” Trevor protests.

“The pursuit of golden silence,” Alucard clarifies, approaching the kitchen table again. Trevor scoots away from him, hand falling to his whip.

“Worthy,” Sypha agrees.

No. Definitely not okay.“

 

 

 

The storm starts up again, harder than the night before, halfway through dinner. Alucard is in the middle of clarifying some points on things he noticed were missing from the bestiary when he stops, tips his head, and then jumps.

“What?” Trevor puts his bowl down with a clatter, hand going to his eating knife.

“The storm will hit us very soon.”

“The storm made you jump?” Sypha looks skeptical, seconds before the house jolts like something has physically struck it.

“Holy shit,” Trevor says. The shutters rattle, and the sound of large hail starts to drown out pretty much every other noise, even the fire. Rarely has he experienced storms as aggressive as the ones here. “Hey, Alucard- what’s the weather like around Dracula’s place?” He has to shout to be heard.

“Ah- nothing so extreme as this. I presume this has some connection with Baba Yaga, who is something a little more… primal, than my father. It seems reasonable that she would have more developed abilities when it comes to weather.”

“Didn’t I hear that he made it rain blood in Targoviste?” Sypha looks dubious to say the least. Alucard bows his head.

“That is… yes, I would believe that.”

“But he didn’t knock down buildings with his rain,” Trevor guesses, starting to cotton on.

“No,” agrees Alucard, looking around the house with sudden worry.

“I also heard that he exploded windows with firestorms and summoned earthquakes to split the land,” Sypha presses on. She sounds somewhat put out.

“Er, the Castle manifesting can cause some damaging effects when it overlays itself over already-occupied space.”

“Wait, how does that even work?” Trevor frowns. “I’ve only ever heard of things showing up in distant places, but even that doesn’t make much sense. Trees, last time I checked, are pretty good at occupying space.”

“Imagine a sheet of clay,” Alucard replies regally, though the effect is somewhat lost by the fact that he has to shout to be heard over the hail, “and now envision in it a slot, and push the material aside on either side to fit something else inside. It can be a strain, but depending on the size of the intrusion in relation to the available stretch,”

Sypha puts a hand to her mouth to cover her amusement, but her eyes give her away. The hail is dying down to be replaced by the aggressive absence-sound of what must be heavy snow.

“That’s dirty, Alucard,” Trevor laughs. “I’m telling.”

“Telling whom?” The vampire demands, clearly irritated by the fact that his magical metaphor has not been received any better by the group than Trevor’s original attempt.

“Your father, of course. That’s who we’re off to see anyway. Might as well tell him while we’re there.”

Sypha opens her mouth to say something, pauses, and starts to giggle hysterically again.

“It is an accepted understanding of the method of magically lubricated insertion,” insists Alucard.

“Eeeeeeeee,” wheezes Sypha from half under the table.

 

 

 

They go to the bedroom upstairs with Alucard still irritated at both of them.

“Don’t be like that,” Trevor wheedles. The vampire lifts an indignant eyebrow in his direction. His hair is still in that housewife bun, which makes it doubly hard to keep a straight face when talking to him.

“It was immature. I was only trying to give you both information that may prove valuable. Knowing can make all the difference.”

“Yeah,” Trevor agrees. The door to the hallway is open. Sypha is gathering some snow from the window, packing it in their water pitcher. She occasionally takes a small handful and forms it into a bunch to chew on, which he finds both familiar and endearing. “But come on. Your explanation was just one big metaphor for fucking.”

“It was not.”

“You used the word ‘penetration,’ and if you claim to have other discussions that revolve around penetration that aren’t metaphors for sex, I’m calling bullshit on that in advance.”

“I would prefer we go back to dogs,” Alucard says with a long-suffering sigh.

“Heard that in a village once,” Trevor mutters.

“Ew,” Sypha comments delicately, stepping into the room. “Was it remote? The remote places always get a bit weird. Especially after a long winter.”

Definitely remote,” Trevor agrees.

Alucard looks like he wants to die. “What- what-“

“Do you ever just wonder if we should even bother to save humanity,” Trevor sighs out, tone light, “given all the weird shit we humans get up to?”

“Never,” Sypha responds cheerily, sinking to her knees in front of the bed. “It makes travel interesting.”

“I wish I had never learned that,” Alucard moans.

“’Knowing can make all the difference,’” Trevor parrots back at him, and dodges a grab for his hair with a whoop. “What are you doing down there, Sypha? Develop a curiosity of plumbing like Alucard?”

“We still need to put the salve on your legs.” Ah. Yes. That. Trevor peers over the edge of the bed to see his mysterious little enemy- the salve- sitting in a nicely-labelled container.

“I can do it myself,” he says, making a grab for it. “I’m feeling better.” Well, no, but. He’d drunk his medicinal tonics and hadn’t gagged too many times, and hell if he’s going to admit that after all that he still feels like he’s been run over by a demon-driven carriage.

“Hm,” says Alucard, catching his wrist and leaning in to pressure Trevor onto his back. As is his standard, he jams his legs between Trevor’s, leaning down on him with all his weight. One of these days, Trevor is going to ask him if he even knows that he can actually put his legs outside his wrestling partner’s.

“Woah now,” Trevor protests, trying to fight back. He can feel his injuries shouting at him to just give up, but a man has to have some dignity. “Usually I ask a gentleman to treat me to a nice dinner before I lie down for him.”

“Did you dislike supper?” Alucard asks with a faux-smile that shows too much fang. His grip, and balance, don’t waver.

“I liked it more than you did,” Trevor returns, nerves bundling in his belly. Is this going where he thinks it’s going? Because if so, he isn’t really sure he can, not with half his own body out of commission, and he isn’t even really- “Holy shit,” he wheezes. “That fucking burns. Is it supposed to do that?!”

Sypha peers at him from below. He’s pretty sure that she can see all that nature saw fit to bestow him with, but the flares of spiky pain stabbing into his fucking bones distract him from any form of modesty.

“Yes,” she says. She sounds very serious. “Hold him down, Alucard.”

“Don’t gag me,” Trevor pleads.

Alucard bares his teeth in a mocking smile. “I am but a simple housewife, Master Belmont. I can only do what the lady healer demands of me.”

“Well,” Trevor says through clenched teeth, forcing a smile. “I don’t suppose we can go back to dogs again after all?”

Chapter Text


 

 

It hurts more than he expects when he wakes up, but after the past few days, the purely physical pain is something of a relief. There’s no terror wrapped up in it, no intense sear of stress tied to his relationship with the only two people in the world that care if he exists. In a way, it’s easy, just to exist and breathe and be in pain.

Sypha is puffing heat on his cheek, feet tangled with his own, hands curled on his chest. He’s starting to notice her feet are always icy. Maybe it’s a woman thing, maybe it’s a mage thing, but either way, he tips his feet around hers to fight against the cold.

Alucard is turned with his back to Trevor, which, frankly, he appreciates. It gives him a little more room to shift, more space to try to ease the ache in his arm. His hair is still up in that stupid bun. Trevor fights the urge to take it out.

It’s still dark, reassuringly pitch black. This time, though, it’s clearly actually night, not another bout of blindness. Normally he doesn’t wake unless he needs to, so he spares a silent moment of listening to confirm that everything is fine. The storm is still blowing, the house is silent as always, and the door is closed. Sypha is snoring a little, Alucard is silent as a dead thing, and Trevor can sleep easy.

All right.

 

 

 

The next time he wakes up, Sypha is shifting restlessly, looking grumpy and frizzy and confused.

“Mngh?” It’s still dark out. No need to get up still, and Sypha, being the one closest to the wall, is the least likely to be able to clamber out of bed easily.

“I thought I heard something in the storm,” she says softly when she realizes she’s woken him. “Go back to sleep.” A pause. “Do you want some water?”

 

 

 

“…. I feel like I’ve been sleeping forever,” Alucard says, voice clear as a bell.

“Me too,” Sypha admits into the darkness.

“Fuck,” says Trevor.

“Fuck,” agrees Sypha, tone polite.

“Oh dear,” says Alucard, just to be contrary.

 

 

 

Alucard opens the front door to inspect the sky and a pile of snow spills into the house. The village itself is a several feet deep at this point, with a nice crispy layer of hail underneath that crunches when Sypha in her boots tromps outside to look around.

The vampire’s face is turned up to the heavens, his hair hanging loose and catching enormous snowflakes now and then. It’s wavy from its time in the bun, but its natural pin-straightness is asserting itself more and more by the second. Trevor limps up next to him, face screwed up against the pain, and is surprised when he feels an arm slide around his waist supportively. Hasn’t even looked his way, the smooth bastard.

They stand there like that, watching as Sypha peers this way and that, crunch-crunch-crack.

“Not a hint of dawn in any direction,” she confirms, coming back towards them.

“Perhaps we are simply mistaken.”

Trevor gives him a condescending look, which Alucard returns sevenfold with a level of ease that makes Trevor wonder if he practices in the bath from time to time.

“I…. do not think we possibly could be mistaken,” Sypha says, flexing her hands. Trevor tilts his head, looking past her to a point far in the distance. “My magic feels stable again. It usually takes me two days to recover from major works.”

“Perhaps a sympathetic resonance from the presence of Baba Yaga?”

Sypha makes an offended noise, but Trevor is busy peering far back and away and tunes out their bickering about some kind of magic theory nonsense.

Without thinking, he steps away from Alucard and into the snow, squinting.

“-Trevor, what do you think you’re doing?” ‘Pissed off’ doesn’t begin to describe Sypha’s tone of voice.

“Whoops,” he says, toes burning in the cold wetness. He doesn’t step back.

“I assumed you wanted to keep all ten of your toes, but if you’ve changed your mind, I think I will have to object,” Alucard says, coming up behind him to loop an arm around his waist again, his hold a little more enclosing this time.

“Wait, look-“ Trevor points. As one, their gazes snap forward to the direction he’s pointing in.

A moment of strained silence passes.

“There’s nothing there,” Alucard finally says, “come inside.”

“What? No, there’s….” He tilts his head again. “It looks like a lantern in the snow.”

“If you take one step forward,” Sypha says, fire blooming on her fingertips, at the same time that Alucard tightens his grip on Trevor’s waist.

“No, I don’t mean like…. You can’t see that?” It’s far off and behind a few buildings, but it’s there- some kind of strange jutting lantern, one with light the color of young mustard. The light is too steady to be from candle flame. Strange.

“Not in the least.” Allowing himself to be steered back into the house they’ve been squatting in for several days now, Trevor sneaks one more glance over his shoulder.

Behind that first lantern, is that a second one, a little further on?

 

 

 

Sypha feels confident enough to heal his arm, which takes surprisingly little time. It’s been mending a little while they’ve been holed up, so all it takes on his part is lying down flat, holding still for quite a while, and biting his lip against the spiky pain that spreads through him as she continues to chant and gesture. It feels familiar, which makes him wonder if she’d put a similar spell on the salve from last night. He can still feel the looming weight of an impending illness, but it’s nothing compared to the pain that gets lifted off his shoulders as Sypha’s spell finishes.

“I think that is rather fast for a human,” Alucard comments, resting Trevor’s fingertips in the palm of a hand to inspect them. His legs are in fact feeling much better, having been repaired along with his arm, and his fingers and hands, if not fully healed, are mended enough now that they can take off the bandages. He feels fat and indolent after so many days of no practice, no motion, and now that his arm doesn’t send a warning creak through him if he so much as twists wrong, Trevor is ready to take on the world with his teeth.

“It’s that famous Belmont stamina,” he says proudly. Alucard gives him an exasperated look.

“Try not to overexert yourself.”

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen you fully put through your paces,” Sypha comments. The spell to fix Trevor, as with any spell, has a cost, and she’s paying it now: she looks tired and wan, is wrapped in the black and red quilt and is cozied up next to Alucard, head on his shoulder as they perch on the straw mattress. Trevor doesn’t know much about magic, but he knows enough to know that healing, mending, and building take much more energy than simple destruction does. It’s a rule of the physical world, carried over and amplified in the magical one.

In that regard, as always, Sypha has proven herself exceptional: mere weariness after restoring a days-old broken bone and other wounds is nothing to sneeze at, especially not on top of having dragged him from the brink of death two days ago. Not for the first time, Trevor is glad of her loyalty, her strength, glad of that core of goodness she carries everywhere she goes. Without that, things could have been very different. I was lucky, she said.

“Maybe one of these days you will finally see him driven to exhaustion,” Alucard huffs, “outside of major injury.”

“Just wait until I’m hung over. It’s close enough then.” Trevor is stretching, moving through exercises slowly at first and then faster, until nothing twinges like it shouldn’t when his hand darts for his whip.

“Hmmm,” sighs Sypha, “I like you better like this, I think.” She shuts her eyes and is asleep before either of the men know it, head sliding down Alucard’s arm. He gathers her into his arms, giving Trevor a self-conscious glance, then kisses her lightly on the crown of her head.

 

 

 

The day goes on with no respite from the darkness. Any doubt Trevor harbors in his heart vanishes as time stretches on with no sunrise. Alucard seems particularly troubled by the phenomenon, taking to pacing and peering out from between the shutters whenever the storm slows a little.

Sypha is now the one to be tended to and watched over. Trevor finds it much easier to play the role of the watchdog. He’s happy to fetch water and help her to the chamberpot and watch from the bench as Alucard finger-combs her hair. Guilt gnaws at him, though.

“I’m sorry,” he says, letting her rest at the landing, her head tucked under his chin. “I didn’t realize it was going to weaken you this much.”

“It’s all right,” she says, her ear resting over his heart. She’d finished the pants yesterday night, so he’s wearing them. One of her hands is petting at his hip, petting at the new white fabric there. “I’m glad, in a way. I’ll recover faster from this than you would from your arm.”

“You’re glad?”

“I’m glad that you let me look after you,” Sypha says, her fingers creeping below Trevor’s tunic. “That you let me heal you.”

“…. I said I would try, the other day,” is all he can manage in response, but it seems good enough. She leans on him, smiles, and lets him lead the way back downstairs.

 

 

 

Sypha sleeps closest to the fire. Trevor had assumed that their configuration would change now that he’s healthy, but here’s how it still goes: Sypha, closest to a wall or fireplace, Alucard, closest to a door or open area, and Trevor in between. The only thing that seems to have changed is that his personal space bubble becomes vanishingly small.

 

 

 

On the next day (??) of eternal night, Sypha grudgingly surrenders her socks. Trevor spends some time showing an intrigued Alucard how to darn, but he doesn’t allow him to help with the socks.

“Practice on other pieces of clothing first,” he tells the vampire, who is leaning over his work watching with wide, interested eyes. “Socks are finicky. It’s easy to get blisters from them as is.”

“Did you learn that from your sisters?” Sypha asks from under the pile of two quilts, Trevor’s furred cloak, his old pants, Alucard’s coat, and a spare goatskin they found. She’s been complaining of the cold, and while Alucard has fretted about her falling ill, Trevor has been noticing a creeping chill too. He just hasn’t said anything.

He’s reasonably sure it’s not illness that’s bringing that particular prickle of ice across his spine, or Sypha’s.

“Nah,” Trevor says, turning the needle to go another round. Sypha’s socks are little purple things, so the white of the thread shows up starkly. He’s using one of the fancy stitches he’d been taught to at least make it a bit nicer-looking. “My father learned when he was in the military and showed me. Said it would be best to know before I had to go on the road.”

“The road?” Sypha stirs, lifting her head from under her nest to stare at him blearily.

“It’s- it was family tradition to go on longer monster hunts at least once a year, to get a feel for what it was like to search them out instead of riding off gallantly like some idiot knight when the peasants started panicking. It’s better to nip infestations in the bud, after all.” He hadn’t expected to come back from his first solo hunt to find that the road would soon be all he had to look forward to. Trevor swallows his bitterness and focuses on the point of the star in the weave where Sypha’s big toe will be.

Alucard, curled at Sypha’s side, turns his head to survey him.

“I forget, sometimes, that you were raised as nobility.” Trevor locks eyes with him in the eternal darkness of the house. There’s a tense silence.

“It doesn’t matter much to me,” Trevor offers, breaking the standoff, tone forcedly casual. “We weren’t really raised like normal nobility, anyway. Even my sisters knew something about weapons and monster hunting. I never went to any balls, never wore any lace. Never danced with any girls with nice hair.” He chuckles to himself darkly, bites the needle to adjust the sock’s position. Alucard raises his eyebrows, clearly thinking through this new information.

“No magic, though,” Sypha slurs, half-asleep already.

“None,” Trevor agrees, eyes fixed on her little sock. All the blessed silver bosom daggers in the world hadn’t been enough when the doors were chained shut and the fire started.

“It’s still cold in here,” comes Sypha’s mumble before Alucard moves to spoon her. He’s been growing quieter himself, slowing down, resting for longer. It reminds Trevor of nothing so much as an old dog readying for winter. It gives him a bad feeling. That old anxiety has come to lie down along his spine, stretch down over his shoulders again, and this time it has claws that prickle.

They fall asleep like that in front of the fire, Alucard half under Sypha’s blankets, feet tucked with hers. Trevor finishes the sock, tests the repair a bit, and places it next to the other one he’d finished. He’s seething with pent-up energy, crackling with a desire to act, to do, to make happen. He keeps looking over at the sleeping pair, keeps wanting to climb in with them.

He picks up his socks, resting on the bench, and starts darning those. He makes the patches thick- his feet are used to the road.

 

 

 

Trevor reclaims his cloak later to go outside and get some more wood for the fire. Alucard staggers to his feet, looking little better than Sypha, and follows him out into the night. In his coat and his strangely-cut shirt, he leans against the building and sighs.

“You don’t look like you’re doing so well,” Trevor says the moment he hears the door shut, rummaging around in the woodshed. The overhanging roof has done a good job of keeping the logs dry, even despite the massive snowfall.

“I feel weary,” Alucard admits after a moment. “I don’t understand why.”

“Are you hungry?” Trevor asks bluntly. He tucks several pieces of wood under his arm.

“No,” Alucard says, sounding resentful at the implication. “It feels as if…. As if I am weighted down.”

“Cold?” Trevor asks, motioning Alucard closer. Alucard steps in, then steps in again, and again, until he’s got Trevor pressed against the wood pile, mouth at the soft spot below his ear.

“Not precisely,” he breathes. Trevor’s noticed, since he’s had time to, that Alucard seems to heat up in some sort of sympathetic reaction when he comes into close contact with Sypha or himself for longish periods of time, or even when it seems like he’s hoping to. It isn’t a perfect imitation, though- he’s a little too warm, a little hot where another human would merely be cozy.

Right now, he can feel Alucard’s body burning through his cloak, through his clothes.

“I don’t want to leave Sypha alone for long enough for anything to happen,” Trevor gets out, before common sense deserts him fully. Alucard just stays there, leaning on him, like an overly-large cat.

“I don’t either,” Alucard agrees softly. “But you have been keeping your distance.”

“I have something on my mind,” Trevor admits. He feels Alucard slide a hand around him, feels him grab his wrist and hold. He’s hot to Trevor’s skin, like he’s burning up with a fever. Feeling the touch of lips on his neck, he gives a shudder. It’s one of those strange comfort-shudders like he’d gotten with Sypha the other day, but Alucard takes it as a cue and makes no further moves.

“What is it that you're thinking of?”

“Do you honestly think it’s anything other than how to get us out of this situation?” Trevor scoffs.

“No,” Alucard concedes.

“Go check on Sypha,” he tells him, shrugging him off his body. “Don’t worry so much. It’s fine.”

Alucard gives him an odd look, one worn around the edges and thin on the corners, and goes back to the relative warmth of the indoors.

Trevor brings a stack of wood in, then another, then another.

“Just in case,” he says to Alucard’s questioning stare, and neither of them say anything more on the matter.

 

 

 

Trevor wakes up on what he thinks might be the third day to Alucard on top of him.

Not, mind, in a particularly racy way- no, he’s just curled up to him so closely he’s on his body. His hands have slid under his sleep shirt, his hair is spilling everywhere, and one leg is tucked between Trevor’s thighs, applying some light pressure in a way that he feels guilty about enjoying.

Sypha is wrapped around him on the other side, tucked into his armpit and snoring softly against the side of his chest. Her breasts are pressed against his side, another guilty pleasure. Her feet, as usual, are icy- he moves to cover them with his own. That makes her shift against him in a sensual slither.

Weirdbad, Trevor reminds himself, but then: he’s the dog.

Paralyzed somewhat by a mingling of arousal and indecision, he lies agonizingly still as Alucard’s fingers slide down his chest, a fingertip catching on his nipple.

They’re sleeping, he berates himself, trying to fight against his own body’s response. They don’t know what they’re doing. Bad dog.

Alucard and Sypha stay still after that. Trevor lies there in the ember-dim dark, staring up at the ceiling, until he realizes that Alucard is shivering now and then, and Sypha’s feet aren’t usually this ice-cold right away in the morning.

“Sypha,” he says into the hollow of his arm.

“Alucard,” he says into a mouthful of golden hair.

 

 

 

He builds the fire up, lines up wood in front of the hearth so it’s easy to throw in, piles snow in the pitcher and in any pot he can find. He tests all the shutters, rattling them from the inside, and when one shutter rattles a little too hard after he tests it, he kicks the wall and growls at it.

Trevor brings some jars up from the root cellar, pries the seals open, and leaves the ones that are food where Sypha and Alucard can get to them easily.

He pulls on his newly-fixed socks, pulls on his new white pants, shakes off his cloak and ties the upper part shut pre-emptively, to keep out the chill. On go his boots, in go all his knives to their little homes in his clothing, and, lastly, on goes his whip, burning bright in his hands like a promise of the sun again.

“Be good, you two,” he says, tone light, teasing. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t. Actually- don’t do anything I would.

He closes the door behind him, locking it with the key Alucard had in his coat pocket that Trevor found.

He takes four steps forward, floundering through the heavy snow, and looks at the noticeable depression where Alucard and Sypha’s arena was a few days ago.

Trevor screams and kicks the closest wall, beats on it with his fists and howls like a mad thing until his voice falters and his hands are starting to bloody the stone. The force of his blows makes some of the snow on the roof thunder off. He watches it with an empty expression. He breathes, gaze fixed ahead, breathes until he has some semblance of calm again.

He howls again, letting rage turn the sound away from the despair he wants to give in to, letting fury wash over him until he’s snarling wetly, scanning the blackness for that lantern.

There. There.

“I’m coming, you old bitch,” Trevor rages into the storm. “I’m coming to make you pay.”

And he goes.

Chapter Text


 

 

The first lanterns are unearthly, weird metal things that jut high up into the sky with an anemic little jerk sideways just at the top. They don’t all look the same- some are black and look more like normal candle lanterns, but the majority are oddly tall, with paddle-shaped ends that seem to have their light source embedded in them over glass Trevor can’t see a way to open. He can see a glowing core in most of the paddles, though the shape changes from lantern to lantern. Some of them- more and more as he goes further- have smatterings of smaller cores in them. The colors are different- some are buttery warm yellow, some are hard acrid green, and some are even almost reddish. The lights fall into different color spectrums, and to pass the time he keeps inspecting them, categorizing them, as he rests.

The snow is deep and his pants are soaked, but the wool keeps him walking anyway. His cloak rolls off snow where it has fur, grows heavy and wet where it falls down into cloth. His body is running hot, burning with fury as he is. There’s no path, just those endless lanterns to find in the miasma of snow and blackness he’s charged into. Endless black-white-grey, changing only in terms of the shade of the shadow he’s walking through.

Trevor finds himself thinking, as he stands under another lantern, breathing hard and trying to catch his breath, what if I just waited this out?

But Sypha hadn’t stirred when he called her name, and Alucard hadn’t twitched when he called his name, and they had been so, so cold. Some things you couldn’t just endure. Some things you had to fight through, he knew, even if it meant you would probably die in the process. But you had to fight anyway, because the only alternative was lying down to die.

Hadn’t he said as much to Baba Yaga herself?

Taking in one last steady breath, Trevor pushes on. He holds that feeling in him, though: the crush of Sypha’s body supine against his, the press of Alucard leaning his weight on his side.

The only alternative is no alternative at all.

 

 

 

He’s been walking for hours- he did the math a while back. He’s taken fifty steps to get from lantern to lantern, fifty steps is so many minutes against the snow, and he’s passed his fourtieth lantern. Hours. He should be glad that he’s gone this long, should be proud of that Famous! Belmont! Stamina!, but all he can think about right now is that he’s tired, and cold, and he needs to stop somewhere before he dies. Or- well. Dies before anything exciting happens.

Trevor looks back and surveys the line of lanterns, all rising from the land in a slow undulation. He’s going slightly uphill, with no forests in sight through the snow and dark. If there’s brush he can’t see it under the massive amounts of snow. The sight- of slow rolls upwards, eternally, with the burn of distant lights like mysterious stars- makes something move in him.

It’s lonely and empty, but there’s a degree of comfort in whatever he’s looking at. There are no pressures here aside from the pressure to stay alive. He doesn’t have to juggle the temperaments of others, doesn’t have to weigh the politics of the moment to guess how fast he’ll have to skip town. He’d always liked that about the road, even after he lost everything. It had eased some of the agony of everything in those fresh days, that the wilderness was always empty, that travel was always anonymous. That there was always a place to go, for once because there was no place at all for him in the world of men.

Trevor turns his back on the past lights and moves on.

 

 

 

He’s walking as a mechanical function at this point, body struggling. His mind has descended into cold nothingness. Trevor is fighting to keep walking, knowing somewhere quiet inside him that if he gives up now, if he stops moving he’ll linger and then fall.

There’s no doubt in his mind that his body will vanish.

But all of this is under the surface, sliding around and sealed off like a fish in a frozen lake. His body works- stagger, step, step, hop, step step, stagger. His hands are shuddering, clenched brittle and wet and numb in the folds of his cloak, trying to keep as much snow and wind off of him as is possible. He just keeps walking towards the next glimmer of light in the eternal darkness.

He has to keep walking. He has to keep walking. He has to keep. He has to. He has. He. H

 

 

 

The crackle of fire wakes him up. Trevor’s on his side, curled into his cloak like a dog in the snow, and the wash of heat over him is such a novelty after endless wastes of dark that he gives a little moan of pleasure. He wiggles his fingers (ow but there in a nice multiple of five), his toes in his boots (same), and finally sits up to take inventory.

There’s sand.

Not a lot- it’s not a desert. But there’s sandy soil under his hands, and dry sharp grasses digging into his soaked pants, and a crackling fire to stave off the light summer chill. He can hear summer insects in the distance, and sparse dry trees like you find out near the borders of the mountains.

“Hell,” Trevor breathes, and the air is humid, clings to his lungs in that peculiar way unique to late-summer evenings when thunderstorms are rolling in.

He stands up and looks around, panicked. Has he been taken somewhere? Has he- has he slept? Has he been lost? Has the country gone on without him? Sypha, Alucard- did they escape? Where is he and how did this happen?

The fire crackles merrily. It’s…. a huge inferno, actually. Definitely not safe to sleep next to.

Trevor backs up to take it in, trying to make sense of what’s happened. It doesn’t look like anything is around for miles, or at least, there are no lights that he can see. If he can get some distance from this huge fire he can probably try to see if there are any settlements around. If there aren’t… he’ll pick a direction and walk. Surely Alucard and Sypha are looking-

Sleeping-

He has to keep going.

Sparing one more glance to the inferno, one that’s oddly contained, Trevor prepares to make a small hike to a mountain he can just make out in the distance.

Something catches his eye.

A sleeve?

“Oh, Jesus saves,” Trevor breathes, turning almost against his will to stare at the fire. It’s oddly contained because it’s a line of wagons, collapsed and burning down. There are people here and there, dead and burned beyond recognition. Trevor gives them glances, but they’re all long dead. Circling out from the wagons, he finds bodies here and there, most of them depleted and burned to glorified charcoal. He gives a shudder when he finds a body posed in a crawl. Even to his sensibilities, this is grim.

The brush is untouched, which he’s frankly glad for- the grass had felt dry enough under his hands that a wildfire is entirely possible, and he’s had enough of extreme weather for a thousand lifetimes. That does mean that somebody- or something- is about, though. Normal fires creep and devour, but magical fires stay where they’re put like well-trained dogs, though they’ll ride the spines of living targets too.

Wait.

A caravan, and a fire, and burned men…. “Sypha,” Trevor breathes out, desperation seizing him.

“SYPHA!” He circles out in spirals, rustling bushes and peering in dark rock hollows and calling, calling, calling her name. He searches for what feels like an eternity before he sees a little brown scrap, the unique ochre-brown of a child Speaker’s robe.

He wants to charge the spot and seize her, drown her in his arms and bite at her clothing and shake at it like an overeager hunting dog, but that will just terrify. His need to see her, to hear her, to touch her, shocks even himself. Trevor grits his teeth and approaches the pricker bush slowly, carefully.

“Sypha,” he says, voice rough, realizing that the crawling body had been going for her, as she was tucked in under this very bush and trying to hide from her tormenters. “You’re safe, sweetheart, come on out. I’ll help you find your grandfather. He’s looking for you.”

He reaches in, fingers brushing on the cloak’s hood gently. The little shape startles and the hood turns. There’s a flash of tight springy curls, big blue eyes as brilliant as a summer day, and then he gasps along with the little girl in front of him,

because the storm hits him with what feels like a physical blow.

He’s alone again, freezing. The weather was warm, though, that was real, because his cloak is a little dryer and his fingers can move again.

“Okay,” Trevor huffs, breath stolen away instantly by the storm. “On I go.”

 

 

 

The next stint of dark, lanterns, snow, numbness is made more agonizing by the shock of having had that hint of heat. Trevor finds it easier to stay awake this time, though, puzzling as he is over the vision. Or- the whatever-it-was, because maybe it’s just a memory, but it was warm enough to give him that second wind he needed to keep going. He’s starving, stomach sticking lean to the back of his spine, but even that he welcomes as a sensation to keep him up, to keep him going.

He hopes it wasn’t a one-time thing, hopes it isn’t a bad sign. He hopes that it wasn’t a last message from Sypha (and that thought spurs him, drives him on faster than before though the snow only keeps getting deeper). He hopes. And he keeps going.

 

 

 

But there’s only so much a body can do, and when he stumbles, fifteen lanterns on, he can’t manage to catch himself before he collapses face-down into the snow. He drags himself up, a hand on his whip to remind him of his mission, his Famous! Belmont! Stamina!, and limps on. His chin is dropping to his chest, his eyes fluttering closed, but he keeps going. He has to.

He bites his lip, fixes his teeth in it and keeps walking. He falls again. He picks himself up again. He looks back over his shoulder, can only see that rolling row of lanterns, and fights back a spear of misery. He wants to go back. He wants to go back and shake Alucard and Sypha until they wake up, wants to crawl between them and soak in their heat and their attention and their presences until the memory of this road is only a nightmare.

He keeps going, wiping his face of wet snow and nothing else.

 

 

 

Trevor starts to fall more frequently. He knows, instinctively, what that means, but he’s hours out and miles on and there’s nothing else to do but force himself on.

There’s nothing around, not that he can see through the dense swirls of snow, and so he keeps his eyes mostly shut except to peek around and orient himself to the next lantern.

Because of this, when he smacks into a door, it takes him completely by surprise. Trevor lies where he’s fallen against the wood, shivering, vision blurry and body worn down. He has to, but he can’t. He can’t go any further.

He sleeps.

 

 

 

There’s a touch at his sleeve, and in any better moment he’d jerk awake. As it is, he just opens his eyes blearily. There’s a ceiling above him, a warm hearth in front of him, and he’s on a straw mattress. The violent surge of need forces him up, moaning at the hurt that opens in his body, like he’s got open wounds on open wounds. Where are they? Is he back? Did he ever leave? Was it just a nightmare after all?

“Stay down,” says a gentle voice, a woman’s, forcing his shoulders back. Trevor blearily opens his eyes, reaching out.

“Sypha?”

There’s a hand in his, but it’s much bigger than hers, calloused in strange places and warm where Sypha’s fingers are always chilly.

“Lisa,” says the woman, smiling gently at him and smoothing his hair back. “Lisa Tepes.”

 

 

 

Trevor can’t tell if the shock is what knocks him out or the strain he’s been putting his body under, but he’d put money on a little bit of both.

When he next regains awareness, he realizes he’s being propped up in somebody’s arms and fed a broth, slowly, carefully. When Lisa realizes he’s awake she lets him ease away, sits with him and strokes his hair some more until he’s coordinated enough to drink the stuff himself.

“I was surprised to find you on the door,” she says. Her voice is bold, sounds like the color of brass. Trevor likes her more than he probably should. “But you came to the right place. I’m a doctor.”

“I’ve got nothing to pay you with,” he says, instead of, ‘for the love of you, this entire country is doomed.’

“I don’t need your coin,” Lisa sooths, rubbing his back like he’s a young child, not a man with a whip and a line of knives under his cloak. “But if you don’t mind keeping a lad company for a little while I put something together, I wouldn’t turn that down.”

Alucard. Or, Adrian. Oh.

“Sure thing,” he scratches out, turning and putting his feet to the ground. “Happy to help.”

If there’s a name for what Trevor feels when he lifts his gaze and finds himself staring down a suspicious-looking man that has to be, absolutely must be, Dracula, he doesn’t know it and doesn’t want to.

He’s got a tow-headed boy in his arms, one with expressive golden eyes and little tiny kitten fangs. Trevor is suddenly acutely aware that he left his outer shirt and shoulder-guard drying in the bathroom, can feel the lightness of no whip on his hip. They’re in the kitchen, and it’s huge, a massive stone behemoth of a room that hints that the building they’re in is larger even than Trevor’s family manse. He can see his cloak hanging up with all the little glinting knives, can see the coil of his whip under there.

“I’ve put on the hot water, darling,” Dracula says to Lisa, and the way that his expression melts from savage suspicion to doting is indescribable. Alucard stares at him from his father’s arms, sticking a little finger in his mouth. He looks to be younger than Sypha in her memory, young enough that he still curls in his father’ arms like a babe. “Shall I do anything else for you?”

“Thank you, that’s just perfect,” Lisa says, and kisses him on his cheek. They move around each other gracefully, naturally, and the way that Dracula orbits Lisa says everything about their relationship. Lisa sails away to the fireplace, and Trevor recognizes in the movement the way Alucard glides to shutters, to doors, to tasks he’s set to do. “This is my husband. Mr…?”

“Belnades,” Trevor lies smoothly, because this may be a memory or it may be something else, but either way he’s not an idiot. “Trevor Belnades.”

Dracula takes one step further and seats himself at the table, transferring Alucard to his leg to bounce him fondly. Alucard, his golden hair sticking out every which way in a goofy sort of crown, grins broadly and chortles. Dracula watches Lisa start to prepare something, pulling down jars and tapping out powders, before turning his gaze to Trevor.

“I smelled the coldness of the northern women in the air,” he says, tone calm, neutral. “Instead, I found a man. What were you doing out there, to come clawing at my wife’s hearth?”

“Hunting,” Trevor says before he can think otherwise, eyes fixing on Alucard. To a bigger fool than he, placing Alucard so close to a potential danger might have seemed a risk. Trevor knows it for what it is: a flaunt, a display of strength. You are so insignificant that my child can approach you, and I know you do not dare to harm a hair on his head.

“Hunting what,” says Dracula, and Trevor’s eyes fly to his face before he can stop himself. The angle of tension in his face, the hint of a snarl at the end of the sentence- Alucard does that. Fondness blooms in him, which is so bizarre while staring Dracula in the face that all he can do is shrug, at a loss.

“Witches,” Trevor says. “Just one, actually. Baba Yaga.”

Dracula gives him a considering look. Alucard pipes up with a small voice, “Give me,” but he grows abruptly shy when Trevor looks at him and bundles himself into his father’s chest.

Lisa is humming softly, a folk tune that Trevor remembers his own mother singing. The sudden stab of loss leaves him dizzy, breathless.

“Hunting witches usually doesn’t go quite the way a hunter hopes it will, Belmont,” says Dracula, and Trevor is too cold-seared to do anything but sigh. He clenches his hands, unclenches them. They have cuts and red and white spots from the cold, and tremble finely even in the heat of a kitchen with two roaring fires.

“Um,” says Alucard, peering out from under his father’s arm.

“Don’t forget to introduce yourself, my love,” sings out Lisa, grinding away at something with a mortar and pestle. “It’s important to model good manners for Adrian!”

“I- know who you are,” Trevor says quietly, and Dracula’s mouth twitches in the same way that Alucard’s does when he finds something funny but knows he’s not supposed to. Fondness clenches in Trevor’s chest, longing. He misses Alucard- his Alucard, not the shy boy tucked against his father like a cygnet in its father’s infinitely black feathers.

“I am Dracula, husband of Lisa Tepes,” he says, and the phrasing is so self-aware and deferential that it startles a laugh out of Trevor. Alucard tucks his head out from under his father’s arm and starts to squiggle down to the ground. Dracula gives Trevor a sharp, considering look, no trust on his face despite his own sympathetic flash of amusement.

“I am, um, Alu- Adria-“ Alucard turns to Dracula urgently, the cygnet burrowing back into its parent at the first sign of trouble.

“He came in to the house on the credentials of one of the Cold Women, my son, and so you must receive him as the son of Dracula. It is the proper etiquette for our kind.” Adrian sticks his finger in his mouth again, then pull it out and bows shakily to Trevor.

“I am Alucard, the son of Dracula, and you are welcomed to our home,” he peeps, blinking. Trevor is dimly aware of Dracula watching him with forced casualness, but all he can see is Alucard fluffing his hair self-consciously. “Is that okay?”

“What a sophisticated young man my little boy is becoming,” sings out Lisa, carrying a steaming cup and a little paper packet.

“I introduced myself,” Alucard tells her seriously, eyes wide, cuddling against her skirts as she crouches in front of Trevor.

“Very good,” she says, fluffing his hair, and turns to smile at Dracula. He smiles back at her, and it’s a sign of how much he loves her that his smile half-lingers even as he looks Trevor over once more. “Take this, open it up and drop it all on your tongue and swallow it down, then wash the rest down with this tea.”

He follows her directions exactly. Normally he’d put up some fuss, try to figure out what she’s feeding him, but pinned under Dracula’s gaze, staring at a young Alucard, he’s been rendered near mute.

The bitterness of the medicine makes him hunch his shoulders, though.

“Uergh,” Trevor complains, though he tries not to. Dracula raises his eyebrows, accepts the mug as Lisa hands it to him.

“See? I told you, it’s too bitter for people. The combination is effective, but it’s a nasty shock.”

“The solvent activates it, though. The two components are necessary.”

“Perhaps there’s some way to get the medicine straight into the stomach without having some of the reaction in the poor patient’s mouth, though.” Lisa puts a hand to her mouth, brow furrowing.

“It heals,” Dracula protests, spreading his hands. “What does the bitterness matter?”

“Perhaps a coating,” Lisa muses, clearly lost in thought.

Alucard comes closer to Trevor, closer again, until he’s near enough to touch. Trevor does not. This is probably the closest he’ll ever get to willfully placing himself between a bear and its babies. He’s not about to pull the bear’s ear, too.

“I think,” Alucard says, voice rising and falling in that uneven cadence of the very young, “we have to, bow?”

“Sure,” Trevor says, easily, as Alucard pats his knee,

 

But the world is dissolving backwards again and there’s the snow again, the ice, the wind and the blackness and the loneliness. He soaks in the cold for a moment before standing up from where he’s fallen, rolls his shoulders.

“I see where this is going,” he says aloud, mostly to hear his own voice. Lisa’s medicine is still bitter on his tongue, horribly so. It feels like it’s singeing his brain. It’s good, that bitterness, keeping him awake, alert. “Thanks,” Trevor says to a dead woman, struck abruptly by the enormous cruelty of her death, a cruelty inflicted on thousands of people and only two. “Thanks,” he says again into the wind, and starts humming the song his mother would sing, the one Lisa was humming.

He keeps going.

 

 

 

To be honest, he can do without the taunt of death that seems to have to frame these encounters. If he could just know that every seven lanterns he’d collapse into somebody else’s memory, that would be nice. Hunting witches doesn’t go the way you’d think, said Dracula, and isn’t that the truth. If he’d known that he would be trudging through endless snow, meeting the memories of his companions….

Sypha under his arm, Alucard on his chest, warmth and comfort, safety despite the storm outside

He hopes they’re all right.

He goes on, Lisa’s medicine burning a hole through his tongue.

 

 

 

When it happens, it’s unexpected. The wind is driving as ever, and he’s lost track of the lamps despite himself. He can feel the cuts on his hands as pinpricks of pain in an ever-growing vaguery known as his body, but he can also feel the burn and the boil of the tea, the medicine, seething inside him. Not for the first time, he wishes he had a hat.

There’s a crunch of snow to the side of him, almost lost in the howl of the wind. Trevor peeps over the ruff of his cloak, sees nothing, and hesitates. He’s heading into a pool of light, is loathe to abandon his path, but….

Squeak.

“Who’s there?” He demands, turning and putting his back to the light.

Squeak-queak squeak.

Something about the rhythm of it makes Trevor think of a horse’s gait, but he doesn’t know of any horse that would be idiot enough to be out here. Hell, he doesn’t even know if here is a place a horse could end up. He didn’t even know here was a place he could end up.

“Show yourself and I might go easy on you! Might be able to work something out, you know.” Grabbing for the handle of his whip, Trevor edges up to the center of the spotlight formed by the strange lantern. This one has a pronounced blue-green light, which is both new and a little creepy. He stands at alert in the light, eyes working, ears working.

Nothing.

Nothing.

….

“Ugh,” he growls to himself, and though he doesn’t quite pull his hand away from his whip yet, he does start to walk to the next lamp.

The walk is just as arduous as the last few dozen, but it’s made more harrowing by the fact that he can feel something watching him. He swears he hears a crunch of snow, a shff of that peculiar horse-rhythm, but nothing reveals itself.

Not for the next lantern, painted an ugly beige and splattered with strange papers with glossy tops and lettering in a language he doesn’t know.

Not for the next after that, a sparse, angular thing that makes an audible noise as it beams down pale orange light.

Trevor gives up on it after a while, as the medicine fades in him and the memory of fire fades again. His feet ache. His eyes are bleary from the wind. He feels as if he may be the only human left alive, the only human trudging through this endless roadway of strange lanterns and isolated pools of brilliance. Is it a comfort, to walk alone on paths that have no hope of touching another human being? Is it truly a comfort?

He stumbles, again, knees weak and blood feeling thin, at the base of a lamp that’s just a metal stick with a brilliant white light, and then it shows itself.

The thing steps out of the shadows slowly, approaching him from the front with a boldness inherent to anything that likes the taste of flesh.

It looks like a stallion at first pass, though the black of its pelt is strange. Where a horse would reflect light, even in the winter and with a thick winter down, this thing eats up the light from the lamp, making it look overly-defined and too harsh in the constant fogging of the storm. The mane, black too, is long and curled like a human’s, with tight ringlets and swoops that are completely free of snow. The eyes feel wrong: they’re a piercing blue, roll around in its skull like the thing is blinded. The eyes aren’t horse eyes, though Trevor would be hard-pressed to say what they are.

“What the…. Hell?” He can’t stop himself from remarking, though, because as the thing steps forwards its hind legs dip into the light, and that sight is enough to turn any man’s stomach: where there should be more of that light-eating pelt, instead it’s just shining muscle and sinew and viscera. The haunches are glossy and slick in a hard contrast to the main body, and the visual of that is so disconcerting that Trevor actually hunches back. The animal doesn’t seem to be in any pain, and its tail flicks over its hind end with no discomfort. The hair is straighter, and slides over the raw flesh of its body with no stick, no drag of hair on damp. Still: he can see the blood pumping, can see the gloss of wetness, can see the workings of its muscles as it comes closer.

“Jesus,” Trevor breathes, hands lunging to his whip.

The animal sneers, revealing a maw of layered fangs. The wind tosses between them, lifting its forelock, and for a moment he thinks he sees something like a jagged golden stump, spattered with flecks of black and red, before the thing is charging at him.

He cracks the whip, hands clumsy despite the cold, and the creature snarls like a wolf but deeper, bounding aside at the last moment. It pauses to consider him, bowing down in a movement unnatural for a horse but perfect on a stalking cat. A cut opens on its flank where he made contact. At least the blood is red, Trevor thinks wildly, before he forces his frozen hands to work.

The thing is fast as a horse, seems to have more stable footing than one, and bends and twists its body in ways that make Trevor’s stomach do funny things. He’s seen his share of monsters, but he’s never heard of this thing, whatever it is. If he’s lucky, that means it’s rare.

As it grabs for him with its teeth on another dash-and-lunge, Trevor makes his mind up. He’s a born monster hunter, has killed his fair share, and he’s used to meeting things by surprise. The creature lunges with its head, like it’s used to having a horn or blade where that flash of a stump had been. The creature is on better footing than him in the deep snow, is coated in a thick haze of fur, has seemingly endless energy. Trevor has been walking for what feels like years, now, has collapsed several times, just barely recovered from a serious attack. He’s dodged most charges but has gotten a scrape or a nick in places. He has to press any weakness he can find.

But it’s easier said than done- the thing is smart, and it takes hits to the side of its face or neck rather than allow his whip anywhere near that critical spot. Trevor can’t feel any sense of accomplishment at the fact that this all but confirms the weakness, because the level of intelligence the thing shows is eerie.

“Maybe you and I could just work things out over a card game, eh? Winner gets to go home, loser has to do a naked handstand?”

“Men do not fare well against my kind in games,” rumbles the thing, sounding patronizing, its voice deep like thunder, like the sky opening up and cracking down a roaring bolt of raw energy, and Trevor is so stunned by this abrupt development that he freezes.

It gives the thing an opening, and it takes it- lunging forward, it snaps its neck forward like a snake, teeth fanning out to catch his elbow as he throws his weight away. His feet go out from under him in the snow and then it doesn’t matter because the thing has his elbow in its mouth, isn’t biting down but is holding, and there’s a frozen moment as Trevor and the thing lock eyes, before

the teeth in its mouth start undulating and dragging, pulling him in. The mouth starts to spread around his elbow, and Trevor yanks and pulls and struggles, but the thing has him and he can feel what he only hopes are tongues licking at the blood pooling in the creature’s mouth, rolling down its throat.

Fuck no!” Another undulation, a little jerk of the thing’s head, and Trevor is pulled closer again, just a little, a slow encroachment of teeth. It keeps circling him as he does it, keeping him off-balance and unable to regain his feet. The horse’s jaws start to stretch a little, like a snake, and if he were any other kind of man he would be stricken into shock by this nightmare scenario, by the prospect of being pulled into the belly of a flat black monster shaped like a horse. The pain of those huge dragging teeth in his arm is negligible in the face of the enormity of the kind of death he’s staring down: slow, lingering. Tortuous.

But he’s Trevor fucking Belmont, House Belmont, last son of the Belmonts, and a Belmont doesn’t just get dragged into a monster’s belly.

He staggers once more, using the movement to hand his whip off, and then he’s using his free arm to bring the butt end of his whip down over where he can just see the shard of a little garnet spike. He brings it down with all the power he can muster, hoping that the whip’s holy power even extends to bashing a creature’s head in. He needs all the help he can get, based on the amount of blood his arm is pouring down the thing’s chin and neck.

A sudden flare of contrast strikes out across the sky, lightning flaring closer than is comfortable- actual, honest-to-god lightning, in a chain and a chain and then another one- as the creature vomits him out, splattering him in blood and bile and who-knows-what and screams, the sound high-pitched as a horse’s whinny, but with a resonance deep in the chest that calls to mind drums.

It flails and writhes, throws itself to the ground still screaming and lifts those flat black legs to its forehead and Trevor Belmont, House of Belmont, last son of the Belmonts, throws himself so far back so fast and wishes he could know how to never, ever see what that reveals again. The thing has wrapped hands- human hands, fine-boned and slightly too long but human hands- around its forehead, is knotting its fingers protectively over the spot, the skin grayish but undoubtedly alive, fish-bone-slender fingers with long black talons curling and rubbing and plucking. The screaming subsides and Trevor stares, pouring blood from his elbow, shaking.

As the thing rolls to its feet again, he sees those too, and gives a distressed moan, raising a hand to his forehead. Hands too, bigger but hands, coming out of this monstrous thing with bloodied heaving sides and a mouth that wants to drag him to eternity. Its eyes roll crazily, and then they’re fixed on him. They burn with hatred, with raw targeted malevolence where before there was only the stare of a creature hungry.

“God save me,” he says, fighting against the panic singing in his veins, readying his whip again.

It folds one limb up again, shielding its stump, and bares its teeth, miming swallowing again. It’s such a human kind of taunt that Trevor actually regains some mental footing because of it. Taunts he knows. Taunts he can handle. Taunts are what men give each other in barroom brawls.

“You liked that? As it turns out, I have two arms, like most men, and they’re aiming right-“ he cracks his whip, trying to snag that hand or even strike that spot again, “for-“ he strikes again and drags a laceration on the hand, which spurts blood violently across the snow but doesn’t move from its position above the stump, “your-“ two fingers grab at the whip, and Trevor jerks, stumbles, because it is strong, strong with two fingers as Alucard was with his whole body, but he’s planned for this too- “FACE!”

He lets go of the whip and throws a knife. It sticks in the creature’s hand, but, more importantly, it seems to lodge firmly in the stump as well. Again come the screams, and the thunder, and Trevor reclaims his whip while the thing thrashes, pulling and pulling and pulling until it just pulls the knife right through its hand, trailing viscous red and sinewy white.

It starts to foam at the mouth, lying on the ground there, and both of its forehands and then both of its hindhands rise up and seize and pull at the knife. It emits sobbing moans whenever it manages to shift the blade. The sight is simultaneously disturbing and pathetic, but a monster hunter is an animal too, and so Trevor cracks at the hands with his whip to try to press his advantage.

The thing screams and thrashes, flailing, head slapping the ground, hands flailing like nothing so much as a toddler having a tantrum. Trevor steels himself to the task and snaps his whip forward again-

“I will mount you and eat you from the head first,” promises the creature, one eye fixing on him. Despite its movements its voice is calm, deliberate.

“Uh, that’s, wow. Phrasing?” Is all Trevor can muster, but he’s interrupted anyway by the need to spring away. The creature surges violently to its hand-feet, knife stuck in that spot on its forehead, and shakes itself violently, spraying blood everywhere.

“I will make you taste half of the despair that I have, for all the cruelties and abuses your kind have heaped upon mine,” it says, advancing on him, and Trevor keeps backing up, circling, until suddenly-

His back hits a wall.

The creature sneers at him again, rearing up on its hind legs and flexing its hands at him. Holy shit. It’s huge.

Trevor feels at the wall, glances this way and that. Fuck. He’s bracketed in. Shifting his hand back, he grabs his shortsword and readies for close combat. If he’s clever, if he’s lucky, he can shimmy out of this corner and get back to more open space, can give himself more room with his whip again.

The creature advances, all slinking darkness and shining bloodslick, and Trevor thinks very seriously about throwing a knife and seeing if horse balls are as sensitive to pain as human ones.

There’s a witchy cackle that floats through the air, a pounding of stone on stone. The storm, which has waned somewhat, picks up again with intense force, the wind slamming so hard that Trevor falls over against the side wall he’s suddenly been enclosed by.

“Come closer, boy. Don’t you want me to lay my head in your lap?”

“Not even remotely, thanks, I’m actually uninterested on at least five levels,” Trevor returns, thoroughly weirded out by this point.

The beast lunges, and Trevor has a flash of: fuck. He had assumed that the thing would be slower on two legs, more cumbersome, that the creature was looking for intimidation more than speed. It’s the opposite- it moves faster, somehow, like a reared-back snake rushing, in his face impossibly fast and grabbing him, holding at his wrists and maw lunging in and suddenly Trevor-

 

 

 

There’s a crunch.

 

 

 

He stands there as the hands uncurl and shrivel, as the thing jolts and slides down and starts to twitch like a dying insect.

The entire line of its spine and most of its back, its shoulders, its head is missing, replaced by a hard rock pillar as taller than most houses with odd bunched portions contrasted with thready strings of stone here and there, the look of it as if stretched, as if stone could be stretched. It flares out at the bottom, has turned the hind legs of the thing into a sticky paste. Trevor looks up, instinctively rounding his body to protect his shredded arm, and meets the luminous eyes of Baba Yaga. She gestures with one boney hand, all of her too-many fingers slithering through the air like a centipede, and the pestle lifts into the air with her on top, crouched around the handle and swirled on it and holding on with too many legs, too many parts of bodies in configurations he can’t map out.

Trevor decides not to.

“Bad, bad, bad,” she sings, voice cutting through the wind. There’s a mortar, similarly oversized, similarly oddly-proportioned, the walls too high and the base too thick, and as the pestle lifts the body of the thing comes with it, stuck firmly. An eye rolls and fixes on Trevor as it lifts up and up and up, and he realizes with horror that the thing is still alive in that ruined body. Its skull is smashed, bleeding red that’s too red and revealing an inside space packed with shimmering, glittering opaque gold crystal and seeping liquid. It looks like a jeweler’s idea of a honeycomb, and it’s made all the more unsettling by the fact that this is that creature’s brain. The rest of its body seem to be no different: glimmering, crystalline structures of gold intermingled with red viscera and ooze that resembles the red of a berry, not the red of flesh. He can’t tell if that’s natural, if it’s infected, what. He’s never met a monster with no guts inside.

Then Baba Yaga gestures again, and the pestle presses down inexorably, and the creature is screaming and flailing, the sky erupting into lightning. The sound is incredible, muffled only by the intensity of the storm as the snow, impossibly, starts to pile down even more heavily.

He hears an old woman’s voice singing over the mash of breaking, grinding glass and snapping joints, popping organs, shrill shrieks of agony that trigger sympathetic lightning and thunder. He can’t make out the words, doesn’t want to.

Placing a hand on the wall that almost pinned him, he struggles his way away, the snow up to his waist at this point. He keeps going.

 

 

 

But not for long. The wall is attached to something, and that something is a gate, and on that gate is a seal, and on that seal is the entire summation of his family history, the core of his identity, the nexus of every memory in his life prior to a scant few years ago.

Trevor stands in front of the gate of the Belmont mansion, staring through the bars at his home decorated beautifully by his mother and sisters to stand bright as a star in the dark of winter, and when all else has fallen by the side for him, this cannot.

This is too much, not enough, both at the same time. He watches a curtain lift, drop down again.

He turns around.

He turns back.

Chapter Text


 

 

He doesn’t know what to do, so he just goes back, straight out and into the darkness.

There was a hand, a movement, a tuck of a curtain. He knows he saw it, and that knowledge gnaws at him as he walks, dripping blood, into the eternal darkness and away from the lanterns, away from the mansion, away from everything and anything he’s followed up until this point.

The snow is too deep to move too fast, but as he goes further and further, as the light dims behind him, the storm calms and eventually slows until it’s just a steady series of thick flurries. Trevor pauses, his back to the light, and looks forward into the eternal black. He can sense more than feel the infinite in front of him, an eternity of darkness and solitude and roaming. It feels like a maw yawning, but the yawn is so slow and so long-lived that he’ll be dead and forgotten, and all the world around him, before the yawn is finished.

He doesn’t need a path under his feet to know that he’s on the road, wandering like he did back in those hard first weeks, months, year after his life burned. The road is always in him, he supposes, a long trail through a place that might be home to others but is just another stop on an endless search to him.

Trevor puts his head down, tugs his cloak closer, and walks away.

 

 

 

He doesn’t know how long he spends like that, heading deeper and deeper into the darkness. His elbow is sopping, from blood and spit and bile, but he doesn’t care. His cloak is laden with snow, dragging heavily through endless drifts. He can’t say, honestly, if the storm is really easing or if he’s just gotten used to it; if the snow is growing thinner on the ground or if he’s just acclimated.

He knows he should just charge in, charge on, but he feels used-up and empty, like a vessel that’s been all poured out and is suddenly too aware of its shape. He turns around at one moment, more out of curiosity than anything, and is unsurprised to find that the light is gone, that the world around him is just a constant press of dark and cold and endless wandering.

He doesn’t mind, he supposes. Anything is better than going into that mansion.

But there’s a sense of direction, even here in the darkness, and it pulls at him like the needle of a compass: darkness, darkness, in and on and endlessly walking away.

He follows that call tiredly, unable to do anything else. It’s all he has, and while there’s no fire left in him, he doesn’t see the point in not doing it.

 

 

 

Though it might just be madness from the eternal, endless night, Trevor could swear he sees a hint of light somewhere ahead of him. He balks at that, digging his heels in as if somebody is prodding him forward.

But after some inspection, he decides that whatever it is, it’s no lantern. It’s not the gate of that mansion, that’s certain. He hesitates a little more, the cold sweeping through him, making his wet arm throb dully, but finally he picks up his feet and continues to follow that compass-pull.

As he walks, he tries not to think about anything at all. He doesn’t think about that last Christmas season they’d all spent together, the smell of the rolls rising from the oven in the pre-dawn amethyst light, the fact that his mother had roused both him and his father to pound the heavy dough for her while she’d made the filling. He doesn’t think about how she’d laughed and teased his father about his tired grunts while they kneaded, doesn’t think about how proud he was that now she asked him to help elbow-to-elbow with his father instead of asking one of the help to join in. He doesn’t think about it, because if he did, he wouldn’t be able to walk at all.

He tries not to think about anything at all in the darkness, and, like always, he fails.

 

 

 

The compass-pull is growing weaker, and Trevor isn’t sure what to think about that. He supposes he should be concerned with orienting himself, but it isn’t worth the effort. He knows that if he kicked aside the snow (now down to below his boots, not up to his chest) he would see the road. It doesn’t matter where from, he tells himself, pushing the mansion out of his mind. It doesn’t matter where to, either, because he won’t stop long enough for it to matter.

It’s hard to say if the world itself has fallen into darkness, or if it’s just localized to him. It’s easier if it’s just him, because if it’s everything and everybody, then that guilt starts to gnaw at him again. A Belmont, even a disgraced, scarred, burned-out shell of one, can’t just let his country fall to darkness. But if it’s the Belmont himself? Well. Nothing specifically in the family rules against that.

He goes like this for a while, walking blearily forward, eyes growing heavier and heavier.

Eventually he stops, and he can’t really say why. The invisible pull has ceased, and now he stands precipitously, as if at the edge of some greater black expanse than even the all-yawning maw around him.

Trevor strains his eyes, but aside from the feeling of cold and wet that flickers here and there in his consciousness, he can’t get any information from any of his senses. As he stands there, it occurs to him that he may have lost his body altogether, may have somehow become some kind of thing, a creature that’s succumbed to Baba Yaga and has yielded his flesh and bone to her mortar and pestle. The thought should inspire rage, but all he can muster is weariness. He’s been a figurative ghost in his own world for long enough that the idea of becoming a literal one isn’t as horrifying as it should be. He’s spent so long drifting through the world, wandering, hiding, dodging, that the idea of floating through with impunity is perhaps more appealing than it should be.

Untethered, it’s been hard to stay himself. There’s only so much he can tell himself before he starts to regard his own lies with suspicion- things will get better, things will work out, he’ll figure it out, he’ll get over it someday, somehow. There’s only so much he can tell himself before he turns away from himself and tries to get rid of the voice constantly telling him things that never happen.

He starts to think of Sypha’s grandfather, telling him they have to try their best, and he starts to think of Alucard, bearing the literal scar of his rebellion on his chest. He starts to think of Sypha as he found her first, a statue and then a cheeky woman indignantly asking him if he’d climbed on her.

He should do better, he knows, and tilts his head back- or thinks he does, feels like he does. It’s hard. Everything is hard, some days. Even now, even with friends (and alone, in a cosmos of nothing, he can say that word to himself easily, numbed to his own lies), there’s a nag that this is temporary, that this too will come crashing down. Even now, he can’t trust his own lies that this time, things will be better. This time things will work out. It isn’t fear, precisely, but an inevitability as true as the dawn that someday something catastrophic will happen, and he’ll be left standing in the rubble. It’s a certainty.

Is it?

The ache of the thought makes Trevor shut his eyes, and he’s rewarded with the strange sensation of closed eyes but no change in what he sees. In a way, it’s apt: no matter what he does, his view doesn’t shift.

Sypha, furious and raging. She made the bricks glow, made the bricks melt, pinned him down and kissed him and took his barely-there concession to try as a major victory. She’s been plucking at him for a while, has been gathering his threads and shaking out what she finds until she can make sense of what she sees. She’s looked enough to get a general idea, Trevor supposes, though there are holes, huge gaping ones, and spots that are burned out and will never be there again.

She doesn’t seem to mind, somehow, and that more than anything makes him leery. He isn’t sure he can ever be what she thinks she sees in him. But, if he’s honest… it isn’t really about her seeing things that aren’t there, hasn’t ever been. She hasn’t been looking at the holes. She’s been looking at the surviving parts, because there’s no way to look at what she never knew was there to start with.

He’d said he’d try to be better, hadn’t he? Hell. Maybe he’d even promised.

(A Belmont keeps his promises! boomed his father, and his sisters all sighed in chorus, because it wasn’t a Man Thing, it was a Belmont Thing.)

Instead here he is in the darkness, eyes closed against nothing, against the hard press of a void neverending.

But she’d made the brick melt, and it had been for him. Because of him. Something about him had made her feel something so intensely that she had burned the brick, had melted it down. That hadn’t been his holes. That had been what remained of him.

His mind flickers back to Alucard, cornering him quite literally, pressing against him and growling into him, biting him, pouring his passion into Trevor. If he thinks back, he can still remember the vibration of his voice against his throat, the pressure of his hand in Trevor’s hair, that claim of ownership he had forced on Trevor, because he knew that given the chance, Trevor would rather squirm away and keep walking.

They’d been in the dark then, and Alucard had sounded… urgent, desperate for Trevor to hear him. He supposes that Alucard, too, knows this particular brand of being cut completely loose: the nothingness of loss, the dissolution of identity, the emptiness of trying to find your way in a world that has no interest in greeting you. Unlike Trevor, though, he’d managed to catch himself at the stumble and keep moving on. He had managed to navigate the darkness.

But Alucard had found him good enough to hang on to, even in that darkness, had found something in Trevor that moved him to press him close and growl and hold. Something about Trevor had motivated Alucard to bring him one of the few things that could survive in blackness: proximity.

They are, Trevor knows, more similar than either would probably feel comfortable admitting, though they diverge in important ways.

Alucard had seen him walking shared nightscape and had reached out to Trevor in it, forcing possession of the dark in a way that had shifted the landscape from emptiness to shared privacy. It isn’t bleakness if you make it your own, Trevor muses carefully. No, not quite right: it isn’t bleakness if somebody else has been there, has marked the road in and out, and has left it clear for you to find. If there’s a road in, a road out, it’s just a place you go sometimes.

Is it?

Is it?

Trevor breathes in, feels the cold air rattle around in his lungs.

Is it inevitable that destruction will pull everything down around his ears again?

Is it inevitable that he’ll be left to wander roads alone once more?

Maybe.

Is it just a place you go sometimes?

“Yeah,” Trevor breathes out. He made Sypha so angry she burned the bricks, made them melt, desperate to let him know that she saw that what he had left was enough. He moved Alucard to confess his fear for him, reaching in the darkness to extend a guiding hand to end his roaming.

Trevor opens his eyes and finds, to his absolute surprise, that there’s a rim of black, curved like a horn, and he’s standing on the very lip of it. In front of him, the moon is rising, full and snow-white. It seems too enormous to be real, is so big and close that he feels like he could just reach out and touch it. There are large lilies blooming in lines down endlessly through the space at his feet, petals so stark white they seem to glow under the light of the moon. The snow has stopped, clouds scattering quickly as if being shooed away. Trevor stares the scene for a long while, allowing himself to settle in his own body again like sediment in a pond.

Finally he takes a step back and looks at what he’s actually standing on: the rim of a great black lake, shot through with endless garlands of flowers growing in strings like lakeweed. If he strains his eyes, he can see lilies shading down into grey, and then black even further down, much further down than he feels like any flower has any business growing.

Trevor takes a step back calmly, then another step back. He looks at the moon, sighs, and casts his eyes about.

There, in the distance: a lantern.

Straightening his shoulders, Trevor starts walking, eyes fixed.

 

 

 

The light is changing, sliding into a suggestion of velvet blue as he taps on the door with a foot, too exhausted and hurt to knock.

Silence.

Trevor heaves a sigh and steps back, looking up to the window where he knows the bedroom they’ve been sleeping in is.

“You guys better not actually be fucking right now,” he groans, but the thought makes a wry grin crack its way across his face. “Fine, fine.”

He feels around and eventually finds the key he lifted off Alucard. He’s actually a little surprised that he managed to hang on to it, but glad. Breaking a window seems like a waste, and also potentially a great way to piss off a certain horse-mashing witch.

Managing to turn the key successfully is a little harder with his hurt arm, but he manages it and pops the latch.

Half of him, the part crouched and wary and full of spikes and teeth, is expecting to find a dark hearth and a frozen pair. The other half is hopeful, expecting to get a smack and his ear pinched, and that’s the part he encourages as he crosses the threshold.

The warmth hits him first, and it’s enough to make him moan in pleasure, hands dropping from his cloak. He’s been cold for so long by now that it feels like he’s forgotten what it is to not be ice on all sides.

The second thing that hits him is the quiet. Sypha and Alucard aren’t on the mattress in front of the hearth, and the fire is low. The supplies he laid out for them are gone or cut into- the wood is half-used, the jars of food tucked along the back wall, where there’s a gap of cold air. He leashes his fear, grabbing it like the leash of a ravenous hunting dog, and looks at the straw mattress in front of the fireplace. No quilt, the pad room-temperature.

The house is sound-proof as always, so he has no way of knowing where they are, what they’re doing. He grabs that wild dog of fear closer to him, cinching its leash close to his hip, and takes the time to shed his cloak, now more tattered and torn than ever, and untie his shoes, and take off his soaked socks. He lays them to dry near the fire, groaning. Every time he jars his bitten arm it hurts, and through the new tooth-holes in his shirt he can see the slimy punctures of where that thing had gotten him. Right. Bathing next.

 

 

 

The upstairs is cooler but still warm. Trevor dawdles at the top of the stairs, warring with himself as he undoes the laces on his trousers. Finally he wins the fight he wants to and turns into the room with Alucard’s magical bath, bandages and the hated salve clutched in his fingers.

He can wait. He has to have faith. He has to try.

 

 

 

One thing he hasn’t counted on is how amazing the hot water feels. Trevor doesn’t draw a full bath, but he soaks his blue-black bruised feet and legs, washes his body with a spare cloth as best he can, and finally drapes the hot towel around his neck. It feels like heaven to have all that delicious radiant heat soaking into him, and he luxuriates in it until the steam from the water eases and the worst of the cold is gone from his bones.

Time for the arm. He supposes that he should consider trying to wake somebody up, should have them help him, should do all these things. Baby steps, he consoles himself, and turns on the water again. (He’ll never get over how weird that is, how exciting it is to see all that hot clean water come pouring out like some kind of miniature waterfall.)

Washing off the bite hurts. He’s taken more damage than he expected, lost more blood in a long soak down his clothes and his body than he’d thought he would have. There are fine slices all over him where he’d dodged the thing’s mouth but it had been close enough to feel- it probably had sliced him with some of its spare toy chest of fangs. Trevor is surprised to find that his wrists have sharply-defined bruises on them from where the thing grabbed him, the handprints painting an image of a man’s hand but longer, larger.

The bite itself is deep. He’ll probably have to beg Sypha to forgive him and help him heal. He’s lucky the thing didn’t start trying to twist his arm off. With the hold it had gotten on him, he wouldn’t have been able to do much if it hadn’t allowed its arrogance to overtake it. If it had moved to hold him down, had moved to do anything but drink in his fear and his panic and his pain, he wouldn’t have survived, he’s fairly confident. But it seems as if even the blackest monsters are susceptible to the common failings of man.

Good refresher, now that he thinks about it.

He groans, hisses, and finally yells as he washes the wounds out. Half of the pain is probably from the injury itself, but his flesh is coming back to life, blood flooding into places that feel like they’ve forgotten how to be warm. He honestly hadn’t expected that to make him feel like parts of his body were actively on fire.

The wounds he scrubs hard at with soap and hot water, the memory of that thick bile still fresh on his mind, and if he sheds some tears during that process, that’s between him and the wash tub. It seems that it ate away at his skin on his arm and side a little, too, leaving him raw and thoroughly- yep- pretty revolting-looking.

Trevor uses the salve, taking the time to cuss out every horse he’s ever met and every horse he ever will, and vowing to never ride a black horse for the rest of his damn life. Black horses have caused him enough damage as it is- like hell is he letting one cause his ass any pain too.

“Yeah, lay your head in my lap, you bastard,” Trevor spits good-naturedly, wrapping bandages. He uses his teeth to hold one end. “Lay your head in my lap, let’s see if you like what you get.” Admittedly, it feels good to have gone up against something like that and have lived. Sure, he didn’t kill it himself, but he held it off, gave it trouble and pain. In any case, the fight would have been different to start with if he hadn’t been exhausted from hours of trudging. That’s a good reminder, too, a basic of hunting, something he’s put by the wayside too often since everything happened: Stay rested to stay alert.

Whistling to himself, Trevor starts to bandage up his side.

Almost done.

 

 

 

When he’s finished, he gathers up the tatters of his shirt. He contemplates trying to wash his clothes, standing there in the nude, but finally he just shrugs. If Sypha or Alucard want to chew on him for his lack of tidiness, so be it. He’ll accept it. Might be nice, actually.

He can’t find a sleep shirt anywhere he looks- Sypha had probably taken it back. Their various clothing, hanging strung from the ceiling rafters dry, looks like nothing he wants to wear to bed. Trevor grumbles, scratching at his head, before giving up and using Alucard’s hanging shirt to dry himself off. He smiles a little as he imagines his scandalized expression at the misuse.

“Sorry, but not really,” Trevor says, trying to hang it up nicely again once he’s done.

….. Eh.

Leaving the shirt suspiciously wrinkled and upside-down and blowing out the candle, Trevor swings out of the bathroom in a cloud of steam, naked as the day he was born. He figures he can find a spare sleepshirt slung over the back of the chair in the bedroom before anybody wakes up, or at least can shimmy into it meaningfully as they wake.

What he doesn’t expect to do, as he steps into the hallway, is smack naked into Sypha.

She screams, hair sticking up in all directions, her Speaker robes on and dusted with snow. Trevor, surprised himself, flails for a weapon, realizes he’s naked, and ducks back into the bathing room. Sypha recovers quickly enough to slam in after him, arms going every which way, which Trevor takes as her trying to beat the life out of him and is stuck between grabbing his crotch to prevent yet another chance of being rendered permanently sterile and fending off her hands, begging loudly for forgiveness as he does.

Sypha is a lot fresher and a lot faster than he is, though, and in short order she grabs him and pulls herself in tight. Her heart is beating a mile a minute, her face is pressed to his neck, and her arms are latched around him like he’s a bird about to set off again at any minute.

She’s crying so hard that it feels like a little rain shower against his skin, hands petting at him, pulling at his hair, twining in it to hold him down, and all he can think about is that he is super naked and super tired and all he wants to do is lie down between her and Alucard again. In between her sobs, though, the ones making her body buck and strain, he can start to make out words, over and over and over:

“I thought you died,” she moans. “We thought you were gone forever,” she wails. “Why did you leave us?!”

“I had to…” Trevor falters. “I had to- figure some things out.” He raises his arms up to cradle her, cautious of his bandaged arm, but also trying not to be too cautious, as if maybe she’ll never notice that he’s gone off and gotten himself chewed up again.

“Without us,” says Alucard, looming in the doorway, the light in the corridor starting to color everything in shades of pastel-gray, lending a surreal cast to the scene. It makes his eyes look darker than they are, makes Sypha’s little trembling form bundled in her robes into a fairy-tale dreamscape.

“I had to,” Trevor says again. “You know.” Alucard crosses his arms, cold fury sliding across his face. Trevor gives him a look, hopes it isn’t half as beseeching and pleading as he thinks it probably is. Sypha wrenches herself away from him to hold his face in her hands; the familiarity of the gesture makes Trevor melt, buckling under her gaze and shrinking under Alucard’s. He colors, looks away, shrinks in on himself some more. “I had to sort some things out.”

Alucard chews on that in silence, unmoving, expression drifting into unreadability. Sypha starts taking inventory of Trevor under a little conjured flicker of fire, the process of which he abruptly realizes is much more embarrassing when he’s naked and everybody else in the room is fully clothed and armed.

“Your arm,” Sypha gasps, eyes growing huge. Trevor squirms.

“Your side,” she murmurs, fingers brushing gently over his effective, if unruly, bandage job. Alucard still stands there in the doorway, unspeaking, unmoving.

“Your feet,” she whispers in horror at all the purple-blue.

“Just bruises,” Trevor interjects, feeing defensive.

“What happened to your wrists?” Alucard finally speaks, pushing off from the doorway to step into the darkness. He crouches down next to Sypha and holds out his hand.

“Uh…. I’ll tell you,” Trevor says, lifting an arm so Alucard can see. “But… maybe later?”

“Now,” Alucard demands, fingers pressing on the bruise. Sypha turns her gaze to his feet, bites her lip, shakes her head.

“That bloody hurts, you asshole,” Trevor protests at the press of fingers, then jerks when Sypha slides her warm little fingers over the arch of one of his feet. “See? I can feel that. And, by the way, it tickles.”

“Trevor,” growls Alucard, eyes darkening. Trevor can’t see the color properly now that Sypha is down at his feet with her little flame, but he can make an educated guess that his eyes are turning red.

“It was a monster, if you must know. A big black furry one with hands,” he explains, as Alucard compares his own hand to the mark and raises a disturbed eyebrow. “I- look, I’m-“ Trevor bites his lip, feels himself flush again. “I’m happy to see you two. I… really am. I’m. Just. I missed you. I thought about you both a lot. I had to go. I thought you might die if I didn’t. I’m sorry. I thought you weren’t going to wake up again,” he explains in a rush, trying to skip around the burst of confession, “and look! Sun! Isn’t that proof that I did something right after all?”

Alucard and Sypha look him over, identical odd expressions on their faces.

“Welcome back,” Sypha says, slowly.

“If you leave again,” Alucard says, grabbing Trevor’s chin forcefully, “I will hunt you down like an animal and leash you.”

“Um, I might have…. Phrased that differently,” Sypha says, eyebrows up so far they look like they’re trying to escape her face, “but yes. Welcome back. We missed you too, Trevor.”

Silence falls. The floor is cold and hard under his ass, but he can’t stop staring at them. They look like they’re expecting something.

“I’m glad you’re not dead,” Trevor bursts out awkwardly.

“We love you too,” Alucard tells him with a resigned sigh, and Sypha finally laughs, happiness leaking back into her eyes.

Chapter Text


 

 

They insist on re-bandaging him. Sypha throws a fit when Trevor firmly refuses and tells her that he used the salve, starts lecturing him on not using random things on his injuries. Leaning braced on the wall with both arms up so she can get at his dissolved side, Trevor starts to fuzz in and out of awareness as her voice goes on. She’s cleaned off the old salve, is putting on something else that she’d apparently had already, tucked away somewhere in her mysterious and infinite Speaker’s robes. He’s going to ask what else she’s got in there at some point. All he can take in right now is that the new stuff hurts less, smells peppery and like pine. Alucard is downstairs doing…. He should know, but he can’t remember. All he knows is that he’s safe, and nobody is leaving. Good enough. Good enough.

“… And anyway, you wouldn’t splint a burn, would you!? It’s the same thing.” Trevor jolts to awareness with a quivering buzz, body so tired that he hurts. Sypha peers around his side at him, eyebrows knitting.

“Hwuh,” he agrees, eyes struggling to focus.

“Did you sleep at all, when you were… away?” She asks with a sweet, girlish tip of her head. Her lips are pursed. She’s obviously concerned.

“Couldn’t,” he breathes out around the faint unreality of the world around him, rendered super-real and hard to understand by his exhaustion. “Definitely wouldn’t have come back.”

“Oh,” says Sypha, moving to pull him gently away from the wall with her cold hands.

“Fell down a bit,” he clarifies, allowing her to draw him in to her arms, nuzzling down to rub his face against hers. Is he still naked? Yeah, he is. He’d forgotten. “Cold.”

“Oh, Trevor,” sighs Sypha, and pulls him with her to the edge of the bed.

Trevor knows he should feel something about this, about being pulled into a better bed than he’s seen in years by a beautiful woman he cares for. He knows he should, but Sypha doesn’t seem to be worried about that. She pulls him after her, smoothing his still-damp hair back, and kisses him in that fluttering rain she likes to do, all over his forehead, his throat, his jaw, and presses him down in the bed.

It’s so nice to finally be able to sleep and mean it. He’s out before he can even close his eyes, feels like.

 

 

 

When he next wakes, he’s still tired, still muzzy. He can’t muster the energy to open his eyes, but he can hear voices: Alucard and Sypha.

“… been hard on him,” he hears.

“Even so.” Alucard. “How are we supposed to function if he simply races off baying at the first provocation?”

“It isn’t as if he does that regularly,” Sypha sniffs.

“Yes,” Alucard drones, sounding weary. “That’s usually your job.”

“Of course.”

“I’m serious,” Alucard says, and the bed dips and sways. There’s a hand sliding down his face, one with long fingers and a slightly cool touch. Trevor spares a moment to wonder why he couldn’t find some companions with warm hands. “It’s dangerous. He’s only human.”

“He’s better than you give him credit for,” Sypha huffs. “I seem to recall him holding you off capably enough when we first met.”

“Yes, via deathwish,” growls Alucard, hand sliding lower, down his neck to his shoulder, the exposed dip of a collarbone. He pets at the arc of the skin there with a thumb. “He’s only human, and unlike you, he doesn’t have a lick of magical ability. He’s a hunter, but hunters fall too easily before high monsters.”

“Jealous?” croaks Trevor, slitting one eye open. “Those are fighting words.”

“Unless you plan on fighting me flat on your back, I think you’ll have to wait a while to make that a real threat,” Alucard retorts sternly, but his expression melts into fondness.

“Oh,” giggles Sypha. “I’m sure he could manage that.”

“Hey,” Trevor objects, but then he laughs a little too. “You really have a way with words when you’re pissed off, you know that?”

“I don’t know what- oh.” Alucard pulls back his hand like it’s been burned, then steels himself and place his hand back down on Trevor’s bare chest deliberately. “In that, I’ll win.”

“Not sure how to win at, but you’re definitely wrong.”

“Is it unethical to encourage a fight between a wounded and non-wounded party?” Sypha puts a hand to her mouth, tipping her head in thought.

Woof,” Trevor growls, moving to sit up. Alucard’s eyes flash with something new- something like fury but off, something like hunger but sideways. He presses Trevor down with all his weight, swinging a leg over his body to straddle him.

“Do you really think that you can just- crawl back here- and everything will be fine?” Alucard snarls, eyes dipping red fast, fast enough that Trevor has a sudden gut surge of fear, all of it from the back of his brain where things like ‘do not set yourself on fire’ live. “Do you think you can come back with your tail tucked and we’ll simply allow it?” Alucard continues, despite Sypha’s shocked sound, one hand rising up to Trevor’s throat. He isn’t applying pressure yet, but the threat is clear. “We should send you out again and make our way forward without you. You put us all at risk for some mad whim.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what that’s like,” Trevor rasps, fighting his body’s instinctive reaction to this sudden threat- struggle, fight, kill. It’s hard. The sudden ratchet of adrenaline through his body, worn thin from his journey in the dark, is only making him shake. The thought of them leaving him behind while he struggled hadn’t occurred to him once, not even for a heartbeat. It’s a sobering thought.

“Get off of him,” shouts Sypha, fire flaring from her palms.

“Sypha,” Alucard warns, fingers flexing, fangs flashing.

“Don’t,” Trevor says faintly, unsure of who he’s talking to, but Sypha advances anyway, furious.

“You’re doing this again! You promised me you wouldn’t, not after last time!”

“Don’t,” Trevor says again, a little louder.

“I only mean to point out the danger-“ Alucard draws himself up, looking like nothing so much as an angry snake, all angles and cold eyes. His hands come off Trevor’s skin.

“You do this stupid thing where you have to get angry at him instead of saying something like, ‘I cried when I woke up and you were gone!’ Don’t you think that’s more helpful than trying to throttle him?! What’s wrong with you? You don’t do that to me!

“That isn’t anything even remotely close to the same-“

“Don’t leave me behind,” he finally forces out, sounding weaker than he wants to, and it stops the fight cold. He’s still shivering from the sudden adrenaline.

Alucard looks back down to him, naked guilt on his face.

“We wouldn’t,” Sypha sooths, sitting next to them both to stroke her hand through his hair. “We never considered it. Though I did want to char your flesh from your bones when I saw you’d left us,” she coos darkly, turning and tucking her legs under her to face them directly.

“Yikes,” Trevor says in a small voice.

“See,” Alucard says primly.

“I didn’t mime choking him,” Sypha hisses.

“You’re smoking on,” Trevor says, eyebrows up, and raises a hand to shake his fingers. “Just sort of- mmm, smoldering. A little.”

“Well,” Sypha says, tucking her hands into her robes to hide her fingertips. “Go on. Make up.”

Alucard turns back to Trevor, hair falling finally over one shoulder to pool on Trevor’s body.

“I worry,” Alucard confesses, fingers tracing little paths over places that Trevor knows are good places to nick a man and drain him out. It seems to be instinctive, seems to be a self-soothing gesture. He should find that unnerving, but the touches are gentle, and Alucard is starting to heat up, so his fingers are leaving escalating impressions of heat on his skin. “I worried that you would never return. Human lives are so fragile,” he finishes, eyes finally draining back into gold.

His mother. Trevor supposes that between himself and Sypha, he should know best the effect watching your family burn to death in front of your eyes can have. It’s not so easy to stay cool and confident in the face of anything that reminds you of a trauma not old enough, not scarred-over enough, to be dead nerves and nothing else.

“Sorry,” he says, and goes on because that feels cheap, empty: “I was coming back. I’ll always come back. I promise you that. I only left because I- like I said. I think you two might have died if I didn’t.”

He knows he’s hit it on the head because Alucard’s eyes flash bright and wide and tender. He takes in a quick breath, brow creasing, glancing between Sypha and Trevor.

“I don’t like the layout of all this,” Alucard confesses, leaning over to press his head against Sypha’s shoulder, eyes closing. She moves to accommodate him, nestling her head against his. Trevor watches from his place flat on the bed, pinned down still. He feels lonely watching them, tries not to. “I dislike the rules of the situation we’ve found ourselves in. I dislike feeling like a pawn piece against you on a board I cannot even see.”

“I want to burn this witch’s face off,” Sypha clarifies, eyes snapping open. Her fingernails are still a little sooty at the ends.

“Um,” Trevor says, mind sliding back to the crunch and scream and pealing thunder of his last encounter with Baba Yaga. “So, about that… I have a sort of, uh, a request.” He considers them, nestled up like birds, Alucard gazing down at him tiredly, Sypha looking ready to claw bodily into anything that presents itself.

“You need to leave again?” Alucard asks, the breath leaving him in a resigned sigh bordering on a moan.

“Not quite,” Trevor says, instead of, ‘I just promised you I wouldn’t,’ because he hasn’t given Alucard a whole lot to trust about the durability of his presence lately, has he?

“You want us to help you,” Sypha says firmly. “Finally.”

“Wow, Sypha,” Trevor drawls, eyes narrowing. “Way to steal my thunder.”

 

 

 

He tells them about his journey. It’s weird to tell them about things he’s pretty sure are from their own pasts, but it feels like lying to omit them. It feels invasive to admit crashing around in what are probably memories laden with emotion, but it would be worse to allow them to be blindsided if they come across more strange bubbles from times long gone. Besides- his request, at the end of the story, won’t make any sense otherwise.

To his surprise, they have less of a reaction to his bouncing around in their memories than they do to his description of the fight with the thing.

 

 

 

“What do you think it was?” Sypha gasps, shuddering. She’s tucked herself under the blankets on her side next to Trevor, cold socked feet twined with his. (The light is dying outside- just Trevor’s luck, to bring back the daylight only to sleep through it.) Alucard has eventually slithered over to be on Trevor’s other side, though he’s been slowly insinuating himself so that he’s practically under Trevor, propping him up and stealing his heat. He’s thought about calling him on it now and then, but it’s actually kind of nice. Alucard’s been steadily heating up, too, and is just reaching that weird threshold where his body stops registering it as the heat of a fellow human and starts having to figure it out again.

“I don’t know,” Trevor admits. “The hands really- uh, threw me off.”

“I had wondered what left those marks,” Alucard confesses, a hand snaking over to press his palm gently over the impression on a wrist again. “The monsters I know of actually don’t have true human-like handprints. There is a particular ligament arrangement in non-human hands that leaves a distinct gap in the hand print on the second and third joints, even with a massive amount of pressure applied.” He rubs his thumb along the blue-black mark, probably where the gaps are supposed to be. Trevor can’t bring himself to complain. It hurts, but it also feels a little… “I suppose at least we can thank Baba Yaga for interfering, whatever it was.”

“Perhaps she interceded because Trevor is her prey,” Sypha protests. “I don’t think a wolf would take kindly to a fox going after a bird it’s stalking. That doesn’t mean the wolf has any fond feelings for the bird.”

“Thanks, guys, that’s- I’m not a fucking bird,” he grumbles.

“Certainly not,” Alucard agrees, pressing in on Trevor again, forcing him against Sypha a little, hand closing on that bruised wrist firmly. “Does that hurt?”

“A bit,” he says, swallowing. Sypha smiles at him, head pillowed on one arm. One of her feet rubs at his. She has a hand on his side, fingers spread on his waist right under his bandages.

“Too much?” He pulls Trevor’s arm up carefully, pinning it behind his back.

“Uh,” He says, instead of, ‘I’m uncomfortable with how much this is turning me on.’

“Trevor?”

“It’s fine,” he says, inhaling and exhaling shakily.

“What about the other one?” Alucard asks, reaching under his body to find his other arm, thumb rubbing at the soft part at the center of his wrist. Sypha’s eyes are glittering, but she’s pulling away, sitting up.

“Sypha?” Trevor asks instead of answering. She tips her head, hums, and flicks her fingers. The door slams shut and the candle in a lantern on the windowsill lights. That done, she stands up and turns her back to them both. Alucard has frozen as well, body rushing suddenly from overly-warm to toasty. He’s watching her over Trevor, has hooked his chin over his shoulder.

“Wait a moment,” she tells them both, untying her robes.

“Hurry,” says Alucard, body flexing against Trevor’s. He can feel- oh. Yeah, he knows what that is. “Hurry and come back to bed,” he begs, tone sweet as his father’s had been to his wife.

Sypha gives them both an arch look over her shoulder, unfastening and still going, until Trevor thinks he’s going to die like this, pinned by a vampire and arrested by his own growing interest in the proceedings. She saves him from a sudden death by spreading her robes open like the wings of a bird, sliding them from her in a graceful flex of her shoulders. Trevor can’t help but groan when he realizes she’s still wearing several layers underneath.

“Be patient,” she chides, untying and loosening and unwinding, until a whole new set of layers drop down.

“How long does this take?” Trevor groans, and Alucard gives him a hard kiss on his neck that’s dangerously close to a nip.

“She likes to show off, I think.”

“I have yet to hear any complaints about the end result,” Sypha responds, slowly lifting her little cream slip over her head to reveal first a pert bottom, then a smooth lower back, and then her bare shoulders. She spends a few seconds undoing and dropping her undermost layers, and then she’s naked so suddenly after all the ceremony that Trevor almost gasps.

“Come on in,” Trevor says, “I’d lift the blankets but somebody has me a little wrapped up.”

“I can do it myself,” Sypha says, turning, breasts small but heavy, belly lean and hips soft. She has a dusting of faintly shiny scars all up one leg, halfway up like a fallen silk stocking on the other. They catch the light as she lifts her feet to remove her socks. Trevor wants to see how the marks feel under his tongue. He catches himself almost panting at the sight of her, tries to recover himself. “You’re such an open book,” she smiles, eyes bright as ever, and lifts the blanket to slide in with them again.

“Am I supposed to be apathetic about this?” Her naked skin feels so good against his that it makes Trevor feel dizzy, drunk. He leans forward and she kisses him, seizing his face like she likes to do and biting his lip, twining her tongue with his and making him follow her lead. She wraps her feet with his again, but the press of her belly against his body has a very different effect than earlier- he groans, tries to press closer. Alucard gives Trevor another one of those hard, nipping kisses, this time on the back of his neck, and pulls his other arm back just as gently as he had the first.

“Sit up,” Alucard tells Sypha, who ignores him to kiss Trevor some more. Then: “Is this all right as well?”

“That’s fine,” Trevor tries to say, but all he gets out is a moan because Sypha has put her a hand at his waist again, is petting the divot between his abdomen and his thigh, refuses to go lower or more to the center. He likes that teasing more than he thinks he should. It’s making his skin jump, is making his awareness of the painful places on his body fade. His focus is rapidly narrowing to just two points: Sypha, Alucard, where they’re touching him and where he wants to touch them.

“Good,” Alucard says, and shifting his hold transfers both of Trevor’s arms to one of his hands. He uses this hold to pin Trevor down against Sypha, mouth leaving wet, hard kisses all over his neck, his shoulders, his back. Sypha shifts her chest against him and spreads her legs a little, gasps and giggles when Trevor’s growing erection nudges at the inside of a thigh. Immobilized like he is, he can’t do anything about that, nothing at all except try to lean in for another kiss, eyes roaming over Sypha’s face like she’s been hiding something from him, is revealing it now. She may well be.

“What do you want us to do?” Sypha asks, a hand sliding to Trevor’s waist. “What do you want to do?”

“Er,” he says, balking a bit. Alucard leans forward, knees bracing on the mattress outside Sypha’s, inside Trevor’s, and adjusts his stance to spread Trevor’s thighs. Oh. Oh uh. Right. Men. A man. Alucard is a man. Somehow, that had sort of… escaped? His awareness? Until right now, when Trevor can feel his erection pressing against his ass through those tight pants of his.

“Perhaps we should ask what he doesn’t want to do,” Alucard suggests, which actually is way less helpful than he probably thinks it is.

“I don’t really know,” Trevor tentatively lets out, trying not to get carried away rocking against Sypha, trying not to get carried away by the way her breasts sway and bounce as Alucard pulls him back up and off of her and she slides to put her back to the wall, at the edge of the bed. “I uh, I’ve actually never-“

He takes a break from talking because Alucard is giving him a half-bite again, and this time he doesn’t fight it, just sways back against him and moans, eyes closing and skin breaking out into goosebumps in the sudden rush of sensation and cold air as the quilt falls down off them.

When he opens his eyes again, he sees Sypha sitting up, legs braced and hips tipped to give them a show. She winks at them both, the motion slow and knowing, as she gently swirls two fingers around her clit, sighing and resettling herself more comfortably as she finds just the right pace, just the right angle. Like this, Trevor can see her entrance, though the lighting is soft enough that he can’t see much more than a sweet pink gleam under a gentle curtain of dark honey curls. He sucks in a hard breath, dick tight against his belly, leaking already. Sypha shudders, lips parting, fingers still going slow. She clearly knows what she likes, and he finds that entirely too arousing to be fair.

“Never been with two people at once?” Alucard murmurs into his ear, hooking him with another half-bite, shifting his weight to make Trevor lean back against him, making him feel every inch of the erection he still hasn’t taken his damn pants off for. Trevor cries out, eyes shutting again, fingers trembling, arms working against Alucard’s hold.

“Ngh,” he protests, ears pricking as Sypha gives a soft cry of pleasure.

“Let him talk,” she scolds, though she sounds breathier than he’s ever heard her.

“All right,” Alucard concedes. He finally releases Trevor’s arms, but only long enough to turn him and throw him down between Sypha’s legs, face up to the ceiling. He blinks, trying to decide how he feels about being manhandled that easily (good), about being turned so he can’t see Sypha touching herself (bad). Alucard starts to strip out of his own pants on his knees in the bed, jolting like a hound about to lunge. His eyes are a faint red-trimmed gold, fangs prevalent in his mouth like they always are when he’s riled up. The sight is almost as good as Sypha- suddenly becomes better when the belts come off and the pants and underthings peel off as one and his cock is jutting hard into the air. “Well?”

Sypha threads a hand through his hair, pulls a little. He realizes he can lean and kiss her inner thigh, so he does. Suddenly he doesn’t mind being on his back in front of these two so much.

“I’ve never uh, don’t laugh,” Trevor mumbles, trying and failing to keep his nerve with Alucard’s glittering stare and Sypha’s almost-hot grip in his hair. She guides him with her hold- he kisses the other thigh, tongues her skin. She hums in approval above him.

“I won’t,” Alucard assures him, eyebrow cocking up. Trevor is happy with his own anatomy, certainly hasn’t received any complaints, but he feels somewhat daunted at the thick flare of Alucard’s cock in front of him. He supposes they might be about the same length, perhaps his a little longer, but Alucard is girthy, at odds with his lean build in a way that he can’t help but feel surprised about. He imagines, unbidden, Sypha sinking down on that thick cock and swears, gripping at the sheet below them, his own prick jerking eagerly.

“If you laugh at me, I swear to god I’m turning this cart around,” Trevor tries for humor but just ends up sounding like he’s stalling, which he is. Alucard gives him an exasperated look, planting his hands on Trevor’s thighs to spread his legs and crawl up between them. Sypha muffles a giggle above the men that swiftly turns into a pleased purr, and, coupled with the sweet wet noises her fingers are making against herself, Trevor finds he can’t even muster embarrassment anymore. “I’ve never been with a man,” he blurts out urgently.

To his surprise, Alucard does the very opposite of laugh- he freezes, taking in a tight breath. He looks almost… stricken?

“Oh no,” Sypha laughs, leaning over to look Trevor in the face. “He’s such a- well. What do vampires love best in all the stories, Trevor?” He tries to stare her in the eye but can’t help but watch her breasts. They’re so close to his face, if he could just- wait.

“Uh… blood?” That doesn’t bode well for him.

Besides that,” Sypha says indulgently, while Alucard flexes his hands on Trevor’s thighs, audibly breathing heavily now.

“Uh…. Virgin noblewom- wait. Do you have a virgin fetish?”

“It is a kink,” Alucard responds defensively, but the way his pupils have drawn open so that his eyes look mostly red says it all.

“You have a virgin fetish?” Says Trevor, just to be obnoxious.

“Yes,” says Sypha, and hums contentedly when Trevor leans up to suck one nipple into his mouth. He flicks his tongue on the nub, lets her slide out of his mouth with the barest, gentlest scrape of teeth. “Ooh, you are good with your mouth. I wouldn’t have guessed.”

“Rude, very rude. You’ve always known I have a smart tongue. -Sorry you can only have it once,” Trevor shrugs to Alucard, trying not to feel- daunted? excited? overwhelmed?

“I’ll still have had yours,” Alucard tells him, leaning in to kiss Sypha as well over him. “It’s not just the taking. It’s the- mmm.” Sypha is biting at his lip, pulling and biting again. He sways into her. “It’s that I took it from you. You are always mine, in a way.” The last part he growls, sounding dangerously turned on. His cock gives a little jump, a pulse. Trevor could swear it thickens a little, but it’s probably just his unresolved cock ambivalence.

Well. At least he’s consistent- Alucard definitely has a thing for possessing, for holding, for owning. It’s a good thing he’s otherwise so stable, so nurturing, so respectful of life, Trevor figures. Otherwise, that could have been a real fucking problem, especially in a vampire. In another life, in another version of them, that could have lead down some real bad paths.

But here he just looks at Trevor beseechingly, eyes wide and gold-red-gemstone-colored, lips red where Sypha just bit him.

“You don’t have to give that to me, though.” Sypha reaches out and pets at his cheek, draws her fingers through his hair as far as she can go. The gold strands stick and fall in a graceful puddle along Alucard’s shoulder.

“Can I- uh. Think about it? A little?” Trevor reaches up and smooths his palms over Alucard’s body, wherever he can get his hands on him. Right this moment it’s his legs, his arms, his shoulders. If he’s honest with himself, he does want to feel that, trusts Alucard and Sypha enough to not get him into trouble for their own self-interests. Based on Sypha’s stance when the topic started, too, she seems interested. He supposes that if he can enjoy watching two women, a woman might enjoy two men, and that pleases him just as much as the idea of Alucard on him, weighing him down, in him.

He eyes Alucard’s cock again, heavy and with a slim pearl of precome beading up, another one sliding down his shaft. Oh yeah. That- yeah. He wants that. Admitting it, though…. That might be the hard part.

“Of course,” Alucard agrees, moving closer to give Trevor more to work with. “Take all the time you need.”

“If you two are done,” Sypha sighs, hips shifting.

“Yeah,” Trevor breathes, hands sliding under her thighs, urging her up.

“Oh,” Alucard says, palms sliding up Trevor’s thighs to play with his balls.

“Fuck, don’t tease,” Trevor interjects, hips bucking, but Sypha gets what he wants and rises up from her recline, shifting to straddle his head. “Sit down, Sypha, let me show youmf.”

She doesn’t let him finish, just puts her pussy on his mouth. He kisses her first, because that’s what a gentleman does on a first fuck, before setting to work with his tongue, his lips, raising his hands up to stroke whatever comes to him.

That feels like Alucard’s hands, and for a second he’s confused, but then his hand is being guided down and he can feel the press of something hard and almost-slick against his own cock. Alucard’s hand enfolds his own and guides him mercilessly in the pace, not allowing him to speed up, only allowing a slow, tender slide of skin on skin that has Trevor whining into Sypha’s sex before too long.

He can feel his belly tensing, his balls tightening, but it’s not nearly enough- it’s just the start, a hitch up a long slope. Sypha seems to be appreciating his work- she’s grinding down, wetness soaking his mouth, his nose, his face, and every time that he presses up with his other hand and she shifts so he can breathe he gasps for air. He draws her down again and again at different angles and finally finds her clit at just the right angle, starts teasing that slick little jut with flicks of his tongue, sweeps, presses and slides and rhythmic jolts. Through her thighs he can hear her voice, her moans of pleasure, and he can feel Alucard thrusting against their twined hands, precome making the whole event slick enough to satisfy.

Sypha starts to rut against him harder. He can feel the way her body changes, the way her lips plump up and her juices start running double fast, the way her clit pops up like it’s on a mission, and he hums as he sucks her off, cradling her with his mouth, touching the very tip of that little jut of her and letting her rock on him. Her thighs clench suddenly, and she’s screaming above him, driving against him and moaning and cursing like she never does, and Trevor is so hot for all of this that he doesn’t even notice that Alucard has sped up until he’s suddenly gasping too, but all he gets is a mouthful of pussy because Sypha is still on him, he can’t get the air he needs and Alucard is driving against him, rutting and fuck it, fuck it-

She releases him swiftly when he whines, swings off him and to the side closest to the wall. Collapsing bonelessly, she leans her head on his arm and watches Alucard jerking them off in their joined fists, watches the slick play of them against each other.

Trevor groans, grinding his teeth, trying to last, but he’s covered in Sypha’s scent, dripping in it, and Alucard is so determined and fierce above him, rocking them in tandem, that Trevor can’t do anything but shake and shudder and struggle. It shouldn’t do anything to him, Alucard snarling and holding him down with one arm braced against his shoulders, but it sure as hell does. He can feel his belly jolting again, this time for real, can feel his focus narrowing down to Alucard’s cock against his, the restraint of Alucard’s arm forcing him down, and he throws his head back and groans, hips snapping, body going tense as a bow and mind bending out, sparkling black searing through his vision as Alucard wrings every last drop of him out and keeps going.

He gives a stuttering little whine, starting to struggle for real, hears Sypha suck in an aroused little huff of breath.

“Don’t be cruel,” she says, but she bites her lip when she looks up at Trevor, who is panting and writhing and giving more whines, breath hitching. He feels a little tickle of heat at the corner of his eyes at the sensations, the too-much of it all. The overstimulation is too much, but he can’t really say he hates it- he’s just- it’s too much, and he can’t- he can’t- can’t- can’t can’t can’t-

Alucard releases him, flips him over, pins him down again with his hands on either side of Trevor’s legs, pushes himself into the soft spot between his legs and fucks in earnest.

“Hhhholy shit,” Trevor gasps, because while this is better on the surface, on another side all he can imagine is taking it like this, spread open and wide and speared, maybe with his face buried in Sypha again to make her scream, or maybe with his own cock buried in her, Alucard forcing the pace for both of them like he clearly likes to do.

Alucard lifts Trevor’s hips up a bit and seems to find a sweet spot, starting to groan, grip tightening. The flare of his head is catching at Trevor’s hole like this, just the barest glancing contact on each downsweep, and hell, hell, hell he needs this, wants it so powerfully so suddenly that it takes him by surprise when Sypha is kissing him again, her mouth sweet and relaxed on his. He’s slower to kiss back now, lips swollen and tongue weary from his working on her, but she doesn’t seem to want to do anything but kiss, carding a hand through his hair while Alucard mimics fucking him straight through the mattress.

He gets taken by surprise again- Alucard gives one, two, three hard thrusts that lay him flat, then a final long, lingering push in with a tender little jolt at the end and he’s coming, tucked between Trevor’s thighs, plastering himself along Trevor’s back and giving him one last half-bite for the sake of it, groaning and then growling like some kind of animal.

Trevor gives another whine, just to express himself.

Alucard reaches down and pinches his ass. It feels fond.

They lie there in silence, twined together, sometimes kissing, until they start to cool down again.

 

 

“I will miss this bath,” Sypha admits as she watches the water steam.

“Nn,” Trevor says, slumped between her legs on the floor, half-dozing. She’s sitting on the chair in the room, has lit a little floating flame to show them the way.

“We really made a mess of him,” Alucard says. He sounds smug. Bastard.

“I don’t think we should give ourselves too much credit,” Sypha corrects, and accepts the washcloth to tidy herself with.

“Really? And why not?”

Trevor picks his head up and tries to reach for the wetted cloth Alucard has, but the other man ignores his hands and leans in to clean his face and belly for him, then goes between his legs.

“I can do it myself,” he protests, jumping when Alucard rolls his balls. “And I got chewed on,” he insists. “It’s not all you and your- your- sexy sexual prowess, I’ll have you know. I fought a beast.”

“Oh, yes,” Alucard says, very grandly and with a toss of his head, making Sypha laugh. “Still, I don’t think you could count that as a beast.”

“What!” Trevor says indignantly, trying to shoot up but just flailing a little instead.

“Seeing a man about a dog doesn’t count, really,” Alucard tells him.

“I hate you,” Trevor says, very firmly, and is surprised to find Alucard’s mouth on his. He hasn’t kissed him before, he doesn’t think- Alucard is good at this, knows it, is all languid tongue and pressing, unhurried force. He scrapes his fangs along the soft line of Trevor’s lower lip as he pulls back, breathes in his breath, smiles at the hard shudder that gets him.

Trevor smiles back, hesitantly, leaning his head against Sypha’s thigh. Sypha leans down and presses a finger against one of Alucard’s marks on his neck.

“My god,” she says, after a second of tracing the marks, around and around. “You gave the dog a collar.”

Chapter Text


 

 

The next morning, Trevor goes outside and hauls in some more wood before the other two are up. The physical exertion feels good after so long bound up in bandages and splints, and it’s not hard enough work that his body, still aching from his journey in darkness, can protest. He considers the wood shed for a little more time than is strictly necessary, then peers out in the early dawn, far off into the hills. The storm is still sticking around, clouds thick and heavily gathered like woolen skirts on a matron, but he can just see what he thinks is a pinprick of light through the slight haze of snow. The sun will rise today, he’s confident, but it might not make much of a difference for the light level.

Curiosity assuaged, he heads inside, toeing off his boots to handle matters domestic. Maybe he’ll get breakfast ready.

 

 

 

Trevor’s standing there stoking the fire, humming to himself absently, when he feels a presence somewhere off to his side. Glancing casually in the opposite direction, he sees Alucard’s feet stealthily prowling towards him.

“Nice try,” he says quietly, somewhat loathe to break the early morning silence.

“Hm,” Alucard sighs, and reclines on the kitchen table bench.

“What’re you up for?”

“I wondered where you had gone,” Alucard speaks just as quietly as Trevor, hair spilling out in a tangled mess. He makes an annoyed sound and bends, twists, starts to finger-comb it out.

“I told you I wouldn’t leave,” Trevor says, mind flashing back to that cygnet chick buried in his father’s cloak.

“Yes,” Alucard responds quietly, eyes fluttering to the ring of bruises around Trevor’s neck before he goes back to his finger-combing task.

Trevor pokes at the fire a little more, then straightens up, stifling a groan.

“Move over,” he demands, though there’s plenty of room on the bench for both of them. Alucard looks at the bench, looks at Trevor in his borrowed-again sleepshirt, looks at the bench again, and then gives him a frown. “You’re so hard-headed,” Trevor groans, sandwiching himself next to Alucard.

“I can’t honestly believe that you have the gall to say that to me,” Alucard replies, looking a little offended as Trevor presses himself into his personal space. Trevor cuts in:

“Want me to comb your hair out?”

Alucard gives him a deeply ambivalent stare, fingers working through his hair slowly.

“Why?”

Trevor shrugs.

“Really, no reason at all?”

“Maybe I just want to see how it feels,” he says off-handedly, and is rewarded with a shy jolt of Alucard’s eyes away from his face. It’s oddly fun to fluster him, make him nervous. “Not that last night wasn’t touching, but it’s a little different.”

“If you want,” Alucard says, trying to sound disinterested but just coming off as diffident.

“Sure,” Trevor says, and reaching out slides Alucard’s hair over his shoulders again and towards him, fetching the comb from the table where Alucard had probably left it last night. He and Sypha share it, and though Trevor would claim ignorance if asked directly, he knows for a fact that they both get snippy when the other loses or misplaces it. “I’ll be gentle.”

Alucard doesn’t say anything in response, merely allows Trevor to turn him with hands on his shoulders so that his back is to the other man. If pressed, Trevor wouldn’t necessarily say that he likes hair, not like some men he’s known who have things for feet or asses or other parts. It’s more like… he has plenty of positive memories of helping people with their hair, and it seems to be a consistently reliable way of bonding, of soothing, of relaxing- both his subject and himself.

It seems to work here, too- Alucard’s tension melts from his shoulders as Trevor works, and Trevor himself gets more comfortable with the proximity until he’s snuggled right up, running the comb through from the base of his scalp to the ends of his hair. He’s been careful not to pull, working through knots with his fingers when the comb seems about to stick.

“You’re very good at this,” Alucard says, sighing and rolling his shoulders. The storm is picking up again outside, making Trevor glad indeed that he went out and got more wood already.

“Sisters,” Trevor half-laughs, tone rueful.

“Do you think they’re there?”

They both fall into silence for a moment. Trevor had explained to them about the gate, about the curtain, about the mansion.

“I don’t know,” he says quietly, drawing the comb from the crown of Alucard’s head to the ends of his hair. It goes smoothly. “I hope they aren’t.”

“It is hard,” Alucard acknowledges, then shifts as if annoyed. Trevor holds off on the next comb stroke, perplexed at the sudden change in mood.

Alucard turns to face Trevor, arms rising up to draw him close, to press their foreheads together. He rests his forearms on Trevor’s shoulders, weighing him down. It’s close. Alucard loves to crowd, and maybe it’s insecurity or maybe it’s a love of proximity or maybe it’s something in between and both, but it makes Trevor feel good, wanted, so he allows it.

“I want to see them,” Alucard confesses, making Trevor blink and frown. “You speak of them so fondly. I wish to see what they look like, how they move, if even in your memories. I want to see them very much. They sound like lively, wonderful women.”

Trevor understands that- hell, he feels it himself. But- but.

“The grimoire, it- the- wh-” he starts, tripping over his own tongue in his fear and pausing. Alucard looks puzzled, huddled close together with Trevor like this. Trevor wriggles and shifts until their legs are folded together, doesn’t bother to care that it means that he’s practically in Alucard’s lap. “I couldn’t- I can’t remember it all. The cover isn’t even… I should know the cover. I should remember the seal.”

“It is only a detail in a smaller part,” Alucard says, soothing, a hand rising up to draw his nails down the side of Trevor’s neck before his expression clears in a lightning bolt of understanding.

“What if-“ Trevor swallows, closes his eyes as Alucard’s expression tightens into sympathy. Now it’s his turn to crowd, and he does- he presses in and curls himself so that he’s buried under Alucard’s hair, under his chin, voice muffled against his chest. Alucard lets him come close, gathers him in actually. He starts to heat up for Trevor, but slowly, like a rock heating in the sun. One of these days, Trevor will ask about what that even is, what it means. Right now he’s got other things on his mind: “What if they’re all smeared up, like the book?”

“Oh, no, no,” Alucard sooths, drawing over him and making other comforting nonsense noises. “I don’t think that’s- that would be- a book is only a book, Trevor. They are your sisters. There’s no way, no way at all,” he starts, dancing around the cruelty of the idea, the intense maddening misery of walking into a house holding wrong-faced, off-voiced, not-right echoes of the sisters Trevor used to fill his life up to the brim with. It would be enough to drive a man to insanity, that unspeakably cruel impingement of reality on an otherwise glittering fantasy.

“I can’t remember,” Trevor confesses against his throat, one victim of the burnings to another, voice quiet as death but unsteady as life, “a lot of things. I think I just- shut it all off. It’s easier like that.”

“I know,” Alucard says, drawing in a breath and tightening his hands on Trevor’s shoulders. “I- my mother… I know. A man’s mind can only hold so much pain,” he agrees, voice wracked with guilt.

“Yeah,” Trevor agrees, trying to reassure them both of something neither of them is certain of.

 

 

 

“Can you cook?” Sypha asks suspiciously. She’s come down with her hair askew, and though she hasn’t said as much, Trevor half-suspects the same fear that drove Alucard down earlier spurred her to rise so quickly this morning as well. He supposes he’ll just have to prove himself.

“Not in the least,” Trevor announces happily, stirring the pot over the fire.

“I assembled breakfast,” Alucard sighs, “after realizing that he had some terrible ideas about how to make porridge.”

“And you’re letting him stir?” Sypha asks, bouncing up on her tiptoes to give Alucard a good-morning kiss. He receives it royally, as if it’s a tribute being laid at his feet. The image is ruined by the tender way he puts a hand on her arm to support her as she teeters on her toes.

“It seemed safe enough,” he says tentatively. “I am minding the rest of the meal.”

“I’m right here,” Trevor grumbles at both of them. No, he doesn’t know how to cook, and no, he still doesn’t see why he can’t just dump the egg and the butter and the oats into the water all together and just stir until it thickens up, but he’s still in the room.

“Good morning,” Sypha says, coming over to kiss him hello too. Trevor blinks at her and twiddles his fingers in response. “You’re so cute like that,” she says fondly, voice still filled with sleep, and gives him a kiss on top of his head too before going over to inspect her herbs, hung to dry upside-down in a neat line while Trevor had been away.

“Any more menacing smeary things being cooked up?” Trevor asks, to distract from his own feelings on being called cute. He is a big, tall, menacing monster hunter, muscled and scarred and often soaked in blood. He is not cute. It’s a bit rich to be called that by a woman who comes up to his- his belly button. No- his shin. No, no- his ankle.

“Just my potion,” Sypha says, fumbling around for a mortar and pestle, yawning. Alucard, watching Trevor’s stirring anxiously, flicks his eyes to her interestedly.

“Your what now?” Trevor doesn’t like the sound of that, and frankly, he’s done with surprises. If Sypha is suffering under some long-winded disease, he sure as hell wants to know. Perhaps some of that alarm shows in his face, because Sypha leans back and winks at him.

“My potion.

He looks back at her blankly. The wink clearly indicates it’s not serious, but he hasn’t any idea what else to make of this.

“To prevent a child,” Alucard says with a sigh, planting his cheek in a hand and looking Trevor over with some dismay.

“OH,” says Trevor, suddenly sitting up straight.

“Goodness,” Sypha comments, his exclamation having startled her enough to turn on the spot. “You didn’t think I was just-“

“I didn’t think it was,” Trevor bursts in, blushing,

“She’s not an idiot,” Alucard finishes, expression arch.

“I never said she was,” Trevor says defensively, returning to stirring with determination. He fixes his eyes on the porridge. “I just, um. Don’t know much about that.”

“Ridiculous,” Alucard sighs, eyes tracing the motion of Sypha’s hands as she works.

“Alucard,” Sypha chides as she grinds, pausing now and then to pick and add a new herb. “How is he supposed to know anything about that?”

“I do,” Alucard grumps, standing up and brushing himself off, as if he could have possibly gotten dusty being seated on the bench.

“Your mother was a doctor,” Trevor protests, looking up at him as he comes to stand behind Trevor. “Most men don’t get a look into- uh. You know.” Alucard stares down at him impatiently. “That’s private territory. Women’s stuff.”

“It is worth knowing if you don’t want a dozen and more bastards scattered through the countryside.”

“Most women won’t tell a man if he asks,” Sypha interjects. “He’s right- for us Speakers, we don’t care- we share our knowledge equally for men and women. But the rooted folk do care. The women and men have their own worlds. We have to be careful to work in those worlds the right ways when our help is needed.”

Trevor picks up on that phrase- rooted folk. She says it casually, as if it’s a standard phrase for her. He’d guess that it’s a nicer term than some others that could be used. The Speakers are a good, noble people as a rule, but even good, noble people need nasty epithets to use on people who treat them poorly.

“Hm,” Alucard says, crouching down now. Trevor looks over his shoulder at him. “Oh no, go ahead. Keep stirring.”

“Don’t people usually use stools?” Sypha asks, glancing their way.

“Don’t mind crouching,” Trevor says, glancing back at Alucard again. He does mind being crouched behind, though. It’s…. menacing.

“I suppose I cannot speak to having experienced anything like that,” Alucard says. “I was raised by my mother and my father alone, travelled a bit in a few of the courts of other vampires. I have met more monsters than men, and honestly, not many men at all. You two are the closest companions I have known from the broader world. In many ways, this land is foreign to me.”

Trevor chews on that. Sypha is more vocal: “Vampires have courts?”

“Of course,” Alucard says. A finger at Trevor’s neck makes him jump- it’s Alucard, touching at his marks. He seems somewhat enamored with them, which Trevor finds equal parts annoying and curious. “There are many courts of many different types of monsters, too, though I am unsuited to visiting, say, the water fae’s court. Of course, my father is king to them all, and so I travelled freely where I wished and with honors.”

“Of course,” Trevor scoffs, lifting his arm to shoo Alucard’s fingers off his neck.

“It must be nice to have a guarantee of pleasant reception,” Sypha mutters.

“Yes,” Alucard agrees politely. “It was a great privilege. Of the world of monsters, though, there are a few who my father does not hold dominion over.”

“Baba Yaga,” Trevor says, starting to understand where this is going.

“The Cold Ladies,” Alucard corrects mildly, folding onto his knees to touch his lips to the nape of Trevor’s neck. Trevor realizes that Sypha has turned to watch the scene, idly grinding away at her herbs. He meets her stare, blinks, feels goosebumps wash over him.

“Your father called them the Cold Women in your memory,” Trevor counter-corrects, almost before he can stop himself. Alucard freezes for a moment, then noses up his neck. Trevor stirs and tries not to think about last night, though really only because he is hungry, and eventually, Sypha and Alucard will be too.

“As I said, he is the king of monsters,” Alucard cedes, breathing on Trevor’s neck, which is weird, “he has that right. But there are other thrones and crowns to be called upon, and shrines and strange gaps in the world as well. Beings such as the Cold Ladies are ones that he need pay less respect to than I.”

“I thought there was only one? Baba Yaga?” Sypha asks, her mortaring slowed significantly. Trevor realizes he can tell what motions Alucard is about to make by watching her- she flushes, and then he feels the hard press of an almost-biting kiss under his jaw. He sways a little, but Alucard clamps a hand on his side to keep him from pitching into the hearth.

“I believe it is somewhat complicated, and it admittedly isn’t an area I have studied much. But she is… an aspect, although also an individual. The truth is closest to what Trevor said- she is more like a deity or force of nature than a single being, or perhaps…. But again: I am unstudied. All I know is that, and nothing of the legends that humans pass around. I would welcome the chance to learn more, though.” He drags his tongue along a spot on his neck that’s tender, making Trevor groan, then growl:

“Get off of me before I burn the damn breakfast.”

“Oho,” Alucard says. He backs off and stands up, returning to the pan and tossing in some this-and-that from yet another mystery jar.

“You’re in trouble now,” Sypha chuckles, returning to her potion-making with a decisive turn.

Trevor shifts to hide any evidence that he’s anything other than annoyed, grumbling softly.

 

 

 

They spend the rest of the day practice fighting, which Trevor finds to be a great deal more fun than debating the metaphysics of Baba Yaga.

Alucard takes a fews fists to the face, Trevor gets elbowed in the raw part of his side and elsewhere too, and Sypha sets his whip on fire.

The last part is a lot less alarming than it sounds.

 

 

 

“Ooooh,” Sypha says, once they’ve all finished panicking and kicking snow over the whip frantically. The sky is a dour grey, light fading rapidly, but the whip is lying patiently in the snow, shimmering with magical fire. The handle remains free of flames, which is somewhat cheering.

“Pick it up,” Alucard tells Trevor, as if it isn’t a whip on fire.

“Getting there,” he growls through gritted teeth. Truth be told, his heart had dropped out the bottom of his stomach when it caught Sypha’s magic and went up in red-white licks of flame. It seems fine, isn’t disintegrating, isn’t even melting the snow it’s on. It’s one thing to know that it’s a magical whip, blessed to harm monsters and vampires, so on, so on, etcetera and yadda yadda. It’s another thing entirely to see your family heirloom merrily burning. “Of course I have to pick it up.”

“It’s your whip,” Sypha objects. “Just pick it up.”

He does.

There’s a brief pause. Sypha and Alucard look at him curiously.

“Well?” She demands.

“It doesn’t feel any different,” Trevor says, and reaches out and grabs the flaming part out of sheer idiotic curiosity.

Sypha and Alucard yell, reach out to stop him, but- just as Trevor had suspected- there’s no need. The whip is as pliant and harmless to Trevor’s hands as it always has been. It doesn’t even feel warm.

“Perhaps don’t stick your hands in magical raging flames going forward,” Alucard half-gasps, looking like he’s considering strangling Trevor with his own whip.

“It’s fine,” Trevor says, bundling it into a circle to secure it at his hip. “I’m immune, looks like. Neat trick. Sypha, think we could do that in battle?”

“Ye-e-es,” she says cautiously. Alucard looks offended, but to such a degree that it looks like he’s trying very hard to imitate an old matron. Sypha’s eyes dart between the two men, clearly trying to decide between caution and enthusiasm.

 “Just let’s make sure Alucard doesn’t get fried up,” Trevor grins, though he isn’t actually joking. Sypha seems to have made up her mind about how to feel: she looks a little sick.

“I would prefer not to be on fire,” Alucard agrees, and eyeballs the flaming whip on Trevor’s hip.

“It doesn’t even feel warm,” Sypha says, sticking her hands out towards the burning coil. She sounds delighted.

“It does to me,” Alucard says, quietly, at the edge of their little cluster. “I can feel the heat from here. I dare not come closer.”

Trevor considers that. “Any ideas on how to put it out again?”

Sypha tucks herself against Alucard for a moment, giving him a sympathetic look. “Perhaps… an ice spell?”

 

 

 

So they try an ice spell. All that does is make the whip a glittering mess of icy needles, which Trevor wastes no time in trying to break off by swinging it around enthusiastically and whooping. To his utmost delight, the needles re-grow almost immediately.

Sypha tries another ice spell, one focused on defense, but all that means is that the whip raises little ice hillocks where it lands. That means that Alucard and she end up spending absolute ages testing different spells, debating magical theory cheerily while Trevor tries to figure out which spells are best for killing things.

They move on to lightning spells (“not a specialty of mine, admittedly,” Sypha confesses when the whip makes a flat noise not unlike a fart and they all struggle to keep a straight face), then healing spells. The healing spells just grow moss on things, which is, while interesting, ultimately non-functional. Nobody dares to get hit full-force with the whip to see if it actually heals or what, and Trevor is too leery of any potential mishap to try a weaker strike. By the time sunset has come and gone, they’re all exhausted but cheered- Sypha and Alucard by being absolute weird magical nerds, and Trevor himself by being a totally normal person who loves playing with cool new weapons.

The last spell they try is a light spell- nothing actually holy, but literally a spell for lighting.

It makes the whip, lying on the snow, dissolve into spots of light and shadow, which they all give a collective ‘oooooh’ for. It looks like a glass coil, glows in spots and has other dark dots speckled across its surface. Even Alucard, still too leery of the magical additions to come much closer, seems charmed. The light catches on the snow, reflects off of it in a hard little dance.

“How beautiful,” Sypha says, smiling despite her weariness. She’s put in more work today than she’s used to, is a bit pale, is swaying on her feet a little. But she seems content, has been eager to test new spells on the whip unendingly, and so Trevor doesn’t comment on the dark shadows growing under her eyes.

“It would make a nice nightlight,” Alucard ribs, but he’s smiling and his eyes are tracing the whip with appreciation.

“It’s pretty,” Trevor says. “Let’s leave this one on- maybe it will just expire.”

“Oh, good thinking,” Sypha claps her hands delightedly. She and Alucard start nerding out again about gross nerd things like cost differentials and hit ratios in relation to payoff calculations in spells for the whip, and holy hell does Trevor not care what those nerds are talking about.

Instead of bothering to listen, he looks at Alucard and Sypha, lit up by this strange golden-white light of his whip in the encroaching storm. Alucard looks the same as always, on first glance, but when he notices Trevor watching him his eyes lighten, just for a moment, the corner of his mouth just barely twitching up in acknowledgement. His hair is messed up and he’s still healing from getting punched. He looks tired but content, and Trevor takes a few more seconds to drink that in as the snow starts falling, takes a few more seconds to appreciate it. Alucard notices that he’s still looking and tilts his head, just a little- frowns- then blinks fondly, like a cat, and shifts to be slightly closer to him.

Sypha is still chattering animatedly, hair flying every which way. She’d avoided all blows sent her way, though to be honest Alucard and Trevor hadn’t been trying very hard. It’s a softness towards her they’ll have to work out of their systems if they truly want her to grow as a warrior, but for now, she’s capable of getting herself out of trouble just fine with her magic alone. She looks physically worn down but energized from within, her hands moving quickly as she talks, gesturing and illustrating points.

A strange feeling blooms in Trevor as Sypha and Alucard, still talking, turn towards the house they’re staying in. He snatches his whip up from the ground, coiling it neatly, and is caught off-guard by Alucard slinging an arm around his waist thoughtlessly, shepherding Trevor inside with them without a word. He puzzles through the feeling as they take turns bathing, because it doesn’t go away, just seems to be growing. When Sypha comes down pink and wet and flushed and slips her feet into his lap, and when he picks up each of her feet one by one for a massage, he teases at the foreign encroachment on his inner world. It’s not fear or wariness or caution, and it isn’t alertness or bone-scorching tiredness.

He’s still puzzling it over as he washes his own body off, relishing the heat, and then he chews on it some more when Alucard helps him re-bandage his wounds. It takes him all the way until Sypha and Trevor are sleepily tangled in the bed, and Alucard is shutting the door, shucking off his sleep shirt meaningfully, before he realizes what it is.

“Oh,” he says softly, against Sypha’s hair, as he feels Alucard slide into bed behind him.

“Hm?” Alucard asks, lying an arm down across Trevor to touch Sypha as well.

“Nothing,” he lies, and even though he’s a terrible liar, Alucard and Sypha are both too worn-out by their daylong experiments to drag it out of him.

He feels sleep soften their bodies around him and stares at the wall. The storm is going again, probably won’t let up until he goes to do what he knows he has to, but not alone. He isn’t confident, exactly, is still afraid of what he’s going to find in a place he’s tucked away from his own memory. But he’ll have these two people at his side, and he supposes if they’re going to take down Dracula, they might as well get some practice in first.

At ease for the first time in as long as he can remember, Trevor allows himself to drop off to sleep.

 

 

 

“Ow,” Trevor comments, waking up halfway through whatever’s going on.

“Sorry,” Sypha titters. “Your butt was just out there.”

“Ugh,” he groans, burying his face in his arms, staying where he is, on his belly and mostly-curled up. He feels her pinch his butt again, then the swirl of her tongue on one of Alucard’s apparently nine million bites on his neck. “Oh,” he amends as she shifts to straddle him, sitting up to rest her hands on his shoulders. “Hm.”

“Do you know what we have to do? You never did say. To try to leave here, I mean.”

“I can still see the lights, off in the distance, so I think we just have to follow them off again,” Trevor says, then: “Hmmmmmm,” because she’s started to give him a shoulder rub and he doesn’t have words for how good that feels. “Where’s Alucard?”

“He said he would do the wood, since you always do.” She presses with a thumb and he sighs so deeply that Sypha shifts on him. “I take it that feels good.”

“God yes,” he says, but then: “I’m not cute, by the way.”

“Of course not,” Sypha sooths, fingers kneading down his back. “Just as Alucard is also a very serious and dangerous man, and is also not cute.”

“That’s me,” Trevor agrees, knowing she’s teasing him and not caring. Only a fool argues with a woman giving him a naked massage. “Serious and dangerous. When do you think we should leave? Might be the last time we see this place.”

“Hmm,” says Sypha, and rocks forwards on Trevor a little, adjusting her position. Trevor absolutely does not mention that he has an erection, because that seems both forward and rude. “I want your arm and side to be healed completely- I’ll do that today and then rest. We may not have the option to keep your wounds clean once we leave.”

“Sounds good.” It does. Sypha is fire-hearted and prone to charging into things, but when it comes to managing her own magical resources, she’s crafty and deliberate. “So- tomorrow, maybe, depending on your recovery from the healing?”

“Mmm,” she agrees, and rocks forward again, turning her palms on his spine. Trevor luxuriates in the sensation, in the heat of the bed, in the slow rock and sway of her body on his. “Turn over,” she says, rising up on her knees but not letting him out from under her.

“What, are you going to give me belly rubs?” Trevor grouses, trying to hide his flush.

“Turn over,” Sypha says again. “If you’re good, maybe I’ll rub you somewhere else.”

He’s still not used to this, to a woman being the one pursuing him. Trevor finds himself caught with his ears pinned, like a fox confronted by a rabbit bouncing after it. He doesn’t mind it, just doesn’t have a script for how he’s supposed to proceed here.

“Okay, but I- uh, I have a-“

“An erection?” Sypha looks down at him as he peers over his shoulder at her, eyebrows raised. “I hope so. Haven’t I told you before that your genitals fail to shock me?”

“I guess so,” he agrees, rolling over to show himself to her more fully. “I’m just… uh, not really used to… that kind of boldness.”

“Do you dislike it?” she asks with faux nonchalance, tossing her head so her curls bounce. He remembers their argument, her fears of being ‘displeasing.’ She stands over him on her knees, fingers extended delicately to touch his hips. She doesn’t make any further moves.

“I like it,” Trevor confesses as he stares her in the eye, because he has a policy against lying to naked women asking him questions too. “But I think I’m probably supposed to… uh, feel differently about it.” He swallows, blushes harder, looks away. He’d caught the slide of her expression, from ambivalence into cunning satisfaction. That makes him feel some things too, but he’s said enough in his opinion.

Sypha laughs softly, hands sliding up and down over his belly, making him jump, making his erection bob up aggressively between them.

“Are they in here with us, the people who care about that?”

“No,” Trevor admits, gaze darting over to her again.

“Then….?” She drags her nails over the ripple of his abdominal muscles, gaze relaxed, contented.

“I told you,” he breathes, hands sliding up to catch hers and squeeze. “I’m trying.”

Sypha looks him over searchingly, clutching back at his hands, for a long time. She finally gives his hands a squeeze again.

“You’re doing all right,” she allows. “I told you, too- I can be patient.” There’s a pause. “Not right now, though,” Sypha says, tossing her hair. “Right now I want to go riding.”

“What, on a horse?” Trevor asks, because he is a moron in all the most inconvenient of circumstances.

“On a man,” Sypha says, looking irritated, tone harsh, but then her expression cracks and she laughs. “No wonder the beast went after you. You have a positively virginal side, despite all reason. Alucard commented on it as well.”

What?! I don’t even know where to start with any of that- and I don’t- wait.” Trevor thinks back to the hot-red stump, those shards jutting up. Sypha watches with some level of disappointment as he starts to soften up in front of her. “I do not have a virginal side.”

“Let’s talk about it later,” Sypha says, tapping his belly with her nails.

“Wait, Alucard-“

Later,” Sypha insists.

“Hang on-“

“Put your hands up above your head,” Sypha tells him sternly. Trevor blinks at her. “Now.”

“Don’t you want me to, uh…”

“I warmed myself up,” she says firmly, and fuck if that isn’t hot, the idea of her touching herself while he slept, pressed against him and panting.

“I’m not virginal,” Trevor protests one last time, though his arms obediently go up.

“Not for long,” Sypha says merrily, giving him a wink. “So you’re not supposed to have a woman chase you,” she says, rubbing little circles into his pecs with her soft hands.

“Is this supposed to be sexy?” he asks dubiously, “the talking, I mean. Is this going to be some kind of ‘sexy emotional discussion’? Because that doesn’t sound sexy to me, full disclosure.”

“I’m only curious,” Sypha says innocently. “I was raised as a Speaker in this country, not as a citizen of this country. As with Alucard, I am sure there are things I have missed. You’re not supposed to have a woman chase you,” she scrapes her nails over his nipples, bites her lip when he gives a little jolt, “and touch you,” her fingers swim down his belly again, down to pet at the fine curls above his cock, making Trevor groan, hands clenching on air, “and mount you?”

She slides a hand under his erection, working him back to full mast with confidence. Trevor shudders, the lines of his belly tensing, eyes raking up and down her sweet form. Her nipples are dusky and tightened, her skin glowing with heat, with flush, with vigor. She moves like she’s holding herself back, like every moment she talks to him and touches him she’s stopping herself from ravaging him, from pinning him on his back and just wrecking him. God save him, it’s the sexiest thing he’s ever seen a woman do. He clenches his jaw to keep from saying anything stupid, just drinks her in over and over and over.

“I don’t really have an objection,” Trevor says, voice dropped low from arousal, “though I do want to touch you.”

“No,” Sypha tells him happily. “Keep your hands there. You can touch me later.”

“Nrgh,” he complains, but it’s sort of mingled up with the noise he makes when he realizes she’s rising up on her knees and positioning herself and then lowering herself- just a bit. “Oh my god, Sypha.”

She’s dragging the head of him against her entrance, all soft and heat and wet, and his body shakes with the need to get closer, to go further. Instead, she tilts her hips and teases at him again, rubbing him on her lips. Her eyes have gone dark and stormy, and her teeth have set in her lip. She’s struggling to control herself just as much as he is, Trevor realizes, and that makes him let loose a sound dangerously close to a whine.

“Do you want to?” She asks, dragging him against her lips again. This time she presses just the slightest bit, so that he can feel the give of her, the silk of her flesh on his, the willing take of her body above his. In that one contact point he can feel her so keenly that he isn’t sure, at this moment, that he could handle more.

“Oh god,” he says, and reaches down to find the frame of the bed, because if he doesn’t hold on to something he’s going to die. “Oh my god, please, Sypha, please.”

“You look very good like that,” Sypha tells him, eyebrows tipping up into tender pleasure, smiling at him. “I like it.”

“For you,” he says, and then again, still shaking, still burning in the heat of his own passion, hands clenched on the bed frame because she told him not to touch: “For you.

“Of course,” she says demurely, but then she’s dragging the head of him against her again, and again, and again, and each time she pulls him away he makes a little more noise, and a little more, and a little more more more, until he’s crying out loudly for her on each pass.

Sypha sighs in contentment, swallows, and goes back one more time, her face a mask of serenity. This time the touch of her body over him lingers, making him toss his head and groan in frustration, and when she finally pulls away he can see a long string of fluid stretch, stretch- finally snap between them. He looks at her with huge, begging eyes, panting, his body shaking with thwarted exertion. He doesn’t dare allow himself to move, not an inch.

“Oh, Trevor,” she coos, naked fondness and appreciation and joy breaking through her feigned aloofness, and that way that she looks at him makes him clench his hands on the frame of the bed so hard he can hear the laces creak.

“Come on,” he begs, voice roughened to a near-growl. “You’re killing me here.”

She smirks. She knows.

But before he can get too philosophical about that, he feels her against him again, and then she’s pressing against him further and further, taking him in, and she’s so hot, burning, tender and silky and wet, wet, wet, and he feels so overwhelmed with the sensation of it that he has his hands off the bed and on her before he can think not to.

She sways where she is, her body flush against his, breast rising in little pants. He can’t take his eyes off her face, off the hot blush that’s risen suddenly on her cheeks, the way her eyes have gone hazy and pleasure-filled, the way her curls are sticking to her face as she licks her lips and pants and winces and shudders.

His hands slide to her hips, and he half-expects a scolding when she opens her eyes again and looks at him. But she shrugs, takes his hands in hers and guides them to a better position.

“Slow at first,” she tells him, starting to move, and the world tilts a little sideways while Trevor struggles to remember how to do this, how to work with another’s body, how to make everything flow while his mind is also singed through with heat and delightful wet and the slide of skin and the smell of her, the sound of their bodies together, the soft slap of her ass as she comes down on him again and again-

Then she tightens her hands on his meaningfully, releases them, and braces her hands on his belly, tipping forwards.

“Fast now,” she gasps, and he snaps himself up to meet her on a downthrust, loses the rhythm for a moment, catches up again and catches it, bouncing up to meet her on a downstroke. Trevor is calling out her name, can hear himself as if from a distance, because right now all he knows is that she’s sliding down to meet him, they’re moving perfectly together, all he knows is that she feels like heaven, locked tight around him, and he wants this, wants it endlessly. He can feel the crashing, sizzling pull of an orgasm clawing up his spine, fights it because:

Harder,” she demands, nails clawing at the tender skin under his belly button, raising red lines that do make him go at her harder, only make him want her more, and he gets that more because she clenches down on him and sways her hips in a way that makes him go blind, sort of, sort of just fuzzes the world out, and he unthinkingly reaches over, still working her down on him hard, still snapping into the heat and slick and pull of her, and rubs at her clit with as much of his thumb as he can manage to get on her without giving up his hold on her.

She screams, throwing her head back, breasts jutting out beautifully, and so he keeps at it, keeps fucking into her as hard as he can while he rolls his thumb over that sweet soft pearl of her that makes her shake and wail and thrust down on him. She screams again, and again, and suddenly he’s fucking her through an orgasm so intense he feels like he’s riding lightning, her body going tense and hard and her sex on him going tight, squeezing him like she’s trying to take him with her to another plane of existence.

He eases as she comes down, falls still even though he’s on the verge of coming himself. She moans a soft little moan, shifts on his cock. Trevor swears, swallows, resorts to panting.

“Can I roll you over?” He asks, and she gives a sweet little purr, shifting on him again in a way that makes him gasp and shake, trembling and sweating and needing it so bad.

So he rolls them over, and spreads her legs and throws them over his shoulders, and he dives into her, teasing little gasps and moans and heavy breaths out of her until she’s wailing again, until she’s buried her nails in his shoulders and is wrapped up tight around him again, and they’re making delicious wet noises as their bodies come together, and Trevor is gritting his teeth.

Then, only then, he leans and puts his weight on her, chases the breath out of her lungs, kisses her and surges forwards, presses into her over and over, leaving her no room for escape, no room to do anything but lie there and take it and scream. He gasps into her hair when she claws at him again, her body working around his in hot flutters and flexes, and finally, like that, buried in her and making her wail and toss and writhe, he comes, letting it tickle up his back and seize his mind and press him into a willful, sizzling darkness that folds all of his senses into wool.

 

 

 

“Well,” says Alucard, leaning on the doorway.

“Imagine that,” Sypha says happily from where she’s lying face-down in the mattress. “You actually have something to brag about, Trevor. You are an earth-shattering lay. Who knew?”

“Hey,” he protests, but not too heartily. “What about the other night?” He can feel Alucard’s gaze on his naked body, roaming here and there. He fights the urge to cover himself.

“I am jealous,” Alucard decides.

“Of me or him?” Sypha asks.

“Both is an option, I presume.”

“Oh, yes.”

“Then I choose that,” he says.

Chapter Text


 

 

The rest of the day passes uneventfully enough. Sypha heals Trevor with very little effort, which is both a relief and a reminder that they’re back in the cold tomorrow. Trevor insists that Sypha help him modify his cloak to better cover his neck, because like hell is he going to chase down a witch with a ring of love bites around his throat like a bloody teenager who’s just discovered they have downstairs bits. He thinks about asking why she can’t just heal the bites too, but decides that some battles just aren’t worth fighting. They spend the majority of the day lounging around and pampering Sypha, which is novel. She gets irritated when they get too fussy, though, and both men skitter off like scared cats when she threatens to set them on fire. This, as it turns out, happens relatively often.

Trevor feels antsy, ready for action, nervous about what tomorrow will bring. He’s also keenly aware that this may be the last time they have the luxury of- well, time. They have a warm building to stay in, enough food, enough sleep, and even magical hygiene to keep them tidy. If it weren’t for Baba Yaga’s steady insistence on turning him into some kind of slow-cooked witch mince roast, Trevor would even have said that he’d had a reasonably good time here. Sitting there in the windowsill and watching the snow fall in the darkness, he supposes that he’s had worse adventures.

Alucard comes up the stairs, smoldering suspiciously on the edges of one belt.

Certainly he’s been on journeys that didn’t yield anything near as good as this one has, Trevor decides, then makes a surprised noise when Alucard tilts his head up and kisses him ferociously.

“Jesus,” Trevor says, pulling away and wiping his mouth to clear off the biting hardness of it.

“Sypha told me to go away again,” Alucard says with insufferable dignity.

“If you’re kissing her like you did me, I’d tell you to go away too,” he grumps.

“My apologies,” Alucard says, hurt flashing across his face.

“Ugh,” Trevor sighs, and shifts his legs so Aucard can sit on the sill with him if he wants. Alucard does so pressed next to Trevor, because of course he does. “Too hard. Just ease up- nothing’s happening right now. Save it for tomorrow, I’m sure you’ll get plenty to do then.”

Alucard sighs. He still looks wan, tired despite their days of rest, and as Trevor inspects him he thinks he can figure out why.

“You need some blood?” Alucard subtly pulls away, though he’s positioned himself too close to do much more than shift angles.

“It’s fine,” he says too quickly. “I’m not in need.”

“Sure,” Trevor says, giving him a dubious look. He looks see-through where he’s normally aristocrat-pale. “So what’s going on? You’ve been sort of off ever since this morning. You’re not really jealous, are you?”

“Not particularly,” Alucard agrees.

There’s a brief pause. Trevor’s eyes slide shut briefly in the silence, his head dipping back to touch against the cold glass of the window.

“Perhaps a little.”

“You guys were together first. If you want some privacy just let me know. I can do some stuff downstairs, or stay up late, or, hell, sleep downstairs.”

“The other morning,” Alucard says, tentatively, waving the offer aside with a hand, “when we talked about your sisters…”

“Oh,” Trevor says, rolling his shoulders to try to dissipate the sudden weight of stress that slams down on him.

“I only meant that,” Alucard says, gazing at Trevor, who refuses to look at him, “… I didn’t enjoy your pain, but I did appreciate that you trusted me with your worries.”

Trevor makes a face, running his fingers over the wood of the sill they’re perched on.

“I felt bad after,” he finally says, when Alucard only sits next to him, saying nothing. “You… have your own stuff to deal with. We all do. It’s not your problem to deal with, my bloody mess of a situation.”

“My father has made the entire nation have to deal with his ‘bloody mess of a situation,’” Alucard points out, mouth twisting up into a smile that’s half-wry, half-grimace. “So in terms of comparison, I believe you’re doing rather well.”

Trevor barks out a bitter laugh. “Compared to Dracula, I’m doing all right, huh? I’ll take it.”

“Besides,” Alucard goes on, mouth pulling up a little more firmly into a smile, “I am invested, in more than one sense. I care for you.”

Silence again. Trevor looks at his socks, then looks over at Alucard and sighs. Alucard looks back at him. Not… expectantly, per se, but more…. Hopeful. Staring at him with those hooded golden eyes, a curtain of golden hair coiled behind him, Alucard looks like a flower bent hopefully forward to a sunrise long anticipated.

“Hang on,” Trevor tells him, because he still can’t muster the emotional stability to say what he knows Alucard wants him to say, may never be able to get it out the way Alucard wants him to. A lot of things burned out in the Belmont estate fire, and only recently has Trevor started to realize that some of those things were in him.

He can’t say anything like that, and he can’t make any grand declarations or romantic announcements, but at least he can reach up and thread a hand through that long hair gently, at least he can lean in, at least he can tip his head onto Alucard’s shoulder.

Alucard considers him regally, expression unmoving. His shoulder, stiff under Trevor, eases, and he raises a hand to ruffle at his hair.

“You are a very strange man, Trevor,” he tells him seriously.

“I’m not even touching that,” he says, eyes sliding shut, “not with a ten-foot pole. Coming from you…”

“Perhaps,” Alucard says, very quietly, tone turning tentative, “if you were willing…”

Wordlessly, Trevor pulls at his shirt, opening up the collar. He hears the sharp intake of Alucard’s breath.

“I must be making my parents roll in their graves,” Trevor sighs, opening his eyes to meet Alucard’s. “Opening up my throat for the first time to a goddamned vampire.”

It has exactly the effect Trevor had figured it would: Alucard’s pupils dilate hugely, and he shifts his jaw as if he’s got something unexpected in his mouth.

“I don’t just want this,” Alucard says despite how visibly he desires what’s being offered, arms locking around Trevor. He gives him a little shake for emphasis. “Do you understand what I’m saying? I care for you. I want the rest of you, not just your body, not just your blood.”

“Trust you to make it all mushy and weird,” he laughs, because the words make him go soft and pliant inside, and he doesn’t like that hearing that makes him want to lie down and do whatever Alucard asks him for. He doesn’t like going soft and pliant inside. There’s no room for that, not here and not in the rest of the whole damn world.

“I’m serious,” Alucard says, with such intense gravitas that even Trevor can’t laugh it aside.

“Okay,” he says, reassuring. “It’s fine. I know.”

Trevor.”

“What?”

Alucard gives him a little shake again. “Say something.” Trevor looks at him helplessly.

“I offered,” Trevor says, as a stand-in for everything that he should be able to say but can’t, can’t, can’t.

“I didn’t mean to upset you,” Alucard says, reading some of that distress on Trevor’s face.

“Just,” Trevor grumbles, frustrated, working to get the words out. “It’s me. You’re- fine.”

Alucard looks at him a little longer, eyes roving over his face, sweeping down to his neck more and more until he opens his mouth and his fangs are heavy and visible right there, to breathe out: “Do you care for me, Trevor?” He closes his mouth, frowns. “I have to know.”

Jealous. He’s jealous. He’s jealous of Sypha and him, but not in the way that Trevor had expected. Or- maybe not jealous, but worried that he’s being left out, that he’s been abandoned, that he’s been deemed superfluous in some fashion.

“Ask me,” Trevor tells him, voice dipping low, falling halfway into an inaudible whisper.

Alucard’s face flickers through confusion, concern, panic, eagerness. He’s positively see-through when he isn’t working at being stoic and regal, more transparent than Trevor even. Too bad he’s usually working at it.

“Do you love Sypha?”

“Yeah.” Again: his voice roughens and fails, but the idea comes across clearly.

“Do you…” Alucard looks at him doubtfully. Trevor clears his throat. “And I?”

“Y-yeah,” he says in his stupid useless growling voice, drawing back and flushing and staring seriously at a spot far away with a grim expression, because it’s way harder to admit that when the person in question is staring at you. He feels sick, feels a hard squirm of horror and nerves rising in him. The main lesson of the past few years for him has been: the people you love will suffer and die, and everything will go to shit. It’s hard to convince himself that this won’t be true, especially when their entire reason for meeting centers around completing an insane, impossible, dangerous task.

But all the upset in the world is suddenly worth it, because Alucard positively blooms with happiness. He doesn’t smile, but his eyes light up and he takes a swift heavy breath in, lifting his chin up to look over Trevor. He leans in and kisses Trevor, but where Sypha would take with ferocity, his kiss is light, tender. He lingers against Trevor’s lips, eyes closed, feeling the hot spill of Trevor’s breath against him, before pulling back and tilting his head.

“Stay here,” Alucard tells him, then turns and goes down the stairs. Trevor contemplates that flash of red in Alucard’s eyes, contemplates what a complete waste of skin he himself is sometimes, contemplates that he’s standing here patiently waiting for a vampire to come back and help himself to some of his blood.

He contemplates Alucard’s jealousy, too: a benign kind, a sort of lonely self-isolation more than anything. It’s been puzzling him, Alucard’s tendency to cling. The fussing and the worry- eh, he’d been raised as an only child by two attentive parents. Trevor has seen it before in young nobles, male and female both. It may just be a natural result of a double dose of parental affection with no other conduit.

But the need to press close in times of doubt, of uncertainty, hints at a certain degree of insecurity. Trevor tips his head against the glass of the window, feeling the cold trickle into him as he contemplates that. What is there to be insecure about? He’s made it sound like he was a regular princeling amongst monsters, travelling freely and with plenty of lovers in his past. He’s wealthy, educated, well-mannered and handsome.

Trevor’s mind slides him back to Alucard’s initial refusal of his blood tonight, the way his body heats up in a poor mimicry of human heat, the fact that he needed to be reassured that he was wanted before he would accept what Trevor would guess is a much-needed meal.

Truth be told, he suspects that Alucard’s attentions to him- his neck, particularly- in the past day or so have been slightly spurred by an instinctive drive to secure a blood meal. He also has the good sense to not plan to breathe a word of his theory to Alucard. It isn’t that he doubts the sincerity of Alucard’s affections, but rather, he understands that sometimes, your body just takes over and does the surviving for the rest of you. Trevor also understands that Alucard would likely not have such a charitable view of that, and would probably get both angry and defensive.

While he broods on this, Trevor slides off the windowsill and pads into the bedroom. He realizes belatedly that he doesn’t have a way to light the candle, but shrugs and sits down on the bed anyway in the spooling dark.

Alucard’s resistance to taking any blood circles back around to that insecurity again. It seems unfathomable for a man found floating out of a mechanical coffin buried under a catacomb guarded by unholy monsters, but all signs sort of point to Alucard having a degree of ambivalence about both halves of his heritage. He’ll never be a vampire fully- he’s too tender, too sweet-natured at his core, too slow to anger and too good at self-control. But he sure as hell isn’t human either, and one look at him makes that clear.

It can’t be easy, Trevor decides, to be constantly straddling that massive divide. Especially not when your father is ripping into half of your own heritage, filled with loathing and infinite, crushing rage for everything human. Which raises another question: how does Alucard relate to himself, the fact that he’s a unique neither-nor being, somebody who exists in both races’ shadows but is clearly something altogether distinct from them both? How the hell did he even figure out the basics, like that he could eat human food like his mother, needed blood as a supplement to live like his father? Trial and error? His whole life would just have to be one big experiment, with deadly costs looming at the slightest miscalculation: the touch of a silver cross on a crowded street, a slice of sun on a young face, the happy religious carols of village children around Christmas.

Jesus. When Trevor thinks that through…. No wonder he’s a little insecure at times. There might not have been much in his life that he hasn’t had to worry about the consequences of.

“You moved,” Alucard says, swimming through the darkness to arch over Trevor. His eyes catch every minute scrap of light and reflect it back, making them look luminous in the night.

“How’s Sypha doing?” He can smell the faint odor of singed clothing again.

“Hmmmm,” Alucard says by way of answer, coughing awkwardly.

“She wants some space, eh?”

“I may have been a little too eager to help,” he confesses, “but I only want us to be in the best condition we can be in.”

“You really didn’t have any sisters,” Trevor laughs at him, knocking their legs together briefly. “Or any siblings.”

“She is not my sister,” Alucard tells him firmly.

“Sure hope not,” Trevor agrees. “Or else everything just got way weirder than I anticipated.”

“You are disgusting sometimes,” Alucard sighs, looking so, so disappointed.

“Almost always,” Trevor cheerily agrees, leaning back on his elbows so he’s looking up at Alucard from an even more pronounced angle. “I sort of try to make a point of it, actually.”

“Why?” Asks Alucard, which throws Trevor off.

“Uh,” he says, “well,” he fumbles.

“I see,” Alucard gloats, and then plants his knees on the bed to straddle Trevor.

“So…. We’re doing this.” He’s craning his neck to look up at Alucard and it feels weird. Alucard looks him over in long sweeps, then reaches down and ruffles Trevor’s hair. “Hey.”

“Are you sure you’re all right with this?”

Trevor shrugs. He can’t really say what he wants to, which is that somebody has to give up some blood for Alucard before he fades away into nothingness, and he’s the better choice right now. He also can’t say that he’s actually, yeah, sort of scared of this. He can’t mention how nervous having Alucard on top of him, alone, in bed, makes him, and how it makes him think back to Alucard pinning him down and getting off between his thighs, makes him feel a tickle of clawing heat at the back of his belly paired with a prickle of nerves. And he doesn’t know how to say that none of that matters, really, because it all sort of comes out in the wash.

“It’s fine,” he says, instead of any of that, lying down flat on the bed and looking up at Alucard, hands folded on his own belly.

“You look worried,” Alucard insists, shifting his stance so that he’s braced over Trevor.

“If you don’t stop asking,” Trevor grumbles, expression darkening.

“I want to make sure,” Alucard says. “I don’t want you just… lying back and thinking of Wallachia while this is happening.”

“Woah,” says Trevor, because he recognizes that phrasing from his sisters’ jokes when they thought he wasn’t listening, and it still makes him flustered. “Wait, how- how does this even work? Because that’s- uh, some kind of implication there.”

“It is very intimate,” Alucard says with utmost seriousness.

“Fuck,” Trevor says.

“You see, when I first enter you,”

“Uh,”

“It will hurt a bit.” Alucard shifts so he can put two fingers to Trevor’s neck. Feeling out his pulse, likely. Trevor, cradled down by the sheep-smelling mattress, bracketed by Alucard’s leather-clad thighs, can’t do much more than swallow. He hadn’t expected to feel so… vulnerable, he supposes. “Then, once you’ve adjusted to my presence, I will be able to move a bit.”

“Wait, what?” Trevor has none of the grace required to hide his horror.

“And after a certain period, I will finish, while in you, and in a few months, you will-“ Alucard starts laughing, covers his mouth with a hand.

“You asshole,” Trevor hisses, surging up, fighting against the pull of gravity to try to shake Alucard.

“You just looked so worried,” Alucard laughs, allowing Trevor to grab his wrists and pull his hands from his mouth to reveal his fangs, low and present and forward in his mouth in a way they usually aren’t. “And anyway, it does lend itself to a certain degree of comparison. You’ll be fine. As long as you don’t struggle, it won’t hurt. I will bite, and the blood that my bite brings, I’ll drink.”

“Don’t mess with me, you bastard,” Trevor insists, trying to stay serious, but his expression must show some of his ambivalence and fear. Alucard leans in to press his forehead against Trevor’s, allowing the hunter to keep his hold on his wrists.

“I won’t get you with child, Trevor, or any other evil thing,” Alucard chortles softly. “Would you really volunteer yourself if you had any doubt I would be getting you into trouble?” He pauses, drinking in Trevor’s expression. Trevor can barely make him out, but he gets the impression that Alucard has no such problems. Bloody vampire. “Well. Perhaps you would, for Sypha.” There’s such an abrupt closing-off, the advent of a sudden chill, in his tone that Trevor is momentarily taken aback.

“No,” he says, because he supposes that they haven’t really resolved this, have they? He’s such a piss-poor excuse for a man sometimes. “That’s not it. I- look, didn’t I say? I guess I didn’t.” He hesitates. It’s hard to read Alucard’s expressions in the dark. “I uh. Guess I’m doing this for you. It’s practical,” he says, and Alucard draws back, leaving Trevor to hang on to his wrists and go up with him. Hooooly shit he always forgets just how strong Alucard is.

“Practical,” he says, and the word is laced with distaste.

“No, that’s not what I- fuck. That’s not what I mean.”

“Then what do you mean?” Alucard twists his wrists neatly, and Trevor has to flail to stay up, supported as he is by that hold. He ends up grabbing Alucard by the back of the neck, pulling him back down. Alucard makes a surprised noise, shifts against Trevor. Like this, they’re closer than before, less the despoiler and his virgin and more a pair of lovers twined together, mutually up to no good.

Trevor flexes his hand, feels the heralding prickle of warmth on Alucard’s neck that means he’s thinking about much the same thing- that strange, sympathetic heat again. They’re pressed closer like this, hip to hip and belly to belly. Trevor pets at the fine hairs along Alucard’s spine with one finger, finds himself relishing the shudder that gets him.

“You’re not the only one that gets to worry about other people,” Trevor says, surprising nobody else more than himself. Alucard’s eyes, half-luminous, widen into circles. “Come on. Give me a kiss.”

Alucard kisses him so suddenly that Trevor isn’t prepared. To be honest, he’d sort of meant a different kind of kiss- the biting kind. He takes back what he’d thought about Alucard’s kisses before- this is just as possessive, just as dominating, as Sypha’s are. He prods Trevor’s mouth open with his tongue and slides up his body to weigh him down, moves an arm up to cushion Trevor’s head but knots his fingers in his hair to guide the angle of his head, parts to breathe in heady fast gasps before diving back for more, licking and sucking at his tongue, applying just the barest, briefest touch of his teeth. Trevor’s hands are on Alucard’s back, nails digging into his shirt, before he’s even conscious of it.

Then Alucard lifts his head back and his eyes are glowing red, and Trevor’s animal hindbrain does that thing again where it panics, but this time he’s so close and so trapped and conflicted because Alucard that he just breathes out in a little pant and goes limp.

“You should take off your shirt,” Alucard tells Trevor, who looks up at him panting and rock hard in his pants and more than a little dazed. He tips his head and considers Trevor some more. “Or perhaps everything.”

“Shirt’s fine.” Trevor gives himself a little shake, pulls at Alucard to give him a little room to move. Alucard doesn’t, just smiles down at him with long, sharp teeth that catch the scant light and glint. “Goddamnit, you asked me-“

“Fine, fine,” he says, and he’s laughing again, taking pleasure in riling Trevor up when usually it’s the opposite. He only shifts as much as is necessary, giving Trevor the bare minimum of space to unbutton his shirt and slide it out from under his other layers. He makes it twice as difficult as it needs to be, but Trevor likes him like this, confident that Trevor wants him, so he only gives an occasional grumble. Finally he manages to be both bare-chested and slightly annoyed.

“Okay, so how do you usually do this?”

“I’ll take it from you sitting up,” Alucard announces, and grinds his hips down on Trevor’s.

“Ohgod,” Trevor says, throwing his arms around Alucard again to grip at his shoulders, shuddering and writhing against the press of his body. “Give me some warning there. Why-?”

“Have you ever tried to swallow something lying down?” Alucard gives Trevor an arch look. “It is difficult.”

“I’m sure you’ll give me the chance to try,” Trevor says cheekily before he can stop himself, but it’s worth it because Alucard chokes and starts coughing and needs a little time to recover.

 

 

 

There’s some more fumbling and dickering and rummaging before Alucard has them arranged how he wants: Trevor on his lap, facing him, both of them leaning against the wall. It hasn’t escaped Trevor’s notice that Alucard has positioned them so that if Sypha comes in with her little magelight, they’ll be right in the line of sight. He can’t tell if that’s a possessive thing, a bragging thing, or an enticement. He supposes he’ll find out if she comes in.

“Your lap sucks,” Trevor grouses. “It’s all bony. Eat something, bloody hell.”

“I’m about to,” Alucard tells him, sounding some odd mixture of annoyed and fond. “Though I doubt that your nutrition is notably good either.”

“Hey,” Trevor says, but he doesn’t say anything more because Alucard is drawing him in and leaning down to kiss his neck, hands petting at his hair, his back, his sides. He spends some time like that, tracing his tongue over that obscene ring of bruises he’s left on Trevor like a goddamned dog collar, but after a while the petting and the necking is nice enough that Trevor relaxes. Alucard feels that bodily shift in weight, the way Trevor goes from tight to tense to steady to pliant, and smooths a hand down Trevor’s back through it all.

“Closer,” Alucard murmurs into the underside of Trevor’s jaw, pulling him in so they’re jammed tight together again. Trevor isn’t sure where to put his arms, sort of fumbles at Alucard, the wall, the bed, before settling for wrapping his arms around Alucard’s shoulders again. “Closer still,” Alucard tells him, grabbing his ass and dragging Trevor against his body, pulling him down tight and snug into his lap, against the radiant hardness of his dick through his pants. Once he feels that against him, against his own erection straining the edges of his concentration, Trevor has a damn hard time dragging his mind off it.

“Just do it,” Trevor breathes, and he tries to make it sound grumpy and bored but he fails, super-hard. Extra-hard. Mega-super-extra-hard.

“I won’t rush,” Alucard tells him, and drags his tongue along the rock of his pulse. But he slides that free hand up and up and up and catches Trevor’s hair in a hard grip, and he laughs darkly when Trevor’s head goes back, resistant against the hold. Not because of the resistance, though- because he can feel Trevor squirming against him, can feel the way that hair-grab makes his breath come a little faster. “Do you like this, Trevor? That I can hold you like this and you can’t fight me?”

“I can fight you,” Trevor grits out, pulling against that hold. “I’m just choosing not to.”

“Of course,” Alucard agrees, kissing at his neck again. Trevor can just feel the prickling edge of those fangs as he starts to bring them out, starts to scrape them over his skin. He holds back a whine, head clenched back firmly in Alucard’s grip. “If you ever let me take you,” Trevor suddenly sucks in a tight breath, feels Alucard smile against his skin, “I want to hold you down.”

“You and Sypha are both bossy fucks,” Trevor says, and tries not to notice how breathy his voice is, how steadily he’s rocking against Alucard, how good those sparks feel when he grinds at just the right angle and hits his dick against Alucard’s. The pants were a mistake, he decides, because right now his just hurt, and they’re keeping him from fucking against Alucard. Forget Dracula: pants are the oldest enemy of mankind.

“Because you look so good when you’re made to submit,” Alucard agrees, tightening his hold on Trevor’s hair so that he has to face the ceiling. The pain makes his eyes water a little. He grimaces. “But I wasn’t done. I want to hold you down, and I want to pin you so that Sypha and I can see your face as I enter you.”

“Oh,” says Trevor, struggling to swallow in the position he’s being held in- chest out, head back, hands touching at Alucard to keep his balance. Alucard gives him a little touch of fangs- if he’s adding more bites to that ring, Trevor will kill him. “That’s.”

“But I haven’t made up my mind about much more than that,” Alucard continues, his spare hand slinking around Trevor’s side and up. He gives one of Trevor’s nipples a pinch, gives a low laugh at the jump that gets him. He pinches his other nipple, rolls it between his fingers. Trevor shakes in his grip, trying to keep his shifts, his rocking, his desperation, under a certain level of visibility. “Maybe I’ll come on your chest. Or maybe I’ll come in you, so you know whose you are, hunter.” Trevor’s hands clench on Alucard’s shoulders. That. That shouldn’t get him going like it does. Alucard moves to kiss at Trevor’s clavicle, fangs scraping more and more now. Trevor can feel his dick straining against his pants as he moves, can feel that satisfying catch when he gets the right tilt, the right angle, the fright friction. Alucard gives a soft moan of pleasure.

“This is some weird shit we’re into,” Trevor says into the lull, into the hot quickness of their breathing and the faint creak of the bed lacings and the shift of the mattress and quilt around them.

“We haven’t died of it yet,” Alucard says, reasonably, infuriatingly calm, but then he’s giving Trevor a sharp half-bite, and he moans, but it doesn’t ease off and dizziness swarms Trevor’s senses: this is the real thing.

He can feel those fangs sliding into him, and he knows Alucard said not to struggle but he’s not sure how he could, not with that hold in his hair pulling his head back hard and Alucard’s body grinding under his, not with the way those fangs are sliding through him and not leaving room for anything else at all, not even breathing. He suddenly understands why Alucard has this hold on him: he swoons involuntarily and moans as he does, his body taking over where its occupant has failed it. Alucard makes a shushing sound, cradling Trevor so that he doesn’t accidentally rip his own throat out. He follows Trevor and lets his body go where it will, which is how they end up where they started, more or less, with Alucard over him on the bed and Trevor half on his side, dazed.

The initial shock fades after a moment, leaving Trevor to raise a shaking hand and stroke it down Alucard’s head. He’s had his share of injuries, breaks, hurts, wounds. This feels…. He doesn’t know. It just leaves him dizzy, his head spinning, like something beyond his comprehension is happening, and it’s happening to him. He feels like he’s falling forever even as the bed flexes under his weight.

Alucard’s moving steadily, having released his hair to slide down and fumble with the laces of their pants. Trevor wants to help, wants to be able to do anything, but to his dim surprise all he can do is lie still and focus on breathing. He wants to tell himself that if a vampire other than Alucard bit him, he’d be able to struggle, wants to tell himself that he’d be able to resist, but like this, being arranged like a sleeper and pulled out of his own pants and feeling the distant, sizzling stroke of Alucard’s hand on his dick, Trevor isn’t so sure anymore.

He can feel the slide of blood away from him and into Alucard, can feel faint motions that he presumes would be Alucard swallowing. He can feel the heat of where his body is starting to protest this new breach, but he can barely move, and he can’t even muster the energy to feel alarmed about that.

Alucard’s hand down his pants is good, the weight of his body on him is good, even the soft pull of his mouth on Trevor’s throat, in a way, is good. Without quite meaning to, Trevor dissolves into a sort of loose, drifting state, one where he’s coasting on the benevolent paralysis of being bitten by a man that he trusts more than he probably should. He’s so dazed that it takes him a long while to notice once Alucard has pulled his fangs out of him, takes him time to realize that he’s tidied up Trevor’s neck with licks and kisses and hard, bruising sucks, takes him a longer time yet to realize that he’s working Trevor’s cock in his hand, his own being eagerly rutted against Trevor’s hip.

“Unnh.” Trevor blinks, struggles to focus his eyes. He knows Alucard hasn’t taken that much blood, because he’s never seen Sypha look even mildly out of sorts. He didn’t even know they had an arrangement until recently. He’d just figured Alucard…. Who knows? Ate bunnies? So what’s happening here to him?

“Welcome back,” Alucard murmurs, tone dangerously close to tender.

“Jesus fuck,” Trevor slurs, starting to move with Alucard’s hand, starting to feel that glaze of pleasure over things again. “What the hell was that?”

“Hum,” says Alucard, tone turning prim, and his gold-red eyes dim like he’s narrowed them, is watching Trevor come back to himself through his lashes. “We can discuss it later.”

Trevor knows that he should… probably say something about that. His dick feels so good in Alucard’s hand, though, and as that weird haze lifts off him, the roiling current of lust that replaces it is shocking. Eh. Let it never be said that Trevor Belmont abandoned lust for mere matters of practicality.

“Mmf,” Trevor comments, instead of, ‘no, let’s talk about it now,’ and, “Oh fuck, yes, just like that-“ instead of ‘it is important to me to follow up on matters that may impact me later.’

Alucard purrs, eyes still sleepy in a notably contented way, and continues to drag at Trevor’s cock, letting the weight of his body weigh him down against the mattress. Still reeling from his haze, Trevor can only clutch at Alucard, try to thrust up against a hand that seems all too content to simply tease. He shifts his legs to get better leverage and finds Alucard shifting to deny him purchase, caging him in and keeping him prone, pinned, restrained.

“Hey, come on,” Trevor protests, hands plucking at Alucard’s shirt. He always forgets. He always forgets how insanely strong Alucard is, especially in close quarters like this where he can’t slide blows away, can’t redirect strikes.

“I would hate for you to move before you’re ready to and accidentally hurt yourself,” Alucard says, tone saccharine, positively dripping with virtue. But there’s a catch of light on his fangs, and Trevor is reacting before he can really understand it, heart picking up the pace from ‘aroused’ to ‘fighting.’

“Rot in hell,” Trevor snarls, and tries to wriggle a wrist between them to push Alucard up, legs scrabbling to get some leverage.

Alucard catches his wrist in one hand, holds Trevor down at the breastbone with the other, and pushes himself up to look him over. It’s eerie to watch Alucard’s eyes flash when Trevor can’t see much else of him but a vague shadow. It doesn’t help whatever just crossed wrong in Trevor’s brain. He sees through a surge of red, bares his teeth.

“Do you truly want me to release you?”

Trevor blinks at him. He huffs out a deep, shuddering breath, sighs another one out.

“Trevor,” Alucard says, coming closer again so that Trevor can feel the borrowed blood rushing fast and hot through his skin, “tell me, honestly, and I’ll release you. I enjoy games like this, but this is only enjoyable if both parties know the rules.”

Trevor thinks for a moment, staying silent, re-gathering himself, flexing his wrist against Alucard’s hand from time to time. Alucard lets him do what he will, lets Trevor shake off his hand on his wrist when Trevor tries.

“Another time?”

“Of course,” Alucard agrees, moving to get off Trevor. He sounds vulnerable even as he obliges, voice catching on that insecurity, that fear of danger, fear of self. Trevor’s starting to get it a little more, starting to feel a sympathetic tug in his gut.

“Wait-“ he catches at Alucard’s hips, pulls him back. “C’mere. No need to just stop everything.”

Alucard makes a sweet, confused noise, which pulls Trevor in despite his still-hammering heart. He tries to find Alucard’s mouth in the dark of the room- finds his chin, which he kisses, his cheek, another kiss, the side of his nose, a third kiss (which makes Alucard startle and then laugh shyly), and finally on the fourth try Alucard takes pity on him and finds Trevor’s mouth with his, pecking him.

“Just- god. Sypha- I told her….” Trevor pauses to kiss Alucard again, shifting to roll them so they’re both on their sides, pressed and curled together. Alucard is still wearing his pants, though his dick is out, jutting hard and satisfyingly dense against Trevor’s own erection. Erections touching is not conducive to talking about serious matters, Trevor is realizing. “I’m trying. I’m trying for you, too.”

Alucard sighs, long and slow like he’s had an epiphany, then leans in and kisses Trevor, opens his mouth with his tongue again and twines with him, pulling Trevor on top of him and rocking so that their erections slide against each other, catching in ways that make Trevor half-moan, half-grunt. It’s bordering on torture, like this.

“I am impatient,” Alucard tells him, pulling back to lick at his jaw. Trevor runs his tongue over his own teeth. There’s a faint coppery aftertaste over the normal taste of kissing another person- his own blood on Alucard’s lips. Strange. Not as strange as he’d thought it might be. “I shouldn’t be, but I am. Forgive me.”

The contrast- Sypha, fiery and impetuous, telling him that she was patient, versus Alucard, aloof and disciplined, telling him that he was impatient- makes Trevor huff out a quiet laugh.

“Okay,” he says, and he wants to make it better, wants to let Alucard know that it’s Trevor’s problem, it’s always him, damaged and cut and scarred and scared, so he gets up on his hands and knees and slithers down the bed so that he’s on his legs and feeling around for Alucard’s hips. There are probably better ways to try to tell Alucard that Trevor’s rejection of that ‘game’ at the moment isn’t an eternal rejection. There are probably better ways to tell Alucard that Trevor doesn’t want him to be afraid of himself, afraid of the consequences of the smallest action because of his nature. There are definitely better ways to tell Alucard that he cares for him, that he’s wary of all of this because it’s too good, too good to believe he can have this and hold on to it.

But really, Trevor’s talked out, so instead he puts his face to Alucard’s hip, inhaling in that scent of his fancy-ass leather pants with those stupid sexy belts slung on his narrow hips. He can smell Alucard too, that particular person-scent that’s both unique and completely indescribable, and the particular musk of where he’s trying to find in the pitch darkness.

“Trevor?” Alucard asks, and based on the shift of the bed he’s up on his elbows, looking. Trevor keeps his eyes down, because like hell is he setting himself off again when he’s trying to locate a dick in the dark. “You’re about to- oh. Oh. Ohhh.

Found it. Trevor gives Alucard’s dick another nuzzle, tentatively inhaling. Not so different from a woman, really, just out instead of in. The smell is heavier on the musk, lighter on the sharp notes, but fuck if that makes much of a difference really. He swallows, takes a breath, puffs it out on Alucard’s cock. He makes a faint ‘hah’ from up above, voice going thin with anticipation.

“Never sucked dick before either,” Trevor tells him, before he swims a hand off Alucard’s hip and uses it to orient himself, grabbing at the root of his cock and dragging his tongue up whatever he can find before he kisses the crown, wet and sticky, and opens his mouth to take Alucard’s tip in and give it a curious prod with his tongue. Finding it fairly palatable, if a bit salty-tangy, he slides the flat of his tongue down the shaft and takes Alucard a little further in.

“Fucking hell,” snarls out Alucard, sounding bestial, wracked, and his whole body shakes under Trevor.

Trevor thinks back to memorable blowjobs he’s had- motion, pressure, heat, no teeth. Right. He can handle this. So he works to relax his jaw and bobs his head, tongue pressing and stroking at whatever he can manage as Alucard swears and fights to hold as still as he can.

Trevor is absorbed in the mechanics of it all before he realizes it: the loosening his jaw to let Alucard’s thick cock in him, the press of his lips against every pulsing vein as he does it. He polishes the flat of his tongue against the underside of the shaft so that Alucard lets out a choking moan. Alucard’s hips shake and strain when Trevor dips his tongue under the flare of his head, tracing that channel from side to side. When Trevor gives up on being tidy and just goes for it, tongue working and mouth sloppy wet and a hand sliding over to play with Alucard’s balls, he can feel every twitch and jump and the way it feels like his dick is still swelling, still growing in his mouth, the way it jerks and flutters against his lips and pulls back towards Alucard’s belly, the way Trevor has to chase it with his tongue-

Alucard gives his hair a sharp tug, trying to say something, but Trevor shakes him off, too invested in these intriguing jolts and perky little jumps the cock in his mouth is giving-

“Hh-!” Trevor says, giving a little jolt when Alucard gives up and rocks into him, swearing and snarling, and promptly comes in his mouth. That’s- he likes that too, likes the eager way Alucard shoots off into his mouth and the way his dick pulses with every quick breath he’s taking, likes the way he can sort of play at the head of Alucard’s cock to get the last shoot of come.

He lets Alucard’s softening dick slide out of his mouth gently, sits there for a stunned moment, then, with a philosophical shrug in Alucard’s direction, swallows.

Hell below,” Alucard gasps, his eyes huge and red-gold and his voice shaky.

“Was it okay?” Trevor asks, prodding at the corners of his mouth with his tongue where they sting from the friction, licking up a drizzle of what’s probably- yep, definitely- come from his bottom lip.

Alucard exhales, then lifts a hand and rests it on Trevor’s head. He’s shaking. Hmmm. Well, well. Looks like his natural talent for the physical extends to blowjobs too. He’s not sure how to feel about that. He’ll settle with smugness for now.

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Alucard says, dragging Trevor up by the armpit. Trevor goes from smug to worried.

“What?” He’d thought he was pretty good at it. Hell, he didn’t even choke, not even when Alucard- well, but he didn’t take him very deep, did he? Now that he thinks about it, he didn’t really even use his hands much, so-

“You suck cock better than most courtesans,” Alucard says, clutching Trevor to him so he can feel his heat, the way his skin is slick with sweat and the way he’s still shivering, shuddering as he comes down.

…. Okay, actually, when it’s phrased that way he does feel sort of self-conscious about that. He can feel his face glowing red in the dark, but Alucard kisses him anyway, just as possessive before, but more leisurely now.

“This is great,” Trevor says, gasping as he pulls away, “really, I’m very- unh- touched by the praise- I think- but touch me for fuck’s sake.

Alucard growls cheerily, and isn’t it a testament to his weird fucking life that Trevor knows what a cheery growl sounds like, and rolls them over. Trevor’s just had this guy’s dick in his mouth, swallowed his fucking come, so this time when Alucard pins him he’s able to squash that panic and just enjoy it, enjoy it when Alucard forces his legs open around his hips and stares down at Trevor and wraps both hands around him and strokes him off, slow and steady and teasing. He’s able to enjoy that he’s definitely, absolutely fantasizing about Alucard fucking him with that heavy cock of his, and he’s able to enjoy the idea of Sypha getting wet as she watches him get opened up for the first time, too.

He’s able to enjoy it when Alucard leans down and licks up his stomach, tongue dipping into his belly button which is not sexy and is ticklish, which Trevor very firmly informs Alucard of once he stops sputtering. And he’s able to enjoy it when Alucard shifts again and rolls them and Trevor’s face is pressed into the bed, all of Alucard’s weight on his shoulders as he forces Trevor’s hips up and jerks him off hard and rough, unrelenting, making the bed creak like they’re on their wedding night. As Trevor’s at the edge, gasping and clawing at the sheets, shuddering, his belly going taut as he comes, Alucard pulls him up one more time, pressed flush against the burning flex of his body, and hell if Trevor doesn’t enjoy the shit out of that, that nice possessive grip on his hair and at his waist.

Alucard bites him again, fangs sinking in deep. He only takes a few mouthfuls before working at the wound with his tongue to stop the blood, but the effect is enough: Trevor swoons anew. Between the orgasm and the bloodletting, he doesn’t have a chance in hell of fighting it.

 

 

 

Lying prone on the bed, trying to remember why he probably should try to get up, he sees light suddenly slide into the room, hears the creak of the door and a feminine gasp.

“Oh, Sypha,” he slurs, feeling drunker than he ever has off the pints, turning his head weakly to meet Alucard’s lips. He gets his cheek, then his throat. Alucard makes a patiently soothing sound. “After this is all over, let’s- let’s all fuck.”

“What on earth,” Sypha laughs, and she sounds so delighted despite her crotchety mood all day that Trevor just smiles at her.

“Alucard can fuck me, too,” Trevor tells her with a smarmy little wiggle of his hips that mostly just looks like he’s stuck in something, but Alucard takes in a tight, sharp breath above him anyway, despite his current clumsiness, “and you can- do whatever you want to.”

“I’d like that,” Sypha says, coming closer with her magelight and smiling back down at Trevor.

“Good,” Trevor says, and finally looks up at Alucard now that he can see properly. His hair is mussed and there’s a tiny smear of pink at the corner of his mouth, his dick is hanging half-interested out of his stupid leather pants, and Trevor smiles at him too. Alucard surveys him back with such deep, honest affection that Trevor becomes abashed even in his worn-out state and turns his face back to the sheets.

“What in the name of god did you do to him?” Sypha asks, as Trevor settles a little and starts to drift.

Alucard starts in on some long, boring explanation that sounds not at all like what they got up to. Trevor reaches out to the edge of the bed with the last dwindling bit of consciousness he has. Sypha snags his hand in both of hers, and he gives a relieved sigh and finally fades fully into darkness.

 

 

 

“Goodbye convenient baths,” Sypha says mournfully.

“Goodbye reliable hearthfire,” Alucard sighs resignedly.

Trevor looks at the house as they standing in the twilight of a half-dawn. The snow hasn’t gotten any thinner, but, weirdly, despite days and days of unceasing snow, it hasn’t gotten any deeper either. Magic. Ugh.

“Goodbye you awful place I got my arm broken in,” Trevor says, with a pointed stare at both of them, “and almost died in, quite a few times, which is notably unusual for me.”

Sypha covers her mouth, though she’s tucked so deeply into her hood that her expression is hard to see. Alucard gives him a serious stare.

“Do little deaths count?”

“I don’t know what you’re insinuating,” Trevor bristles, his cloak drawn up so tightly under his chin that he probably looks incredibly, absurdly stupid. Vampires are assholes about neck things, he’s decided, even your friendly neighborhood one. He needs a scarf, but Sypha insisted she doesn’t know how to knit. “You pervert.

“Hm,” Alucard muses, as Trevor tromps out through the village, cutting a path through the snow that Sypha follows closely. “Of course not.”

As Trevor pauses to squint, orienting himself to that far-off bead of light in the steady beat of snow, he hears Sypha ask:

“You never did explain why he was so wrung-out.” And hell if he doesn’t dawdle a little, pretending to search harder so he can hear the answer without having to ask himself.

“Oh,” Alucard says in that very-polite tone he uses when asking where the wash room might be in a tavern, “yes, that.”

Silence. Trevor takes a step forward, puts a hand up to shield against the snow, pretends to scan some more.

“Well. You know the stories, of course- a noblewoman found swooning in the arms of a vampire, so on and so forth.”

“I assumed they were absurdities passed around by idiots,” Sypha says succinctly, which makes Alucard cough out some stifled laughter. Trevor takes another step forward, hears them follow, squints some more. Come on, he mentally begs. This can only take so long before it’s totally obvious.

“Mostly, yes,” Alucard agrees. “Except…”

Silence again. It stretches out until the faint touch of snow on the ground, and the howl of the wind, is the only noise they can remember.

“WELL!?” Trevor bursts out, wheeling on them both. Sypha jumps, but Alucard just looks smug. God above but he is such an asshole.

“Well,” Alucard tells him, eyes sleepy, snow falling thickly on his shoulders and his hair. It occurs to Trevor that Sypha and he may be dressed well enough for the weather (hopefully), but Alucard certainly isn’t. “As it stands, there is some small truth to that idea.”

“Oh?” Sypha asks, coming in close to peer at Alucard, then Trevor. She reaches up to try and get a look at the bite Alucard has left on his neck, but Trevor shoos her hand away and grumbles at her.

“You see,” Alucard says with a particularly dark, rich tone to his voice that Trevor knows means he’s about to deliver a real zinger, “amongst the nobility, it seems there is a very small portion that have a genetic-“ he balks at their instantly puzzled faces, continues, “-a hereditary reaction to a vampire’s bite. A sort of peaceful, pleasured, maidenly swoon, if you will.”

Trevor looks at Alucard. Sypha looks at Trevor. Alucard winks at Trevor.

Trevor explodes into motion, chasing after Alucard with a furious yell, his short sword drawn in one hand. Alucard wastes no time in booking it, laughing above the storm.

“You don’t know where you’re going!” Trevor yells out, working to keep his balance in the snow. “Come back here, I want to- hff- have a chat with you about that maiden bullshit!”

“We’ve been able to see the lanterns for a few paces now,” Sypha yells after them, “he knows where he’s going! Don’t leave- me- behind!”

Alucard says nothing, but he does change into a wolf and charge through the snow like it’s nothing when Trevor gets too close to catching him by one puffy leg.

Halfway to the first lantern, Trevor slows his pace to catch Sypha’s hand in his. He gives her a little tug, flashing a smile, and then they’re both taking off after the flaring wag of Alucard’s golden tail. Their yells and laughter and wolf-yips carry over the hills, echoing back in the eternal dark of the undulating hills lined with mysterious unending lights, and Trevor finds that he’s-

Well.

He’s happy, isn’t he?

 

 

Chapter Text


 

 

It’s easier to walk through the drifts like this, with Sypha at his side and Alucard cutting a path through the snow. Trevor still gets cold, still gets slapped in the face with ice and wind and wet, but with Sypha to press up against his side and Alucard to press against their legs, taking breathers under the lanterns are possible- doable, even, without the looming press of death.

Sypha turns back after they’ve reached one of the weirder lanterns, an orange one with an odd grating buzz-hum. She stares into the blackness, hands tucked into her robes, and lifts her head to look at the sky.

“Something wrong?” Trevor asks, hearing the panting huff of Alucard-as-a-wolf as he comes around to warm her legs.

“It’s beautiful,” she says, pushing back her hood to get a better look. “It reminds me of the dark of the mountains. It’s been so long since we travelled, but…” A fond, longing expression creeps across her face. “I could not wait to be out beyond the reach of city and village lights as a girl.”

“Why?” asks Alucard, abruptly man-shaped, diving against them both to dodge the cold. His hair is coated in ice, just like his fur was as a wolf. He’s been doing this, wavering between beast and man in order to chat or travel, whichever form makes the task at hand easier. Trevor thinks he should feel alarm, but there’s something to be said for having a man-sized, gold-dusted wolf by your side that really keeps the spirits up in a storm.

“Oh, who knows?” Sypha shrugs. Her hair has collected snow as they walked, and her curls have only become more pronounced as a result. “I have always loved the silence between the places where rooted folk walk, though. It’s… nice,” she decides, tone slow and careful, “to not have to worry about… some things.”

“You mean the church?” Trevor asks.

“Well…” Sypha bites her lip. Trevor and Alucard look at each other, then back at her, patiently waiting her out. “We Speakers do things differently. We have our own faith, our own prayers, our own ways of doing things.” She raises an eyebrow at Trevor, who blushes and swallows. Oh, yes. He understands at least a little of what she’s getting at. “We don’t have a country of our own. So we have always formed our culture in… the gaps between other people’s lands.”

Alucard tips his head, clearly puzzling some things out.

“You mean you don’t have to deal with people shitting on you,” Trevor says firmly. “You don’t have to mince around it. I know how Speakers get treated in Wallachia. I can’t imagine it’s any better elsewhere. Hell, we just had a whole city breathing down our necks about it pretty recently.”

Sypha looks at Trevor with pursed lips. “In… a way,” she agrees. Then: “Goodness, it does feel like ages ago, does it not? Gresit, I mean.”

“Yes,” Alucard agrees quietly. His eyes slide between Trevor and Sypha.

“But I mean…. Hum.” Sypha puts her fingertips to her mouth, huffing a cloud of heat out on them. “The places between- rooted folks consider those places to be haunted, or perhaps cursed. But to my people, those places have always been refuges we could take solace in when the world closed in too tightly on us. It is not good to stay in those empty places for too long, but there is something to be said for them. They are… safe, in a way that other places are unsafe, but dangerous in ways that known places are not. We know we cannot stay. We do not need to.”

Trevor thinks about that, remaining silent. His mind slides back to that lake, the edge he stood on and the lilies stretching down under the still water. A refuge, if you knew how to come and go. A place of safety when other dangers loomed too large, a place of darkness and privacy and freedom. Somewhere to visit, somewhere to draw strength from, but somewhere you left when you were done with whatever you had come to accomplish.

That wall of emptiness rises before him again, the precipice under his feet. The moon hangs heavy above and the water deep below, and the lilies spiral down on their beautiful stems, to depths he’ll never know. The breadth of the world stands in front of him and the bleakness of the world slavers behind him.

“Trevor?” Trevor blinks his eyes open.

“Sorry,” he says, shaking some snow off his shoulders. “I just spaced out for a bit.” Alucard has put the back of his hand to Trevor’s cheek, is holding Sypha to his front as if he’s planning on stealing her warmth.

“You looked…” Aucard’s brow furrows. Sypha, peering up at him from Alucard’s arms, gives him a gentle, faint smile. Trevor has the sudden jarring sense that she, too, has a place her mind slides to when she needs it, and sometimes when she doesn’t. “You looked very peaceful, for a moment.”

“Huh,” Trevor says. “Well. I don’t have anything against travel, myself.”

“A man of good sense,” Sypha says, and giving Alucard a squeeze starts off through the snow again.

 

 

 

They walk and walk and walk. They walk until Trevor’s pants are soaked through again (Sypha dries him off as best she can with her palmful of flame), until Alucard starts to shiver even under his golden pelt (Trevor picks his paws up and warms them, one by one, in his hands), until Sypha is staggering in the cold and her lips turn pale (Trevor and Alucard bundle to her, but they’re cold too, tired and endlessly walking in the dark together). Conversation lags and then falls silent, because all they can do is go, walk on to the infinite dark crested here and there with strange, alien lanterns.

They walk on and on, still, rising up through those undulating dark hills, walking a path twining sinuous and infinite like a serpent the size of the earth. Trevor could swear he sees the lilies rising in the darkness off the path, intricate spirals of lake-weed holding blossoms laden with light slowly dimming. When he turns his head to look they aren’t there, but he can feel them, like he can feel it when demons and monsters are close by. It’s a skin-sense more than anything, a knowing in the back of the skull, instinctive and unrelenting.

And sometime between a moment and the next, Sypha collapses, and Alucard runs to where she fell, and Trevor staggers too, and suddenly all the huddling in the world isn’t enough to keep the cold at bay, because Sypha is not there.

Alucard digs at the snow, scents the air, screams a wolf-scream that raises the hairs on the back of Trevor’s neck and rushes to and fro, growing more and more frantic.

“What just-!?” He explodes into human shape in front of Trevor, clutching at his frosted-over arms under his cloak and giving him a hard shake. Trevor rocks with the shake wearily, wondering if perhaps Sypha is in a heat-blasted caravan. “Where is she?!”

“I don’t know,” Trevor says, tone heavy, speech slightly slurred, and Alucard whips his attention to Trevor now, pressing up close again like he’s trying to grow into him.

“You’re cold as well,” he says, but his own body is hardly a furnace, and after a moment Alucard simply pulls his coat out to try to shield Trevor from the wind.

“Mngh,” Trevor agrees, reeling now that they’ve stopped moving. Alucard embraces him, tucks Trevor’s face into his shoulder, tries to shield him from the driving snow and ice and cold as best he can.

They slowly fall to their knees like that, slowly fall into darkness like that. It doesn’t feel any different than it did when Trevor was alone.

No.

That’s a lie.

It feels worse.

 

 

 

Alucard jerks back from Trevor, teeth bared, face feral and wild, sword out and in hand. Trevor is less stunned, having gone this way before, but he still has to reel his mind together from the smattering dark of cold death he had been walking down.

“Wait,” he says, and opens his cloak to the heat. “Sypha, are you here?”

Silence.

Alucard is recovering from his shock quickly, looking at the burning line of carts that Trevor knows is the caravan. He remembers the heat, remembers the crackle, remembers the queasy sick of his stomach as he wondered if he had somehow simply doomed the world, doomed Alucard and Sypha by staggering off and away.

“Where are we? This is… some sort of magical…” Alucard pauses, and something in his bearing suggests a wolfhound scenting the air. “She is here.”

“I know,” Trevor says, “but she might not be… the right one?” He thinks of those big blue eyes and the little brown robe, of Sypha-but-younger crouching hidden in a bush filled with prickers and thorns and staring fixedly at a simmering corpse frozen in fire, eternally reaching for her.

He doesn’t know what this all means when it comes to the owner of the memory.

“Where…” Alucard is searching more effectively than Trevor had, barely pausing to give the bodies a look. It’s obvious, watching him, that he assumes any she burned were deserving; Sypha does not dispense her fire to men easily. Trevor, looking at that one reaching corpse, thinks he understands better now why, precisely, that is.

“Here,” Trevor says, stepping past him to go on the far side of her hiding bush.

“This is the memory you described,” Alucard says, understanding lighting in his eyes. He follows Trevor’s eyes and examines the bush. Trevor catches the exact moment he sees Sypha, the precise instant he catches her small form tucked in the false safety of her hiding spot.

“Sypha,” Alucard gasps, reaching for her.

“I don’t know if this is actually her, or just a memory,” Trevor cautions him, but Alucard is down on her knees and pleading with her anyway.

“Come out, please. You are hurt, and we can help you.”

“Go away,” she hisses in a heavier accent than she has now, shifting, and Trevor catches the way her robes stick on her legs, the wet shine of a little shoeless foot.

He realizes that he never asked about those scars on her legs- it had never occurred to him. It had simply never occurred to him, because of his own profession, but it isn’t normal, is it?

“We want to help,” Alucard presses. Sypha draws back, and even as a small girl she’s beautiful, with big curls and bigger eyes and a small, frowning mouth. It’s strange to stare into her face as a child and see the woman she’ll turn into. Trevor looks at the caravan, thinks about a different future for her, one in a different country and raised in a different way, and bites his nails into his palm.

“I don’t want your help,” she wildcat-snarls, unwilling or unable to move, and the bush bursts into flame around her. Trevor doesn’t bat an eye- she has dominion over fire, she’s stuck her bare hands in the fireplace-

But then he’s wrenching his still-soaked cloak up and over his head and lunging in after her, because she’s screaming, and Alucard is at his side looking torn around the edges, begging,

“Gentle, be gentle with her, she’s hurt, be gentle,”

and thank God but the magefire stays on the bush and Sypha comes out in his arms, and she’s wet in places she shouldn’t be, and it makes Trevor quake inside in ways he hasn’t felt since the first time he fought a live opponent. His insides feel frail and tender. He’s terrified. So is she.

“Lay her down,” Alucard tells him, “on your cloak, not on the earth.” He lifts her robe up and grimaces when he has to fight off her hands to do it, physically cringing from the act and what it represents.

“No,” Sypha sobs, little and burned all up one leg, high up the thigh (like silk stockings, Trevor remembers thinking) and then halfway on the other leg. “No, please,” and she dissolves into incoherent cries and starts to beg in a language Trevor doesn’t know and, judging from Alucard’s face, neither does he. The meaning is clear anyway.

“We won’t hurt you,” Trevor tries again, hands shaking. He doesn’t know if this is a memory or if inside of Sypha-but-little is Sypha-but-grown or if this is some other kind of horror, but either way watching a girl cry as two men strip her makes something violent and angry turn in him, like a wolf in a too-small cage. He can’t do much about it, not when it’s he himself he wants to savage.

“I don’t know what to do,” Alucard says, expression stricken and stark in the firelight. Sypha’s body lies prone between them. It hasn’t escaped Trevor’s notice that they aren’t charred statues themselves, despite their less-than-welcomed treatment of her. He doesn’t know if that’s a good sign, or if she’s just too frightened of what she’s already done to protect herself again.

“What?! You’re the only healer we have right now,” Trevor growls, making Sypha wail and cover her face between them. He looks at her legs, stops because he isn’t sure how that black-and-char mess became the pretty little twinkling scars he knows.

“I- if this is only a memory, is it proper to upset her to treat her? Or is this some kind of-“ Alucard waves his spare hand, “is this real, and we must do everything we can to help her, regardless of her feelings on it?”

“You’ve got me,” Trevor says, and Sypha’s breath catches in a wet miserable heaving cough.

“Please,” Alucard begs, his face a mask of anguish, “please, Sypha, what should we do?”

She turns her head, crying into the corner of her elbow now, body wracked with sobs. Every motion makes her legs shift, makes her bleed more.

“I don’t have- Hell, the debridement will be- agony- she needs a blood transfusion if she’s to-“ Alucard is panicking, and Trevor can see why. He’s never seen anybody walk away from wounds like this, not without… not without a magical healer of some skill.

Which Sypha is.

Trevor draws his brows down in thought.

“Sypha,” he calls, taking his hands and placing them on her shoulders. He hopes the gesture is warm, isn’t terrifying. She’s too busy moaning into her arm to flinch from his touch, which is something. “You can heal this.”

Alucard’s gaze snaps to Trevor.

What?

“You can heal yourself,” Trevor says, glaring daggers at Alucard. “We know you- uh- we know you have the power to heal things like this but worse. We know you can heal yourself.”

Alucard blinks, eyes wide, before looking down at Sypha’s little form.

“… Yes. Yes. Sypha, it is the only way. We know you as a woman- a beautiful, powerful woman. You command fire and ice, and when you put yourself to it you are a tremendous healer. You have saved…” Alucard shakes his head. “You have saved so many people’s lives with your skills. You are a gift to this earth. You brim and overfill with compassion and righteousness.”

“Also you have a bad temper and you like to charge into danger,” Trevor teases, because he can’t help it, because Sypha-but-little has gotten quieter, is turning a bit, is looking out from behind her hands, eyes still blurry with tears.

“Trevor,” Alucard snaps, tone scolding.

“And we have to rush after you,” Trevor says with a sigh that’s pure overwrought tragedy. “It’s horrible, we’re always getting dragged into things because of you.”

“It’s not like that,” Alucard huffs.

“No?” Sypha’s voice is quavering, shaking with fear and pain.

“It is,” Trevor says, tightening his grip on her shoulders gently. She moves gingerly, just the faintest turn of the head to look at him. Her legs are still where they’re exposed to the air, raw and cooked in equal portions. He keeps his eyes fixed on her face. “He’s just trying to make you feel better about growing up to be an enormous pain in the ass.”

“I am not,” Alucard huffs, visibly hunching up in fury, but Sypha cuts him off at the knees with a single pained laugh. It’s more of a cough than anything, but it’s not a scream or a wail and Trevor will take it.

“Your legs are on your body,” Trevor tells her firmly, “and you have scars on them, but they’re- uh, well, they’re pretty.” He blushes. Alucard stares at him, opens his mouth, looks at Sypha, and snaps his jaw shut.

Sypha is taking in even, tight little breaths, sweat streaming down her face.

“It hurts,” she whispers, and Alucard’s expression couldn’t be more agonized if he was the one being burned there in front of them.

“We have faith in you,” Alucard tells her, but it sounds more like he’s begging her. “Trevor is correct- you are an excellent healer. You must heal yourself now.”

“I don’t know how,” Sypha says, tears sliding down her face in a steady stream. Her little hands are clenched in fists. Her fingers look very sharp in the light of the snapping fire.

“You just do it,” Trevor says, leaning over her. “You just close your eyes and you do it. It’s magic. You don’t have to over-think it.”

“Quite so,” Alucard agrees, before reaching out to place his fingers over her clenched fist, seeking to reassure any way he can. She sniffs, tears coming faster, and her fingers flash out to grab at his hand. “I can’t say it’s easy, but it is instinctive.”

“I’ll try,” Sypha says, her other hand coming up to touch at where Trevor is holding her shoulders-

 

 

 

“Ooh,” Sypha says, and stands up from the snow, brushing down her robes.

“Fuck,” Trevor gasps, whipping his cloak up and around him again. He does a pained little shimmy when he gets it on, inspects his arms. Ah- he must have gotten burned from the bush when he pulled Sypha out of it. It hurts, but not enough to deal with immediately.

Alucard lets out a relieved, gasping sigh, heedless of the snow quickly collecting on his shoulders and head.

“I hate this kind of bullshit,” Trevor hisses, planting his hands on his face for a second before pulling Sypha in, or trying to. “I fucking hate it.”

“That was horrible,” Sypha says matter-of-factly, and, pulling back from Trevor before he can really make contact, reaches out for Alucard, who comes to her like he’s done something wrong, with a bowed head and uncertain eyes. “But you guessed right.”

“Oh?” Trevor watches her stroke Alucard’s hair, watches her reassure him, the way she kisses his jaw because she’s too short to reach much more without him bending down too much.

“I healed myself,” Sypha says, tone still faux-casual, but then her face falls into shame-faced regret. “Poorly, at first. It took me many years to undo the damage I had done myself that night. It was years before I could walk and run as a normal child would again.”

“I didn’t realize,” Alucard tells her.

“Does it hurt sometimes?” Trevor asks. His face hurts all the damn time in the spots where the knife went too deep, maybe nicked the bone. He can’t imagine what it must be like to feel that all over her legs, up and down.

“…. Yes,” Sypha admits, her voice almost lost in the wind.

“I wish you had told me.” Alucard looks grieved. “I could have…”

“Things happen, sometimes,” Sypha says, cupping his cheek in a hand. She tips her head and ends up turning away from Trevor, who’s standing at their side trying not to shiver in the wind. He feels acutely that he should look away, that he shouldn’t be here. That it’s private. He swallows the feeling down, because it won’t do shit right now. “It is our duty to move on from these things.”

“You are right,” Alucard agrees, closing his eyes and bowing into her touch. “Of course you are right.”

There’s a moment of quiet. Trevor draws his cloak around him, tries not to shiver as he looks at Sypha and Alucard in front of him, twined intimately, reassuring each other. Sypha whispers a reassurance to Alucard, who has closed his eyes and is bowing his head to her. Trevor hangs back, tries not to feel the petty stab of loneliness the sight gives him, tries not to feel hurt at the way Sypha drew back from him in order to go to Alucard. He tries to be a goddamned adult about all these stupid petty feelings of jealousy in him.

He fails.

“Let’s go,” he finally says, rubbing his hands to try to bully warmth back into them. Trevor starts to walk towards the next light.

It’s a little while before he hears Alucard and Sypha start to walk, and they stay behind him, together; that doesn’t help him feel less like a piece of shit in the least.

His forearms sting.

Chapter Text


 

 

The silence between them grows louder as they pass by each and every lantern.

Alucard stays with Sypha, sometimes on two legs and sometimes on four, and Trevor takes the duty of cutting the path through the heavy snowfall for them.

Trevor can feel the weight of their stares on his back, resents the prickle of it, dislikes himself for resenting it. Dislikes himself for even feeling it. Dislikes himself.

They go on like that for some time before Alucard stops, and at first Trevor thinks it’s simply a pause as he goes back to wolf-shape, but Sypha stops too. He turns back, clenching his hands to his cloak and ignoring the hot throb of his second-hand burns. When he looks at them he wishes he hadn’t: they’re standing together, side by side, Sypha’s eyes blazing under her hood, Alucard regal with a straight spine and shimmering in gold even in the darkness. They look good together, and when compared to him, slumped and cold and frosted over in weird places, it feels like a kick in the gut.

“What?” Trevor asks, because he’s never known when to tuck tail from a fight.

“Come here,” Sypha demands. Trevor just looks at her.

“Aren’t you cold?” Alucard raises an eyebrow.

“It’s fine,” Trevor says, shrugging and shedding a few inches of snow off his shoulders as he does.

Sypha puffs out a frustrated breath, crosses her arms. Alucard’s eyebrows drop down into a piercing scowl.

“Why are you like this?” Sypha grumbles, shaking herself off and advancing towards Trevor. He stands his ground and watches her come to him warily, steps back a pace when she reaches for him.

“I don’t fancy being set on fire for warmth, if that’s your plan.”

Sypha’s mouth settles in a line.

“Come here, Trevor.”

Trevor’s gaze flicks between the two of them. It hasn’t escaped his notice that Alucard is standing back, is watching them quietly. He doesn’t know what to make of it.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’ve got something of a task at hand, what with the,“ he flings his arms out, “endless sea of blackness around us, and so,”

“What’s that,” Sypha asks him, or tells him, or something else resembling to ‘wants to murder’, because she says it with narrowed eyes and a flat voice and her fingers twitching.

“Baba Yaga? Are you even-“ He stares at her in disbelief, looking to Alucard for help, but his gaze has sharpened as well. Alucard takes a step forward.

“How did you manage to get hurt?” Sypha asks, indignant.

“Well, we were all there,” Trevor says, flinging his arms out of his cloak again to inspect them. Huh. There’s blood on his sleeves, down near his bracers. He must have blistered from the heat, not noticed them breaking as he walked. It looks more dramatic than it feels.

“Why do you always do this!?” Sypha yells, stomping towards him, and Trevor gives an annoyed growl and backs up some more. He’s standing on the edge of where the light bleeds into darkness again, leaving Sypha and Alucard in the center.

“It’s minor, and we’ll probably look a mite bit worse by the time this is over, if we’re lucky and God shines his benevolent and unending light down on our flea-bitten asses. Can we please get moving again so I don’t actually lose a few toes?”

“No!” Sypha’s hair spits a few sparks as she pushes her hood back. She’d probably be smoldering by now, but the snow is heavy and wet enough to reduce that to a flaccid fizzle. “Trevor, come here and warm up a little and let me look at your arms.”

“I don’t want to,” he says, and tucking his arms back inside his cloak, turns to walk out again, to the darkness ahead of him.

He hears an enraged cry and turns just in time to see Sypha pouncing on him, knocking him down and giving him a faceful of snow. He hears Alucard make a faint sympathetic noise behind them.

“Ow,” he comments dryly into the powder, feeling a sharp knee land right on where he’s pretty sure he used to have an intact kidney.

“Don’t be a child,” Sypha says, and pulls Trevor up out of the snow. “I don’t understand what this is. How did you get injured?”

“It was- fuck, get off of me- when I pulled you out of that bush, I presume.” He rears up, fluffs snow out of his hair as he grumbles against the creep of wet on his scalp.

“Oh,” Sypha says, looking up at him uncertainly.

“Yeah,” Trevor says, “you know, before we laid you out and stripped you and you begged us not to rape you in whatever language that was.”

Silence.

Tears brim up in Sypha’s eyes and she claps her hands to her mouth. Trevor looks at her, seized into stillness by electric horror.

“I’m- I’m sorry, I didn’t- I shouldn’t- shit, shit.“

Sypha looks between them. Alucard looks away. Trevor avoids her eyes, abruptly realizing why Alucard had been so contrite, had approached her like a dog that had bitten. He supposes, standing there feeling like a bastard for making Sypha tear up, that he’d have reached for Alucard first too when faced with an expression like he’d been wearing. He supposes he should have just- waited his turn. Said something. Come to her. He should have just come to her.

“I didn’t,” Sypha says, carefully, reaching out to bury her fingers in Trevor’s furred cloak, “know you.” She gives him a little shake. “The men who kidnapped me then,” she’s shaking, hiding it by clenching onto his furred shoulders, “told me that they would sell me to a man who would use me in whatever way he desired, be it for magic or my body or both, and they laughed when they told me that. I was trapped in that memory, didn’t know you. I don’t,” she lowers her head, shaking it so hard that she sways on her feet. “I am not afraid of that from you. From either of you,” she says, and reaches to pull Alucard to them as well.

“You are good men,” she whispers, leaking tears. “And I have never been afraid of either of you.”

Trevor doesn’t have anything to say to that. He leans down and finally, painstakingly takes her in his arms like he wanted to at first. She melts to him, sighs as tension eases from her body until she’s supine in his hold, until he knows he’s forgiven, wasn’t at blame to start with except by he himself.

Alucard leans with them both, standing with his back to the wind, and tucks himself against Trevor’s side. He shares that guilt, shares the absolution too.

 

 

 

“I will never forget their faces when they said that to me. They were delighted to see my suffering,” Sypha tells Trevor conversationally as they duck under Alucard’s coat and inspect the damage the magefire has done. “I was terrified of what I had done to them as a girl, but now as a woman looking at children of the age I was, I wish I had had the skill to burn them more slowly.”

Alucard blinks at her, eyebrows up.

“We Speakers have always had to defend ourselves,” she says sweetly, her face tipped up and her eyes bright like an angel in prayer. “Not everybody was raised in a well-managed castle with strong high walls.”

Trevor casts an admiring eye over her. Alucard makes an uncomfortable sound.

“I have not exactly spent my days attending soirees, and Trevor was raised on an aristocratic estate as well, not that one could tell by his mannerisms,” he says, peering at Trevor’s exposed arms.

“Hey.” He’s not wrong, but. Hey.

“I suppose the wind speed and our lack of proximity was what kept the scent from me.”

“Likely,” Sypha agrees. “Trevor, please do not be an idiot and tell us the next time you are injured.”

“I didn’t realize it was anything.”

Sypha and Alucard both growl at him, Sypha under her breath, Alucard overtly and sounding distinctly wolfish. Trevor shrugs, looks at both of their irritated faces, then shrugs again with a grimace.

“I can’t come running to you any time I so much as stub my damned toe. This isn’t really anything.”

“So it is easy to heal,” Sypha tells him primly, and so it is, because the gross bloody mess his forearms had been has resolved into… well, it’s still gross and still bloody, but it’s skin now, not open sores. Trevor picks up some snow to scrub at the blood, standing up. Alucard drops his coat so that they’re simply standing on either side of him, wraps his arms around their shoulders.

“If we can prevent small injuries, it is easier for you to avoid the larger ones,” he tells Trevor, who is securing his braces again.

“Fine,” he says, even though it feels damned stupid to ask for a touch-up for some light burning.

“We must succeed in this task in order to succeed against Dracula,” Sypha says. Trevor’s attention, and Alucard’s, snap to her. “The only way we will be able to do that is together.”

The two men look at each other, then Sypha. They nod. She’s right, of course. It doesn’t make the specifics of it all any easier in Trevor’s mind, but he can’t say she isn’t right.

“Do you think we will come upon Alucard’s memory next?”

“I guess so,” Trevor answers, taking up that space before Alucard is left to flounder. He can feel it in his body, the way he went stiff as Sypha said it. He remembers their conversation about his sister, remembers his fears. Remembers about his mother, about Lisa, and how even in a memory she was reassuring and kind, warm, amazing. “Holy Jesus on the Mount, Sypha, you’re not going to believe-“

“What?” Alucard asks, looking alarmed. Sypha stares up at Trevor with a similarly apprehensive expression.

“It’s Dracula,” Trevor says, turning to face them both, eyes wide.

“Yes?” Sypha quivers, bites her lip to steel herself. Alucard looks at him with a drawn, anxious expression.

“He’s huge,” Trevor says breathily, and stands on his toes to demonstrate a completely unrealistic height.

“Oh for god’s sake,” Sypha huffs out, putting her hands on her hips. “That’s absurd.”

Alucard considers, a hand on his chin.

“He is… actually quite tall, even by realistic standards,” he offers.

“He isn’t taller than a grown man by a full arm’s length!” Sypha lifts a finger in a scold.

“Trevor is… less tall, compared to me,” Alucard says very seriously and with prolonged provocative eye contact directed at Trevor. “By quite a bit. It seems fair that my father would seem fairly overwhelming to such a short man.”

Trevor spends the next few minutes angrily chasing a very happy golden-furred wolf around a lantern.

Sypha, wisely, withholds her allegiance.

 

 

 

“Heavens above,” Sypha says, pressed close to Trevor on the kitchen bench. Dracula stares at them evenly, like a cat surveying its prey as it bleeds out, looming at the head of the table. “I thought you were joking.”

“About what?” Their host’s expression turns even more severe. Sypha stares at him, visibly craning her neck to look him in the face. She seems to have been rendered mute by sheer force of his presence.

 

 

 

They had been in better shape than Trevor initially had been when he stumbled across the door, and so they had simply knocked, rather than collapsing uselessly and hoping not to die. It made a nice change, if he did say so himself. Sooner rather than later, he hoped to make the transition from ‘travels to magical memories by passing out’ to ‘walks places like a normal human being in a normal world where feet take people places.’

Dracula had let them in, Alucard coiled in his arms half-asleep, and had coldly demanded they explain their visit. Trevor had been at a loss, but Sypha had dived in and told him that she heard a healer lived here, and she hoped to learn from her.

“I wasn’t aware that Speakers sought knowledge in the medical arts,” Dracula had bitten off, contempt written on his face.

“I believe that- that it may be helpful to give people the tools they need to help themselves,” Sypha had said, fingers seeking out Trevor’s arm. He had held his tongue- he hadn’t missed that Dracula’s eyes had flown to his whip, even though it was hidden under his cloak, the second he’d stepped over the threshold. “I wish to leave people with knowledge they can use even after my people have left them.”

That seemed to have been a good enough answer, because Dracula had been about to leave to find Lisa when Sypha had piped up once more.

 

 

 

“I um,” Sypha wrings her hands. “You’re…. very….”

“Yes?” Dracula leans over and in, every inch of him screaming predator. Impossible for most men when holding a squirming cherub-faced child one-handed; effortless on Dracula, scourge of mankind.

“Tall,” Sypha says with assertive, breathless honesty, and she flashes him an unsure-but-game smile.

Dracula blinks at her, expression fluttering briefly into something very close to fondness. Trevor tips his head, feeling like a confused dog. Alucard swings himself upside-down in Dracula’s grasp.

“I will find my wife,” Dracula says, sighing, and places Alucard down on the floor. “I’m sure you will get along with her quite well.”

He sweeps out of the room.

Sypha stares at Alucard, who stares back in between sleepy blinks.

“He’s leaving him here with strangers?” She seems shocked.

“This castle is the seat of his power,” Trevor reminds her, twiddling his fingers at Alucard awkwardly in greeting. “He’s not an idiot, but I don’t think him being in the room or not makes a difference here, because….”

“You are so cute,” Sypha says, blatantly ignoring Trevor. Alucard smiles at her shyly, tucking his face into the little black cloak he’s wearing. He looks like a little lord in miniature now that Trevor is in a headspace to take him in. Even he has to admit: it’s sort of endearing. “How old are you?”

“Four, just now,” Alucard says quietly, clambering onto the bench. He squirms and looks at his feet, mouth flattening into a frog-like line. “Actually I’m four soon.”

“I love children,” Sypha says, and claps her hands quietly. “Tell me, Alucard, do you know any good stories for us?”

“How do you know my name?” Alucard asks instead of answering. He doesn’t look suspicious, just curious, but the way his huge golden eyes flash this way and that indicates that he’s thinking things through, trying, in a childish way, to feel them out.

“Precocious little snot,” Trevor grins, covering his mouth with a hand when Sypha gives him a glare. At least he seems more confident now than he had before when it was just Trevor. Perhaps it’s Sypha’s presence.

“We, well- I mean, we heard-“

“You’re the son of Dracula, lad. Aren’t we supposed to have heard of you? You’re the young master of the place.” Trevor cuts in. This is old hat to him: well-bred children with etiquette ground into them before their letters even, dressed in clothing to separate them from the rabble. Not his life, not exactly, but close enough that he’s on easier ground here than Sypha is.

“I suppose,” Alucard says, his mouth falling into a shy, nervous pinch. He looks between Sypha and Trevor, then fixates on Sypha’s hair. Behind them, in the heat of the hearth he remembers Lisa taking hot water from, he catches a slither of motion. A servant of Dracula, perhaps? Some kind of fire monster sent to play nursemaid?

“I like your hair,” Alucard says, pulling up the corner of his cloak again to hide his face in it. The kitchen is drafty, so Trevor supposes the clothing makes sense. Castles aren’t famous for being cozy, after all. And, with how imposingly huge the kitchen is, he supposes the corridors and passageways must be even more roomy, leaving space for positively vicious drafts to come stabbing in with icy fingers.

“Thank you,” Sypha says. “Curls are very common amongst my people.” She engages him in idle chatter as Trevor looks about. The kitchen looks much the same as he remembers from the last time, aside from the presence of Lisa and Dracula. The cot is missing too, which means… well, he probably missed a lot of this memory, didn’t he? Being unconscious sure does eat up a lot of time.

The thing in the hearth keeps stirring on occasion, but it makes no moves other than shifting, so Trevor leaves it be.

By the time Lisa and Dracula return, Alucard is happily chatting with Sypha about hairstyles for horses, of all things. Trevor has the lurking suspicion that the horses he plans to style are the kind that like to drown and eat men, based on his enthusiasm for styles that ‘won’t get all runny in the water.’ Either Sypha hasn’t caught on or she’s playing it cooler than he’d expected.

“Hello,” Lisa says, entering before her husband. Trevor notices that, knows that Sypha hasn’t enough experience to know what it means: another symbol of deference, an inversion of normal protocols that emphasizes Lisa’s uncountable value to him. “I heard that you wanted to learn something of medicine.”

“Yes,” Sypha agrees, standing at Trevor’s nudge. He stands up too, until Lisa gestures gently.

“Please sit, I’m sure you’ve had a very long journey to get here.” Her tone is warm, and Trevor finds himself melting to her just as easily as before. Sypha clearly feels similarly, because she colors, smiles at her.

“Oh,” Sypha says, “not at all. Only from Gresit.” Trevor chokes, recovers himself under Alucard’s precociously severe stare. He clearly gets it from his father.

“A long journey indeed,” Dracula says, an eyebrow raising in grudging respect. His eyes travel over their clothing, taking in details here and there. Whatever he finds satisfies him, because he goes to Alucard and tousles his hair. “I hope our son has kept you in good company.”

“He is a charming boy,” Sypha beams, and Lisa beams back. Even Dracula looks pleased, and he gives Alucard’s ear a little tweak along with a fond wink. “And a wonderful conversationalist.”

“She’s a Speaker,” Alucard announces seriously, rubbing at his ear and turning pink with happiness.

“How wonderful,” Lisa says, holding her arms out to her son. He practically leaps at her- in fact, he does, in a little catlike motion that screams ‘not human’ from the rafters on down. Trevor works to keep his face neutral, because he can feel Dracula’s stare on him, drilling through him as if he wishes to set him on fire with his mind.

“I wonder if you might be willing, in exchange, to share some information about your people’s ways of training magicians. There seems to be quite a difference between the Speaker ways and the more collegiate methods.”

Actually, he’s pretty sure Dracula can actually, yes, set him on fire with his mind, so.

“I would be happy to!” Sypha lights up, and Trevor takes the time to look her over. She hasn’t told him much about being a magician, has only given details of Speaker life that she’s found pertinent to him. He finds himself curious about the rest of it, though he hasn’t had the time or the mental space to ask her. Trevor makes a note to ask her later- now, it will just make things… weird.

Lisa looks between her husband and the pair still standing at the worn kitchen table. Dracula gives her his full attention. He looks like a wolf standing at the ready for an order to kill.

“Darling, please sit. You’re making them nervous like that.”

“My apologies,” he bows slightly, eyes heating with warmth when he looks at her. As before, the almost physical transformation he makes when he so much as looks at her is shocking. Lisa smiles fondly, bouncing Alucard in her arms. Dracula turns his attentions to Trevor and Sypha, eyes pinned to where Trevor’s whip is under his cloak for just a moment before he gestures gracefully to Sypha, mouth softening into something that isn’t quite a smile. “Perhaps I can redeem myself- fair guests, may I take your cloaks?”

“Yes,” Lisa laughs, swinging away to the fire. “See, my darling, your father has some manners when persuaded to display them.”

“Good for papa,” Alucard says cheekily, hanging off his mother in way that’s a blatant defiance of gravity. He looks like a little tailless monkey. The fact that he sticks out his tongue at his father doesn’t help.

“Watch your tone,” Dracula grumbles, and turns to help Sypha from her outer travelling cloak, but he’s smiling just a bit. While Trevor wouldn’t bet her life on it, he’s willing to guess that Dracula likes women a great deal more than he likes men. He guesses that it’s partially to do with the fact that his family doesn’t send out women as hunters.

Trevor sees it before anybody else, partially because of luck, partially because of the whole ‘raised from birth to be a monster hunter’ thing:

The shape in the fire turns into a bird with a long, snipping beak, and what he’d taken to be coals rise up to form a glittering, shimmering array. At first Trevor thinks the black stones are eyes, but they snatch forward with force, hovering in the air to form the shape of another bird, this one ragged and jittering around the edges where its flaming counterpart is fat and sleek. They merge at the end of the fire, forming a writhing, scrabbling mess of fire and twitching black that moves with a hungry intent.

The sharp form has eyes of black where the fire form has eyes of white, and deep in those pits, Trevor feels more than sees something white-striped-black-lined-tooth-mawed-stretch-fleshed surging up, running fat and thin as it leaks up through the narrow holes of the glittering-boned bird’s eyes. Whatever it is in there, it makes Trevor’s brain short-circuit the same way looking at Baba Yaga had, and he locks up, body going rigid with fear remembered and new.

Lisa staggers back with a shriek, loses her balance on the uneven stone floor and falls. Alucard goes with her, bumping on the ground and landing a few feet from her- just out of reach. They both cry out, Lisa urgently reaching for Alucard, Alucard staring at the thing coming at them.

Dracula is half-turning before Trevor can so much as react, face twisting into a mask of naked fury.

The thing’s black body is bulging strangely, its eyes bleeding and seeping some kind of viscous white-black striped fluid that holds together unsettlingly, stays striped where it dribbles on the floor. It makes a choking, pained noise as it scrabbles its way towards Lisa and Alucard, body snapping and bending like it’s pulling itself apart to do it. It stretches apart like taffy, drools itself onto the floor like a liquid that contrasts in an ugly, unsettling fashion with the hard jagged edges of its outline.

In the instant where Dracula appears between the creature and his family in a flutter of red-outline there, Trevor thinks he understands the why of this memory.

It’s subtle. Fast. But Trevor is used to taking in battlefield snapshots, and this is what he sees in that split moment between now and when Dracula decimates the thing that has tried to attack his family:

Dracula has positioned himself between the creature and Lisa.

In that initial jump, he made a decision, and it’s one that Alucard will remember for the rest of his life.

 

 

 

The rest of it is just as fast as expected. Lisa grabs for Alucard, bundles him up as he cries, and Dracula grabs the seething mess of a once-bird and thrusts it into the hearth. The pots clank and swing as the not-bird tries to fight, but Dracula simply snarls and the hearth goes from hot to white wall of inferno.

Sypha takes in a breath, eyes huge, as Lisa recovers her feet and rushes to safety, Alucard tucked in her arms face-first to keep him from seeing anything. His cries are muffled in the warm woolen shawl she has on, and she pulls him to her breast and rocks him in her arms, murmuring a thousand soft words and kissing his golden crown. A moment later, the thing screams, and it sounds like a woman, a man, a hawk and a thousand mouths rotten and dry baying in agony.

Dracula simply holds the thing there, in the fire, heedless of the incredible heat, until the pots turn red and then glow.

 

 

 

Dracula makes them tea in the same hearth he just incinerated a nameless enemy in, orbiting his wife solicitously. Trevor had thought it was a simple courtesy the first time here, that Dracua heated the water, and of course, it was. But in the context of what he just saw, he realizes that he’s offering an apology and a kindness in one: the kettle is still too hot for her to touch from his fire, and so only he could possibly fill it with water for tea. (Sure enough, Trevor listens and hears the hsssssssssssss of water hitting dangerously hot metal when Dracula fills it.) He’s seen Alucard do considerate small things like that a thousand times, and, as before, it’s jarring to see Dracula’s mannerisms before they became Alucard’s.

Sypha keeps her travelling cloak on, says absolutely nothing about removing it. Trevor keeps his on as well, and realizes belatedly that holy fuck he sure as hell better. The ring of love bites on his neck is still there, and more than that there’s that stark red mark where Alucard bit him. Even if this Dracula is only a memory from Alucard, he does not want to look the father of the man that did that to him in the eye and try to explain himself, even if there’s no way of him knowing who gave him those bites.

 The memory leaps back onto the tracks Trevor had ridden on once before. Some things are different, because Sypha is here, but not by much. Lisa is attentive and eager to hear from Sypha about what she wants to learn, joyous that somebody has come to her to help spread knowledge to people that desperately need it. She teases at Dracula, nudges and smiles and gestures. If he didn’t know to look for it, he’d miss the way her eyes slide to the fire anxiously now and then. He understands a bit better, suddenly, why Dracula and Lisa are making so much physical contact, why Dracula is so severe, why Alucard abruptly balks into hesitance from his sincere, if serious, interest in the strangers. Neither Sypha nor Trevor dare to ask what the hell that was.

Upright and not half-dead, he catches Dracula tucking his face into Lisa’s hair as they swirl around each other in the kitchen, catches him asking her if she’s all right. When Alucard introduces himself formally, Sypha coos at him, and she gives him a hard kick when he introduces himself by her last name. Dracula raises an eyebrow, but he doesn’t raise a fuss. It’s still unsettling to know that he knows.

Sypha, sitting thoughtfully beside Trevor, reaches out and squeezes his leg. Trevor ruffles Alucard’s hair, and he accepts the gesture for a moment before putting his hands on Trevor’s where they rest on his head. Trevor tries to pull away but Alucard holds onto his hand. Kids are strange, Trevor knows, pretty universally, so he leaves his hand in Alucard’s possession.

“You’re brave,” Trevor tells him, because he doesn’t know that there’s anything else he can say. He understands that feeling, understands shouldering the burden of having to protect without being protected. It’s just… a little young, he supposes, to take that on. Younger than he was. But here it is, the price for all the power Alucard wields as an adult: a youth cut dramatically, drastically short.

“I know,” Alucard says, but he looks afraid.

“Tell me,” Sypha says, reaching out too, “do you know how to play Toad-Goes-Up?” Alucard reaches out with his opposite hand, leaving him in a clumsy criss-cross of arms that only a child would do: left hand to the person on his right, right hand to the person on his left.

“Is it like this?”

“Alucard,” Dracula says, sweeping up behind him, love and concern and weariness brimming in his eyes, leaning down and about to scoop him up. He pauses to examine the tangle of hands. “What sort of odd game are you playing here, my morning star?” He looks at Trevor’s hand, clutched in his son’s, and gives Trevor a narrow look full of menace. Trevor smiles uncertainly.

Alucard turns to his father, and at the same time his hand makes contact with Sypha’s

 

 

 

They all gasp as one.

“I like your mother,” Sypha tells Alucard, who looks stricken.

Trevor gives her a sideways stare.

“I did too, but what the hell was that thing?

Alucard shuffles a little in the snow. He still can’t seem to muster any words, looks like he’s nine million miles away. Sypha looks at him, puzzled and worried, but Trevor understands.

Lisa. Alive, daring and brave and brilliant, Alucard’s mother who begged him to stay on the path of hope even as she burned in front of his eyes. Lisa, who even in a memory blazed with the passion and joy of the sun itself.

The horrible, complicated, wanton cruelty of it strikes Trevor all over again: the man Dracula could have been, the woman Lisa could have continued to be. The life Alucard could have lived, if only evil in the pettiest, most sniveling sense hadn’t crept into their lives. The family he would still have. The good Lisa could have done- hell, the good Dracula himself might have done, if his wife had her way.

“Here,” Trevor says, roughly, reaching up to Alucard. Alucard dives into him, his grip crushing, burying his face against Trevor’s neck and collapsing slowly, slowly, slowly to the icy ground.

“Alucard,” Sypha says, and throws herself on them, clutching at Alucard as if she can fuse him together again, as if the force of her embrace can force all the pieces of his shattered life together as if it never broke. Trevor wishes she could, wishes she could fuse his world together again like a piece of pottery or glass, but nothing is that simple, and certainly not Alucard.

He’s sobbing against them, painful silent full-body heaving sobs, his fingers clawing against Trevor’s back like he’s trying to fight him off, like he’s trying to hollow him out and crawl inside of him. His body rocks and bucks with the force of his grief. It feels like he’s about to turn inside-out.

“I know,” Trevor tells him softly. “I know.” He rocks him, bundled in his arms and pressed under Sypha’s desperate weight, and all they can do is wait for Alucard to recover. It’s all they can do.

Chapter Text


 

 

They have to break apart before Trevor wants to. The snow and storm haven’t eased, are only intensifying the further they go, and even standing under a lantern it’s too cold to stay put on their knees for very long. There’s no point in dying in the cold here, even crushed under the enormous emotional weight of the past two memories.

Alucard changes into a wolf and stays between Trevor and Sypha. Trevor’s never seen a sad wolf before, but he wagers he could take notes for the future: downcast eyes, a limp tail, a slow, stiff gait. He wants to cheer him up somehow, but he knows that’s not really on the table. There’s not an easy way to say, ‘sorry idiots murdered your mother and that drove your father into an insane rage leaving you with no choice but to commit patricide to save the humanity your mother begged you to love.’

Whew. Even thinking it is a mouthful.

So he does the best he can, which is a hand on his shoulders when they take a rest and sympathetic silence. Sypha tries to stay silent as well, taking her cues from Trevor, but he can see that she’s brimming overfull with questions.

She bites her lip whenever Alucard looks at her, though, and pets his ears when they take breaks. It seems to help.

 

 

 

Alucard finally returns to man-form as they approach a hazy shape in the distance. Trevor’s heart lurches with fear, but he steels himself and puts a steady hand on his whip. If it’s the horse-thing again… between the three of them, he has confidence they can put it down.

“I smell….” Alucard wrinkles his nose. “I can’t tell. It seems like…. It might be blood?”

Sypha and Trevor exchange a look.

“Not to be too hard on you, but…. Uh, can you please clarify what the hell that means?”

Alucard squints into the storm, but the snow is driving snow right at them in hard beating pellets. He can’t seem to make out anything more than they can, judging by the shake of his head and the pained blinking now and then.

“I don’t know what it is. It rather…. Smells similar to blood? But there’s something off about it.”

“Perhaps a poisoning?” Sypha suggests. Trevor thinks he knows what’s up, but he keeps his opinions to himself. He doesn’t want anybody relaxing their guard, not here, not after the second memory, not in between, where he met that thing.

“I doubt it,” Alucard says slowly. He’s worn tired around the edges of his eyes, which are still red from crying. To Trevor’s considerable relief, he had cried completely normal, transparent tears. It doesn’t feel wise to mention, but he sends Lisa a silent thanks.

“Let’s just find out anyway,” Trevor says, forging ahead. “And keep your eyes open. Who the hell knows what’s out here.”

“I wonder if we’ll find that monster again…” Sypha holds her palm out, fire flaring up.

“What ever did happen to it?” Alucard asks, drawing his sword. Trevor looks at both of them, shrugs, and draws his whip. “How did you get away?”

“I didn’t mention that?”

“You got a little um. Hazy. After you described fighting it. Something about Baba Yaga again?” Sypha tugs her hood more tightly down. They stride forward through the snow, scanning in all directions. Alucard’s nose crinkles again, and Trevor doesn’t miss it. The wind is coming from ahead of them, directly from where those shapes are. He would bet they’re trees, which means that hopefully the storm will slow and ease again.

“You fell asleep, she means,” says Alucard, inserting his normal level of tartness into his tone. Trevor looks up just in time to feel the uncomfortable sensation of not having walked far enough to have reached what he’s suddenly standing in the middle of: a forest.

“Oooh,” Sypha says, shuddering. “I do not like that.”

“A very unsettling effect,” Alucard agrees mildly, eyes fixing on a shining pool of liquid ahead of them.

“She came out of nowhere and mashed it up in her mortar and pestle,” Trevor says, because that hopefully sounds stupid enough to not be creepy.

…. Or not, based on the stares Alucard and Sypha give him.

They approach the pool as a group, silence laid over them in a tense line. Sypha pushes back her hood, giving the sky a relieved glance; as before, the weather has eased to a gentle, pleasant winter snow, and the snow has thinned to be easily traversed.

“Blood,” Alucard confirms, brow furrowed. “But not from anything I have ever known or met.”

Trevor thinks back to the shimmering too-red insides of the thing, the rocky juts and the glass-like glitter. His elbow, though healed, gives a sympathetic throb. Sypha turns to watch their backs, the fire in the palm of her hand doing little to soothe their nerves.

At the toe of Alucard’s boot lies a stretch of red. It isn’t all a single color, but rings of graduated black and gold and red again undulating out from the center. It shimmers like it’s still alive, like it’s still pulsing through a thing with no veins, just crystal insides and wet, pulsing organs.

Alucard slides his boot forward just a bit, just- a touch-

“Okay,” Trevor says, reeling back, unsettled. “Okay, that’s not…. Wow.”

The pool is solid. Alucard taps at it with his shoe, watches the rings of color shiver through it so subtly that it takes a minute of fixed staring before Trevor realizes they’re radiating out and in motion, no two shades the same.

“Perhaps it’s frozen?” Alucard tries, leaning down to touch it.

“I sincerely hope you aren’t about to touch some kind of unknown formation that looks like a pool of blood,” Sypha snaps. “Because that would be astonishingly stupid and I know you are not that.”

“Of course not,” Alucard says, eyes glinting in the dark, mouth struggling to recover from a sheepish grin. Trevor raises an eyebrow as Alucard rummages around soundlessly in his pocket, emerging with a single black glove. “I am simply inspecting it closely.”

“I am watching our backs,” Sypha sighs. “And sincerely hoping that you aren’t about to do something ridiculous.”

“Mmm, no,” Trevor says mildly, smiling faintly at Alucard, who slips on the glove carefully and gives Trevor a conspiratorial wink. “We’re both just being quite responsible.”

Alucard touches it.

After a moment, when nothing happens, he sighs.

“Ah, well, I was- oh.” He pulls his hand back, or tries to. Trevor inches back from the pool, seizing Sypha around the waist and pulling her away too.

“What did you two- oh for god’s sake!

Alucard wiggles his hand, watches his gloved fingers sink in deeper.

“It feels like normal liquid, as long as your hand is going down,” he comments mildly.

“Great,” Trevor says, “now take your damned hand out of it.” Sypha and he watch in horror as Alucard struggles to pull himself out and fails, his shoulder visibly working under his jacket.

“No, no, don’t fret,” he gestures with his other hand. “I can just get my hand out of the glove.”

“Please do that, then,” Sypha says, looking urgently at Trevor and then back to Alucard.

Alucard wiggles his arm a bit, shimmying his wrist, and does indeed manage to recover his hand. The glove itself stays put. He backs up as well, sticks his hands in his pockets and huffs thoughtfully.

“It still smells…. Off.”

Trevor scratches his chin.

“I don’t think I’ll ever know what that thing was. Don’t think I want to, either.”

“What happens if we give the formation some blood?” Alucard says, tipping his head. Trevor can’t tell if he’s joking, but he raises a hand to his sword as if he isn’t.

“NO,” shout Sypha and Trevor, and they just about physically pick him up and leave.

 

 

 

Apropos of nothing, as they walk along the wall that Trevor tries not to recognize as the one around his ancestral home, Alucard says,

“I recognize that my father did love me.”

Sypha looks conflicted, thoughtful. She bites her lip to keep from saying anything. Trevor stretches out an arm and brushes the stone with cold fingers.

“Sure. It just wasn’t enough,” Trevor says. “To keep him from all of… this.” He waves an arm towards where they came from, meaning: death, destruction, hatred, agony.

“Trevor,” Sypha gasps. “Could you please try to be more sympathetic?”

“I am,” he grumbles.

“Perhaps,” Alucard says. His hands are in his pockets again. He stops walking, looks up through the trees to the dark, storming sky above. “I know that my father loved me, but I also know that I was always second to my mother in his eyes.”

“Oh,” Sypha says, and comes up and puts a gentle hand on Alucard’s arm. He turns and gives her a wan smile.

“Well, I cannot blame him. I loved my mother above him as well. And, regardless, if you think on it- are you supposed to love your children more than your wife? You do not choose your children, have precious little say in their personalities, though you may love them fiercely with all of your being in other aspects. But you choose your wife because you love her, because you know who and what she is and love every aspect of her.”

“Uh,” says Trevor, tipping his head.

“I suppose that’s reasonable,” Sypha says, leaning on Alucard, who leans into her like she’s a hearthfire, his eyes falling closed. She looks up at him with an expression laden with words unsaid, thoughts unvoiced, none of them foul. “But still, I feel… perhaps things are different, for different couples. And regardless, there is nothing wrong with your personality.”

“No,” Alucard agrees, tipping his head slowly. “I suppose you’re right. I wonder… if you asked my mother…” But here he looks pained, and stiffens as if against a cold wind. Trevor continues to puzzle this all out mutely.

“Your mother knew you could be entrusted with her last wish,” Trevor says at last, because at least that he can understand. The cold of the wall radiates into his fingers, numbing his hand. “It doesn’t mean that she cared for you any less for entrusting you with a hard duty. I don’t think she could have possibly imagined that her death would affect your father the way it did.” Sypha nods, looking briefly at Trevor with an appreciative smile.

“I suppose not,” Alucard says softly. “I myself could hardly believe it when I overheard his plans. It was… madness. A blasphemy against everything she had ever stood for. I could do nothing but stand against him for my mother.”

They stay still for a bit, thinking their own thoughts. Trevor comes up on Alucard’s other side. “I believe my father has fallen into madness,” Alucard tells them. He sounds as if he’s pleading.

“Well, yeah. That seems… obvious.”

Alucard shakes his head. “I should rephrase that: I hope that my father has fallen into madness.”

“I understand,” Sypha says. “Because, if he has not…”

Alucard’s face goes tight.

“Yes. If this is an aspect of himself, a genuine facet of his mind not brought about by madness….” Alucard hangs his head. Trevor watches him, takes in the way his gaze slides forward to a point far in the distance, like he’s looking to where he knows his father is. Alucard gives a sigh, flexes his hands, shakes himself. “I have never known the man that I thought I knew. Neither has my mother. And that is… a lie of an enormity I simply cannot forgive. Perhaps not towards myself, but for her.”

“Madness it is,” Trevor says, clapping Alucard on the shoulder. “But really, I don’t think you can have a nice thrilling genocide without some real shit-fuck crazy madness in there. So take heart, I suppose.”

Sypha and Alucard trade looks.

“You are an inspiring optimist,” Alucard finally says, and he sounds like he means it.

“I wonder…” Trevor thinks again to that moment he caught. He doesn’t even know if Sypha saw what he did; perhaps the angle was wrong for her to see it. Perhaps the life experience was wrong for her to see it. “Sometimes the duties of a son are heavy,” he says, because he’s loathe to broach the topic he’s been brooding on if Alucard isn’t ready for it.

“Yes,” Alucard says, turning his attention to Trevor fully. Sypha tips her head, thinking. Trevor’s hand flexes on the wall. His whole hand is numb now.

“If he is mad, then do you think some part of him is waiting for you?” Sypha bites her lip- she’s obviously been trying to not say too much in this area, not where her life experiences diverge so radically that she can only ask questions. But this is an important question to ask, and one that Trevor was trying to get at.

Alucard lets out a slow breath, eyes closing again.

“Waiting for me to come to kill him, you mean.”

The atmosphere of the forest around them is impartial, uncaring of their existence. The wall rising before them is spelled, impenetrable by monsters and beasts and demons, so sodden with magic laid over it in generations that it no longer needed physical repairs by the time Trevor was born, holding immortally strong against weather and seasons alike. That power hadn’t helped his family in the end- men had been their downfall, just as men had been the downfall of Alucard’s family. Power and prestige were, Trevor had long ago learned, mere suggestions of a barrier when the world came baying for your blood. Perhaps Dracula was hoping, somewhere in his fury, that even for him such old constants held true.

“Perhaps,” Sypha breathes, and it’s clear from her manner that she’s been considering this for a long time, perhaps longer even than both of them. “Either his love for you endures, or he has hope that you can aid in ending his reign. You were difficult to find for us, but for your father…”

“I’m sure,” Alucard agrees. “I am sure that I would have been very easy indeed to find. And in fact, Gresit was relatively untouched compared to some of the other cities. I can explain that simply by saying that it is farther away from Targoviste, but perhaps…. Perhaps not.”

“Sick to make your son have to bear that,” Trevor says without heat, but the blow lands true regardless: Alucard grimaces, an expression of agony crossing his features that is so intense that his fangs are fully revealed for a moment, sharp and white and gleaming.

“He has become sick in other ways,” Alucard acknowledges, visibly tempering himself. “Perhaps he has taken ill in that fashion as well.” Sypha huffs out a soft breath, her hands finding his, her sad, sympathetic face turned up to his. Trevor watches them for a moment, then gives himself a shake and pulls away from the wall.

“It’s a lucky thing your mother trained you to be a healer, then,” Trevor offers, a balm to soothe the sting of his words.

“He is still my father,” Alucard says, looking at that far-away point again, his hair collecting snow again in a little pile atop his head. It should look absurd, but instead it just makes him look like a statue, a stone angel poised in alertness. Trevor would have thought he was immune to tragic images, but his heart aches at the sight anyway. He longs to be strong enough to offer more comfort than he has, wishes he could do more than just point out the obvious. “And I do still love him, though I wish I did not. I cannot deny him what he obviously needs.”

“I’m sorry,” Sypha says, and Trevor feels such an intense swell of gratitude to her that he almost goes dizzy for it.

“I am as well,” Alucard tells her, and gives her hands a gentle squeeze.

“He’s relying on you,” Trevor says. Alucard turns his head to view him almost blearily. “But we are too.”

“I will not waver,” Alucard says, nodding. Something in him hardens, sharpens. He looks to Sypha and gives her hands another little squeeze, fingers rubbing over hers now. “And besides… it is the same goal regardless.”

“Hey,” Trevor says, ignoring the death stare Sypha is snapping his way. “I don’t know about that. We’re relying on you to keep yourself in one piece. The rest of it just… a luxury,” he decides, tentatively, trying to communicate something even he feels is unknown, unfathomable, foreign inside himself. Alucard’s gaze flickers to where Trevor keeps his throwing knives, quirks an eyebrow and frowns as he puzzles that out.

Sypha’s expression frosts into disbelief, then kittenish amusement.

“An optimist and a romantic,” Sypha laughs, releasing Alucard’s hands so he can turn and pull Trevor into a kiss, into a cozying embrace. He shifts a little so that Trevor has to move with him, a slight sway that means Trevor has to press close, moving with him, or fall over.

Trevor blinks, surprised, as Alucard looks down at him gratefully. He licks his lips, bites his bottom one uncertainly. Alucard sighs and kisses him again. Trevor looks sideways at Sypha, but she’s simply standing there watching them happily, hands clasped together against the cold. It occurs to Trevor that this might be the first time either of them have been physically affectionate with him in front of the other. It feels- nice. It feels less like he’s some kind of mutual secret and more like he’s a part of them.

“You are so full of hope,” Alucard murmurs, eyes brimming with affection. His hands find Trevor’s waist. “Full to the brim with light, when you allow yourself to be. It is a rarity.”

He could turn that into something dirty, could make a bitter joke or simply grump about the fact that he’s a tough strong manly man grizzled from the road and so on. But with Alucard leaning against him, leaning on him physically and emotionally, with Sypha nodding in agreement at their side, he thinks better of it. Instead, he tucks his chin down, leaning up to press his forehead against Alucard’s. He stays silent, closes his eyes, and turns that idea over in his own mind.

 

 

 

They arrive at the gates before Trevor is ready. If he’s honest with himself, he’ll never be ready. He doesn’t think that most people are prepared to waltz through memories of their dead sisters and their destroyed family home and everything he held dear around him. He supposes it’s probably for the best that that’s so.

 

 

 

Sypha gawks at the glittering candles in the windows, the graceful boughs of evergreens lining arches and doorways, the wreaths with their nice red ribbons on the doors. She clutches her hands to her chest and sighs dreamily, drinking it all in with evident pleasure. Even Alucard looks impressed, eyes roaming over the silver bells hanging from the main entryway, the pleasant sweep of the snow-dusted stairs up to the main hallway entrance, the way lined with small evergreens. Trevor supposes that Alucard probably didn’t see many Christmas decorations in Dracula’s castle as a boy, now that he thinks about it.

“It’s beautiful,” Sypha moons, eyes darting to and fro to take in little details.

“My mother and sisters took great pains to make sure that the house was presentable,” Trevor agrees, feeling a ghost of joy slide over his heart. It takes effort not to flash back to the house as he last saw it, takes effort not to stutter over and over and over again on the wraithlike corpses of his sisters, burned into ashy waste in the ruins of their home. He can hear a rising unending scream and the frantic, repetitive thud of a dainty body against a door chained shut if he-

“Ugh,” Trevor says, and shakes his head.

“Be ready,” Alucard tells him.

“You didn’t remember us, and Sypha didn’t either,” Trevor grouses. “What am I supposed to be ready for here?”

“For the end of this,” Sypha says firmly. Alucard nods.

“That, I can get behind,” Trevor agrees. He looks the house over through the gate, just one last time. Just one last time, and then never again. He swallows.

“Which window was yours?” Alucard asks, his voice quiet. Sypha looks between them, then up at the mansion, towering above them.

“Oh, I hadn’t even thought of that!”

“I looked out over the gardens,” Trevor says, shaking his head. “You can’t see my bedroom from here. Some of the servants’ quarters faced the front drive on the top of the house, and the summer parlor and ballroom were- what?”

Sypha looks like her eyes are going to fall out of her head; Alucard looks poleaxed.

“I didn’t realize,” Alucard says, delicately, “that the Belmont family was so… well-established.”

“What, the part about me having seven older sisters without my parents flinching wasn’t a hint?” Trevor scoffs. “Anyway, it’s all been burned and seized by the church. Even the gardens are probably just a goat pasture now. Doesn’t matter worth a single sheep shit.”

He gazes up at the ghost of his home, takes a deep breath, and readies himself. Okay. He can do this. It will just be…. Huh. Actually, will he even be aware of what’s happening until after it’s all happened? Only one way to find out.

“By the by… most nobles don’t marry for love.” Trevor quirks an eyebrow at Alucard.

Alucard inclines his head. “I recognize that my mother and father’s relationship was unconventional in… many ways. That included.”

“It is very romantic,” Sypha chimes in.

“My mother and father sure as hell didn’t marry for love,” Trevor continues, looking at the front door of the house. “They married because my father’s family was wealthy and my mother’s family had a good pedigree.”

“I see,” says Alucard, looking a little thrown off. Sypha looks downright offended, but also unclear on who she should be offended on behalf of.

“I was just thinking about what you said, earlier, about marriage and children.”

Sypha fluffs up.

“I’m sure your parents came to care for each other. Isn’t that what nobles do, commonly?”

“Sure…” Trevor scratches his head. “Yeah, I don’t think they really fought or anything.”

Sypha and Alucard look relieved.

“Perhaps not all marriages can be love matches,” Alucard concedes. “But at least your parents loved you and your sisters.”

“Do you have to love your children, though?” Trevor asks, leaning back to look at his family home lit up and beautiful, shimmering like a diamond in the darkness. He sees it as it was for just a moment, wrecked and burned, scorched lines of charcoal and bodies and who knows what else. The scar on his eye throbs. “Or- I guess, what does that even mean? Like you said, you don’t get a choice in their personalities.” He shakes himself, steps forward. “Sometimes, children are just ways to pass on the family name. Nothing wrong with that- I’m proud of the family history, what we do. But I don’t think you have to really love your children.”

Behind him, he hears Sypha take in a tight, uneasy breath.

“I have a very bad feeling about this,” Alucard says behind him in a peculiarly peaceful tone, and then Trevor is somewhere else, somewhen else, entirely.

Chapter Text


 

 

“… and that’s final.

Trevor stares up at his father fixedly, fighting to stay still and not betray any of what he’s feeling.

“But the doctor said it can come off in the next few weeks,” he says, breathing coming fast, and he can feel himself flushing with frustration, “and just because Esthe got sick doesn’t mean I’m coming down with anything!”

Trevor’s father cuffs him on the head, hard. Trevor winces but doesn’t whine- it will undermine his point. It does sting, though. His father is strong enough to handle a silver and iron broadsword, sometimes one-handed. Trevor… well, he’s working on it.

“Consider it part of your training! A good hunter doesn’t take to the field unless he’s ready to go fully toe-to-toe with whatever he meets,” he pauses.

“…unless the need is perilously dire,” Trevor finishes, and irritation and boyish anger creeps into his tone.

“And it isn’t! It’s just some spooked peasants.” Andrei Belmont twiddles his mustache. “To be honest with you, I don’t even think anything’s out there. They went on about a dragon, but some idiot probably just got spooked by a big snake in the woodpile.”

Trevor lights up.

“All the better,” he says, and Andrei crosses his arms in front of his chest, frowning. “If it’s nothing, there’s no problem with me coming, isn’t there?”

“Your arm needs to heal up,” says his father, and this time, though he doesn’t say anything about finality, Trevor knows that tone: shut up or get put down in the dirt. A broken arm on him won’t stop his father from making sure Trevor listens, one way or another. “Tell your mother that I’m heading out before breakfast. Woman’s a bad cook anyway.”

“Ugh,” Trevor says, his last try of defiance, and heads out of his father’s study, scowling furiously. He gives his lamed arm a frustrated jiggle, then kicks at the carpet in the hallway. Staring out at the coating of snow on the bottom of the windows in the hallway, he growls, “It doesn’t even hurt.

“Good,” Andrei says, poking his head out of his study’s double doors. “Now do as I’ve told you, or I’ll make it hurt to help you keep your mind sharp as you study, my boy.”

Trevor skitters off, not willing to try his luck.

“I’ll come by to say goodbye to you before I go,” his father calls. Trevor pokes his head back around the corner he’s just turned.

“Yeah?”

“Mhm,” says his father, and goes back into his study and shuts the door. The click of the lock turning is audible in the silence of the hallway.

 

 

 

He knows, if he’s honest with himself, that it’s for the best, but he still feels pent-up and coiled. The snow has been heavy enough this winter that he hasn’t even been able to go out on rambles behind the fence. Now that he’s almost healed, too, his mother has gotten it into her head that he’s about to come down with the cough that Esthe had just recovered from, and has been on his father about not letting him go on a journey for a bit.

Trevor knows that his father and mother aren’t wrong, but he’s still annoyed.

He dithers for a bit, then finally slinks down to the kitchen where his mother is presiding over all their servants, directing the flow of morning preparations for breakfast.

Ioana, seldom cheery, is standing at a table covered in flour. Her eyes catch Trevor as he comes in, dodging servants hustling to and fro nimbly. She’s got a smudge of white flour on her tied-up brown braids, but Trevor knows better than to mention it. She’ll tidy herself before breakfast, of course. The kitchen is as it always is, smoky and warm and coiling with good smells.

“Trevor,” Ioana sighs, kneading a copious roll of dough with firm, strong movements. Her build is the one Trevor inherited, not the bristling, bull-like stature of his father. He doesn’t resent her for it, but he does wish he would fill out a little more. He’s strong for his age, but he doesn’t look it. Right now, he’s all angles and sharp corners and awkward elbows. Rozalia has told him that boys grow out at different rates, but it doesn’t change the fact that he still can’t handle a longsword like he wants to, like his father wants him to.

“Father said to tell you he’s leaving before breakfast,” he says, ducking under her hand as she reaches for another handful of flour.

“Of course he is,” she says, mouth pinching shut.

There’s a silence. Ioana kneads some more. Trevor never knows what to say to his mother, a serious, drawn, tall woman. She’s always seemed compact, both physically and in personality, and in contrast to his father’s expansive, boisterous nature, she never kicks up a fuss. She’s always taken things in stride- has had to, as the wife of a monster hunter.

“Are the clergymen coming today?” Trevor asks, not willing to leave her side yet. He wishes frequently that he could catch his mother’s eye like his sisters do. There are perks to being a boy, of course, but his mother has no love for the manly, prefers to spend long hours at fabric embroidering, cooking, and contemplating fashion plates. Trevor tries, on occasion, but honestly he just doesn’t understand the womanly arts very well, and Ioana has no interest in changing that in him.

It’s well-known that his mother has been a much-needed civilizing effort in the Belmont family, but she has always viewed him with a level of suspicion that unendingly leaves Trevor wondering what, specifically, he did to merit it. It’s that same degree of skepticism that she turns on him now, standing close to her elbow.

“They are,” she says, mouth unpinching a bit.

“I’ll stay out of the way,” he assures her. “I’ll go out and study in the back halls.”

“Good,” she sighs. “Your father was supposed to be here, but he’s off-“ she waves a floured hand, puffing some of the stuff into the air. “I don’t want them seeing you, or any of the girls but Esthe and Daniela. They’re very dignified guests, and the situation with the church is…” Ioana’s mouth re-compresses and she starts to attack the dough again. She clearly feels she’s said too much. “Put on your cross anyway. If they see you I want them to see us as God-fearing and decent.” Her own cross, never anywhere else, gleams on her neck.

“Aren’t we?” Trevor asks, tipping his head.

Ioana’s mouth wavers, but finally a hard-worn smile creeps out in a tenuous wobble. She snorts, dropping her head and shaking it. A spray of silver hair creeps out from her morning braids.

“Of course we are,” she says, and wipes a hand on her apron. “I made some sweet rolls to test the dough, have one before you go off to the back. Don’t bother your sisters, they’re practicing dances.”

“Thank you mother,” Trevor says, smiling at her. She shakes her head, chuckling grimly still, and turns back to her work.

Trevor grabs a roll, mindful that the servants are keeping an eye on him so that he does, indeed, only grab one. As he skitters out of the kitchen he hears his mother start to speak again, directing this and that. He nibbles on the roll as he goes out and into the main hall.

His mother’s cooking is famously good, and this morning treat is no different.

 

 

 

He peeks in at his sisters but they are, in fact, all lined up and dancing. He contemplates them as they spin and turn, movements beautifully coordinated. They look like swans to him, always graceful and with an expansive presence. They also hiss like swans when irritated, which Trevor has lately found a lot more fun than they’ve appreciated.

He’s going through that age, Rozalia had sighed the other week to weary nods from everybody else, and despite Trevor’s best temper she hadn’t been moved to clarify.

So he nibbles on his roll, licking his fingers of the last remnants of floury butter, and watches them silently. Their instructor, Madam Hellaine, is playing the piano like it’s on fire, which is always entertaining to watch. It’s well-known that she’s much more comfortable on literally any other instrument, made all the more entertaining by the fact that she’s a magnificent pianist.

“Lift your shoulders up, Camelia, or else you’ll look like a dying grape vine with those long arms of yours,” Maam Hellaine calls out, yawning against her hand. It’s unusual to have them hold this lesson so early, but even Trevor has enough sense not to place clergymen in the winter parlor, under a room full of actively dancing, perspiring young women. It seems scandalous, somehow, even though Father Vasile is old enough to be their grandfather and twice as kindly.

Camelia stomps her foot, temper flaring, and Esthe with her black-as-pitch hair in twining braids swoops over to her side, already trying to slow her sister’s furious rant. Trevor withdraws just as silently as he came, letting the spirited yelling chase him down the hall. He loves how angry she gets, as long as it’s not at him. He knows that some of the instructors like to torment his sisters, nipping at them like sheepdogs. It’s how you learn, he supposes: avoiding the bite, be it an actual monster bite like he has to do, or a verbal one like his sisters do. It’s the way of things, but he wishes sometimes that it was a little less… toothy, when it gets a hold of them.

He stops in to his room and fetches his cross, dropping the long chain over his head resignedly. It’s heavy and long, an inherited one from a great-grandfather unknown. He’ll grow into it someday, but for now it just gets in the way of his more physical lessons. It rests almost at his belt now, swinging clumsily when he tries to move it around the sling his arm is in. Trevor tries to tuck it in to his pocket, but it just dangles out again when he walks. Frustrated, he slings it off again, doubles the chain, and drops it over his head again. There. Much better.

His father had been the one to suggest that he simply skip wearing it when Trevor was too young to understand the meaning. His mother didn’t seem to care either way. His sisters all wore theirs, though, that was for certain- she had raised hell about it. No man would marry a godless woman, she had yelled at Andrei in a rare show of fury at a memorable dinner, and you had better not forget what that means.

Trevor had some suspicions about his mother’s stance on his father’s stance on God’s stance on the Belmont family, but he had absolutely no interest in poking that hornet’s nest.

So: sweetroll eaten, message delivered, cross on, he wanders off to the back halls. His father hasn’t left yet, so he’ll study some bestiaries for a while. Then… Trevor grins.

 

 

 

The back halls aren’t actually back halls, per se. They’re remnants of an older Belmont estate, one made of dark, almost black stone on the outside and clean white bricks of clay on the inside. Like their estate wall, laden with spells, the back halls are impervious to weather, temperature, and dirt. Good thing, too: his mother would have had a fit if she had to hire servants to maintain the hall too. She has enough trouble keeping people when his father is home but mostly hidden in the halls; hiring people to help maintain the whispering, eternally-cold back halls would have been challenging, to say the least.

The halls are also past the stables and gardens, past the vegetable fields, and beyond the long spread of hayfield that’s currently sleeping in heavy sheets of white. The horses are nervous as Trevor goes by, which he takes note of: may be something about, perhaps foxes? Though the wall keeps out the supernatural, it sure doesn’t keep out actual animals. The family reputation keeps men away, which Trevor finds something of a relief. He doesn’t really know how to explain a great deal of things that people ask him about his family, and he doesn’t quite want to start yet.

He’s walking along the slippery path to the back halls, clutching his short cloak around him, when he thinks he hears something on the wind.

Pausing, he turns to look about.

The mansion rises in the distance, streaming heat and smoke from the chimney like a lazy dragon. The snow is clustered in little lumps along the balconies irregularly, looking like nothing so much as extremely large furred animals waiting to be roused. Trevor smiles at the sight.

There are the windows and the balcony to his room, the glass expansive and cold, cold, cold in the dark months. His bed is too far from the fireplace for the heat to truly reach, so he often sneaks out at night and curls in front of the fire under his favorite bed rug. If he’s feeling adventurous, he’ll read a grimoire or a memoir by the firelight, but he knows better than to try to stay up too late, or his sisters will tease him about the circles under his eyes.

If he’s honest, some of the bestiaries are… a little frightening to read alone. He hopes that his father never finds out that he sometimes used to go crawl into bed with Esthe when he’d scared himself too much. Now, of course, he’s much too old for that, or maybe Esthe is. It’s hard to say. Now, he just lies shivering under the bed rug and clutches at his short knife. He doesn’t get scared by the bestiaries anymore, though. Now he’s much older and braver.

The mansion is normal, no wolves there. The stables are squatting sullenly under a layer of pine trees, ones that whisper eerily on windy nights. (Trevor often wishes that his wise and powerful ancestors had planted some marginally less creepy trees around the house.) The sky is overcast and dark even for normal pre-dawn conditions. They’re probably due another round of heavy snow. The fields are rolling and quiet, with the occasional fidget of motion that’s likely a bird or a mouse coming up for air from the snow. The gardens, too, are stark skeletons of their summer selves. Around on all sides press forests, deep whispering woods of evergreens that hold game and streams and ponds and all sorts of fun places to romp in summer.

Family rumor has it that the lands used to house a pack of persistent werewolves backed by a single vampire, and the first Belmont man had cleaned them out with the power of their holy whip. Trevor doesn’t know what to make of that specifically, other than to dryly contemplate that at least the whips aren’t too heavy and ungainly for him right now.

Staring out at the estate, expansive and empty, Trevor can’t help but feel isolated. He knows that it’s no use, that it’s how a hunter has to be, but some days he wishes he could go on normal animal hunts with other boys, wishes he could practice swords with boys his own age instead of his mountain of a father and, occasionally, a weak monster that his father brings him along to have a go at.

But he’s long outstripped his peers and even some older boys at swords and hunts and horses, and even at this young age he knows the looks of resentment that get tossed his way from other noble boys when the topic comes up. It’s a lonely life, being a monster hunter, and the sooner he gets used to it, the better. Sometimes Trevor thinks about his future, when all his sisters have been scattered around the country with their fine dowries, when he goes to bed every night with a woman his family has found for him. He supposes someday he’ll have sons of his own, and daughters too. He wonders if he’ll be the kind of man his father is: rough and hard and always ready to go out and away. He thinks he should be. He doesn’t know if he has it in him. Some days, he just wants to stay at his sisters’ sides and help them with whatever it is they want him for. Some days, all he wants to do is sit with his sisters in the family room and take turns reading fairy tales aloud, cozying in the warmth and hearing their laughter when he puts on funny voices for his turn at Rumpelstiltskin.

But he’s a boy of ten already, and it’s an age far too old for all that. His life is whips and burning and monsters now, and he’s got to look forward to it. He does, for the most part. He does.

 

 

 

Satisfied that nothing truly odd is happening, he turns back to the path to the back halls and- freezes.

There’s a wolf in front of him on the path. It’s twice his size and stark white as the snow. Its guard fur is an odd, glittering shade of gold, especially notable along its shoulders and spine. Trevor stares at it with huge eyes, mouth dropping open. The animal’s eyes are even gold, huge as they are and fixed on him.

He doesn’t dare break eye contact, good hand shaking as he reaches for his knife. Nobody had warned him of howls, and no wolf prints had been found around the town or house in the past few weeks. This is completely unexpected, and he hopes he can chase the beast off like he is.

Still, it’s… he can’t take his eyes off the animal, and not just because he’s terrified. He’s never seen a wolf that was quite as big, never seen a wolf that was quite as beautiful.

The wolf tips its ears back and whines at him. Trevor recoils, which only serves to embolden the beast: it takes a slow step forward, tail frisking at the snow behind it slowly at first and then more steadily as it comes forward at a more normal pace.

“Stay back! I’m- I’m armed!”

The wolf tips its ears back again, licks its nose. Sits. Stares at him, huge ears tipped forward smartly.

Trevor watches the animal cautiously. He’s heard about dog-wolf mixes, has heard they can be beautiful and huge and smart as wolves but as willing to please as dogs. He’s also heard they’re volatile, that they’re best left to men who hunt bears and other large beasts. But the wolf whines at him, craning its head forward despite keeping its butt planted, and so Trevor takes a shaky step forward. He’d always wanted a dog… which a wolf, he reminds himself, is not.

The wolf moves towards him in a sudden burst, which makes Trevor startle and roll to the side to dodge, falling into the snow on his bad arm. The abrupt flare of pain makes him shout, but he fights to keep his knife up and between him and the wolf, even staggered down on the ground as he is. Where did it-

“AH!” He flails, screaming, as he feels teeth close on his shoulder. The wolf jolts him to his feet, dances away, and stands there alertly, tail straight up and tip waving lazily in the air.

“You’re crafty,” Trevor complains, pouting for a second before he remembers he’s a Belmont, and Belmont men are supposed to be hard and unsurprised by the world in front of them.

The wolf gives a cheery ‘boof’ and springs to its feet. Trevor flinches back, covered in snow from his dodging maneuver, but the wolf seems to understand and lies down on the path, gazing at him placidly. The only sign of its excitement is that wiggle at the tip of its tail. It’s almost catlike.

“I…. uh, I need to… go study,” he tries, and the wolf watches him seriously. “At the back halls, past here and where the path goes to.” The wolf licks its chops. Trevor stretches out a hand nervously.

After a moment of silence just long enough to make Trevor shiver in the wind, the wolf starts to creep forward, still on its belly. Trevor holds his breath, adjusting his hold on the knife, and watches nervously. The wolf is beautiful and clever, and it seems to hold no malice for him. And, it’s obviously actually a wolf, because no monster could cross the threshold of their wall.

The wolf leans up and noses his hand, pressing his muzzle and then his head into Trevor’s hand. Trevor gasps, then laughs when the wolf wriggles and brushes against him like a cat, leaning so hard that he staggers and almost falls again. The wolf catches him by the back of his cloak, pulling him to his feet, which only makes Trevor laugh harder. He puts away his knife.

“You’re a handsome boy, aren’t you?” He asks, gathering up some snow into a clumsy one-handed snowball. “Go!” He throws the ball, and the wolf watches it sail away and then looks back at Trevor expectantly. “… Go on. Dogs like to- er. Wait. Do wolves chase?”

The wolf yawns at him. It has…. A big, toothy mouth. Trevor blinks, squashing down a sudden rush of nerves. He could fit inside that mouth easily.

“I…. I do have to go. My father will be by,” he says confidently. “He won’t like seeing a wolf about.” Trevor has his doubts that his father will actually stop by before he leaves, but he keeps them to himself. “He might chop you up for fun.”

The wolf comes in close again, sniffs at Trevor, and then pushes its huge nose up to Trevor’s face and huffs in and out before giving a pleased sigh. Trevor makes a face at him.

“Your breath stinks,” he tells the wolf, and pets his cheek before he can think better of it. It’s silky and dense to the touch, richer than any fur he’s ever touched. It’s richer even than the yeti rug he has in front of the fire. The wolf opens its mouth in what Trevor could swear is a grin, but he knows animals don’t grin like humans do. Monsters show their teeth as threats, Trevor reminds himself, and so do animals.

He steps back onto the bath, brushing himself off, and with a nervous look over his shoulder starts off to the back halls. The wolf falls neatly into step behind him, silent except for the faint crunch of snow under his paws.

 

 

 

Contrary to Trevor’s expectations, his father does, in fact, show himself before he leaves.

“Make sure you study the scrolls from the winter of the ice gargoyles that Victor Spirrini wrote,” he tells Trevor, inspecting the library with the air of a man looking for his lost monocle. “Deadly lot, and they show up in years like this one. I want you ready to tell me how to suss them out without having to shoot arrows at every bloody statue on some thrice-cursed noble’s over-decorated heap of a house.”

“Okay,” Trevor says, and squirms on the copiously-blanketed daybed under the stained glass window at the center of the library.

His father looks under the table.

“Did you see any animals on your way here?”

“No,” lies Trevor, and feels a lick at his ankle. He bites his lip to keep from laughing.

“You’re sure?” His father asks.

“Yeah,” he says, and swings his feet down to stand up, approaching his father eagerly.

“You’re lying,” Andrei says, and grabs Trevor’s ear hard enough that he cries out. “Or terrible at noticing the wolf prints dogging your heels.”

“I’m sorry!” Trevor gasps out. His father shakes him, frowning ferociously. “It was just- it was a dog, it was a wolfdog or something, it was friendly, I gave it a pet and it must have followed me for a bit-“

“You idiot,” Andrei says, and boxes Trevor’s ears. “You should have killed the thing. You were begging to go out on the hunt just an hour ago.”

“Ow,” he whines, crouching down once he’s released to clutch at his head.

“A wild animal is just as dangerous as a monster in the right circumstances,” he lectures, tone stern. “And wolfdogs especially! They don’t have any of the leeriness wolves do for men, and they’ll snag a twig like you up in two bites.”

“I’m sorry,” Trevor says again, wilting under his father’s disapproval.

“You’re the only boy we have, and your mother isn’t making any more,” Andrei sighs, rubbing at his temples. “I swear to god, if Alexandru had lived…”

Trevor winces.

“I’ll be more cautious,” he says, shame creeping up his neck in the form of a heavy blush.

“Ah,” sighs his father, and holds out a hand to pick him up off the ground. “Don’t let it get to you. You’ll be a fine man someday, Trevor. We all go through this, but eventually you’ll settle yourself.” Trevor takes his father’s hand and marvels internally at how easily he’s hoisted up, like he weighs nothing. “Just remember,” Andrei says, crouching down and placing his hands on Trevor’s shoulders, staring him in the eyes, “your life isn’t just yours. Your mother, me, and even your sisters- we’re all wrapped up in you. And once you get older, the whole damn country has a claim to your life too. I’m hard on you because I know that. You’re not just Trevor Belmont- you’re all this damned country has to shield it against the monsters baying in the mists.”

Trevor nods wordlessly, trying to fight against tearing up.

“Don’t look so upset, lad.” His father pinches his cheek. “Someday I’ll pick you out a pretty wife and you can have some babes of your own. Fill out the family tree better than I did, so you can finally take a load off.”

Trevor frown, perplexed at how that’s a reward precisely. Settling down and having children seems to be something his father didn’t take any particular pleasure in, based on how often he’s on the road. Trevor can’t blame him- living under the constraints of the church and the broader world are different than being on the hunt, and he feels the chafe of that just as much as his father sometimes.

“You kill that wolf if you see it, Trevor,” Andrei says, standing up with a groan. “Give these old bones something fine to wear on the shoulders. Looks like a big one- think how much I’d be able to brag about my boy, wearing the pelt of that thing!”

“I can already beat boys my age and half older in swords,” Trevor flares, pride and stifled anger making him boisterous.

“That’s the spirit,” his father says, sighing wearily and ruffling his own head of blond-red hair under his travelling cap. “Just live long enough to actually carry on the line, if you can manage that.”

“Who am I going to marry, anyway?” Trevor asks, trailing after his father as he turns to leave the library.

“You sound like your sisters,” grumbles Andrei.

“Well, but,” Trevor insists.

“Some pretty lass with a stout heart,” his father snorts. “A lass who doesn’t give a lick about the damned church and what they think of you, and who wants to help you keep the bed nice and warm even when you’re old.”

“Does mother let the hearth go down too far at night?” Trevor asks, puzzled by the last part.

“Mother doesn’t let the hearth go anywhere at all,” Andrei grumps, “especially down. Be good and don’t die, you damned idiot boy. You’re too soft for your own good!”

“Sorry, father,” Trevor says automatically, and reaches for the hem of his father’s jacket as he goes to leave, catching it lightly.

“What is it?” He turns back and surveys Trevor, expression moody and unreadable.

“Do you think I’ll grow up right?” Trevor asks, feeling very small and un-hunter-like at that moment.

“You’ll have to work hard for it,” his father says, after a considering silence.

“I am,” he says confidently.

“You’re skinny as an eel,” sighs Andrei. “And needy as a woman sometimes. A man doesn’t worry about who he’s to marry, Trevor. Just trust that I’ll find you a pretty face and a good skill at keeping house and leave the rest to me.”

“I want a wife like Camelia,” Trevor says, mind wandering to his mother’s long, pregnant, unreadable pauses. He’ll take Camelia’s furious outbursts over that. She’s easy to read, quick to apologize, quicker even to forgive. She gives warm hugs when he’s come in from the cold and loves to read the spookiest parts of grimoires with him.

Andrei raises his eyebrows, expression dubious. “Not Esthe?”

Trevor shrugs. He can’t say much without incriminating himself.

“You used to sit on her lap when you were littler,” Andrei prods. “Don’t you still love her best?”

“Of course!” Trevor bursts out, shocked into a defense of his eldest, loveliest, kindest, most beautiful sister. “But I can’t sit on my wife’s lap, can I?”

“Shows what you know,” Andrei huffs, then: “You don’t still sit on her lap, do you?” He presses, leaning over Trevor. “You’re too old for that kind of nannying business. Boys your age should be growing their muscles, not their handkerchief collections next to their sisters.”

“I don’t,” he lies, staring his father dead in the face.

“Hm,” says Andrei, brushing his hands along his pants and pinning Trevor with a suspicious eye. “Well, anyway, stay clear of the church men. Don’t open your fool mouth around them, my boy, and we’ll all be sitting nicely together in a row at the dinner table in a few nights. I saw a Speaker camp on the edge of town, too- if they come up to the house to ask for help, you give it to them.”

“Me?” Trevor squeaks, then coughs and tries again: “Wouldn’t mother be the-?”

Andrei makes a disgusted noise. “Your mother is a fool for the Lord, and won’t give the good Speakers a word out of her mouth if she can help it, let alone supplies. They do good work for the people and I won’t have the family name sullied by sending them away with nothing.”

Trevor nods.

“So give them what they ask if they ask, within reason.” Andrei twiddles his mustache. “Actually… if they need a horse, give them Winny. She’s getting too tired to go up and down mountains all day, but she’d do fine pulling one of their light carts. They’ll take good care of the darling girl.” He smiles fondly, looking towards the stables.

Trevor quashes a surge of jealousy for a horse, of all things. His father, never much for people, is an ardent lover of all things equine. They’ve taken several rewards for monster-slaying in the forms of horses of rare breeds, and Winny is a prize from one of his earlier hunts, not long after Trevor was born.

“Mother will…”

Andrei winks at him.

“She’ll just have kittens, won’t she?”

 

 

 

Trevor waves goodbye to his father as he walks off to the stables, then turns back to the library. The wolf has uncovered himself from under the thick furs on the daybed, is standing in the middle of the room.

“I’m not going to skin you,” he tells him, grumbling. “Father can… he can…” He thinks. “Father can go sit on a post,” he says cautiously, then puts a hand to his mouth and watches the wolf. The wolf doesn’t give any indication that it understood and simply approaches him, sniffing here and there. Sniffing where his father walloped him, seems like.

“Don’t worry,” he shrugs. “What kind of a man doesn’t learn to take his knocks?” The wolf whines, shifts from paw to paw, and finally presses his head against Trevor’s chest. “I have to be tough,” he assures the animal, reaching his hands up to stroke at that beautiful dense fur, thick as cream and twice as rich. “He’s right. I have a lot of growing I have to do before I’ll be ready for a solo hunt, for one thing.”

The wolf seems disinclined to eat him, instead preferring to curl on him like an overgrown blanket on the daybed. It feels wonderful to have such a clever and handsome companion, and Trevor tells him as much while he goes back and forth, picking out this and that book or record or scroll or what-have-you. The animal takes to peering over his shoulder like he can read, which makes a prickle of unease slice down Trevor’s back- but the wall. He reminds himself, when the wolf looks especially interested in whatever new page he’s turned, that nothing but a normal animal or man could make it over that wall. It’s completely impassible to the supernatural.

The warmth of the wolf along his back is nice enough that he spends more time reading than he usually does. The library is cold enough, even with a fire, that by mid-day ice often forms in the corridors in between the lit torches. Usually Trevor gives up on reading by the time his fingers go numb even amongst the furs and blankets, but today he has to wrench himself away when he realizes it will be lunch soon with no practice to speak of.

“Come on,” Trevor says, and hops off the daybed, tucking the scroll on ice gargoyles back where it belongs. “I’ll show you something cool.” The wolf looks dubious, if wolves can, but follows gamely. His claws make a faint clicking noise on the brick as they go.

 

 

 

The weaponry stores are Trevor’s favorite places. He loves looking at all the spears and knives and swords and staves, the strange bladed throwing discs from far off lands and the familiar curve of throwing knives.

He pulls the practice whip down from the wall, standing on his toes and a crate to do it, then turns his head to look to his new companion. He’s sat himself down at the threshold and is licking his chops nervously.

“Don’t worry,” Trevor says, smiling. “I’m not going to practice on you.” The wolf still looks nervous, eyes sliding to the far wall where the sacred, blessed, and other magical weapons reside. “Oh, those,” he says, and gestures for the wolf to come with him like he’s another boy and he’s just showing him around. The wolf hesitates, then delicately steps over the threshold and sidles up to Trevor’s side.

They go to the far wall together and stare at them. Trevor explains some of the history of each one, what they’re best for use against, and tries to rationalize that it’s better to recite lessons aloud anyway, so who cares if a wolf can’t understand.

“And that one,” he says, finger pointing at the last item in front of them, “is the oldest Belmont weapon. It’s a whip. My father says he’ll bet money I’ll use that one when I go on my first solo hunt. I don’t have the strength for a big weapon like he has,” Trevor explains, feeling low again for a moment. “But whips are more flexible and have an even better range anyway,” he finishes. “And I’m pretty good with this old practice one.”

He hoists the leather up and the wolf leans in to sniff it.

“Come on, I’ll show you. Stay clear, though. I don’t want you to get hurt.” Trevor starts walking out to the practice room, pausing when he realizes the wolf isn’t clicking along. He turns and looks, sees it standing there still staring at the whip. Unease prickles along his spine again, but Trevor puts it off. No way for him to get over the wall, he reminds himself. No way at all.

“Come on,” he says once more, trying not to let the worry creep onto his face.

The wolf gives the whip one more long stare, then trots after him urgently.

 

 

 

Trevor practices one-handed for a while with the whip, until he’s coated in sweat and shaking. He switches to throwing knives until he cools off a bit. By the time he’s ready to switch to something new, the wolf is lazily reclining against the far wall, golden eyes watching his every move.

It feels nice to have this kind of attention, gratifying in ways he doesn’t quite understand. Normally his father leaves him to his own devices, has a sparring session with him for an hour before he goes off to do his own business again. His mother has never wanted anything to do with hunter business, and has never allowed his sisters to learn much more than very basic self-defense. Now that he has an audience, Trevor finds himself wanting to show off a little, trying some of the more complicated moves he’s only got half down.

His effort seems to have the intended effect- the wolf wags his tail whenever Trevor pulls something off well, makes a concerned whine when he stumbles or falls or hits himself. By the time he’s thinking about a midday meal, he’s tired and shaky, but glowing with pride at what he’s accomplished today. If only his father had been here today to see him!

Trevor goes back to the armory and frowns at the sword rack. He wants to try to improve on swords, but he has to use both hands for that. With a philosophical shrug, he starts to work on the knot of his sling. He’s almost healed anyway, it’ll be-

“Hey!” He shouts, staggering. The wolf has headbutted him from behind, is growling angrily. “What’s gotten into you?! I have to-”

Trevor takes his hand away from his sling to gesture, and the wolf immediately calms. Trevor gapes at him.

“Are you kidding me?” He raises a hand to the sling again, watches the wolf growl menacingly, lowers his hand and watches his mood vanish like a candle flame blown out. “It’s fine,” Trevor insists, but the wolf isn’t having it and snarls again.

“It’s coming off in the next few weeks,” he insists. “It doesn’t even hurt!” Now, sore from the fall earlier and aggravated by practice, it’s a bit of a lie, but Trevor isn’t about to complain. He reaches again for the sling. The wolf has other thoughts, and simply comes closer to snarl in nearer proximity.

Trevor ducks his head, checks the wolf’s undercarriage, and meets his puzzled stare with a narrowed one. “You still have a pecker, but you’re whining like a woman.”

That gets him sat on and squashed, which is, admittedly, new.

 

 

 

Trevor eventually gives up and goes back to the practice whip. The wolf eventually even puts that to a stop, insisting on roaming into the practice ring despite Trevor’s pleas and pulling his arm down with gentle teeth. He gets sat on again when he tries to shoo him away, and finally Trevor gives up and hangs the whip up too, making his way back to the house. The wolf peels off from him and vanishes into the forest before they near the stables, which Trevor tries not to feel badly about. He wishes he could have at least said goodbye.

 

 

 

If he’s honest, he is feeling a little…. Peaky. He chalks the trembling in his limbs up to exhaustion from pushing himself, chalks the heat in his cheeks up to staying warm all day with a nice cozy companion, figures the faint ache in his head is from his father’s discipline. But he finds he’s not interested in eating lunch after all, especially not when he comes into the kitchen and hears his mother’s sharp voice:

“It’s bad enough with the boy, but I won’t have you falling into that way too, Roza. We’ve talked about this. Father Vasile has been good to us and understands the dilemma the situation presents, but there’s word that changes are happening in the capital, and that puts us all at risk. You may not feel any particular motion of the soul towards it, but you must continue to strive to be as godly a woman as possible!”

“I only want to write poetry, mama,” coos Roza soothingly, and Trevor watches in rapt silence for a moment as she nestles against her mother, who wraps a supportive arm around her waist. “Not go out and slay beasts.”

“It isn’t proper, my darling sweet bird, and that’s the thing of it. I think of you, and only you, in this.” Ioana turns and smooths some of Roza’s auburn waves away from her face, the gesture affectionate. Something rises in Trevor, something clutching and greedy. “Your future as a woman is dependent solely on the whims of the men around you,” his mother continues, “and your father…” and Trevor slinks back into the shadows, escapes before he can intrude further on whatever that was. Bitterness crawls up his throat, sours any appetite he might have had.

He goes to his room and takes off his cross again.

Chapter Text


 

 

Trevor spends the rest of the day on horseback, swaddling himself in furs and roaming the edges of the estate. There’s something angry and clawing in him that he tries desperately not to name, because to name a thing is to invite it in, and he wants no part of it.

Though he finds no wolf prints, he only manages to explore the edge of the front wall before darkness starts to creep in around the edges.

By the time he comes into the house, it’s almost time for dinner. His stomach still feels wobbly, but Trevor decides he’s probably just done a lot for today.

Esthe and Stela are waiting for him in his bedroom when he comes in, seated at the table in front of the balcony windows. They stand and he runs to them eagerly, wrapping his arm around their waists each in turn and smiling up at them.

“Hello, hello,” Esthe laughs, and playfully crinkles her nose. “You stinky puppy of a boy!”

“Have you had a wash yet?” Asks Stela, practical above all, and Trevor gleefully shakes his head, wriggling where he stands with happiness. His sisters share a smile between each other at his joy at seeing them.

“How did the visit from the church go?” He asks, standing at a distance so he won’t smell their nice dinner dresses up.

“Well enough,” sighs Esthe, and smoothing her skirts sits once more. “Father Vasile said that some political shifts are happening in the capital, but he says it could be years before we see the effects. It’s hard to know that much in advance how these things will work out.”

“I am concerned,” Stela chimes in, “but in fact, it is simply too early to know how it will all come together. He’s correct.” Trevor studies her. She is by far the cleverest of his sisters, but her personality is so supremely no-nonsense that other noble girls often have a hard time getting on with her. Trevor likes that no-nonsense aspect of her best. He wants to impress his sisters, wants to make them feel certain that he’ll take good care of them and the house when he’s the head of the Belmont family. For Stela, he knows she best likes him to give her what knowledge he has that she doesn’t.

“Father mentioned that a Speaker camp is in the area,” Trevor tries.

“How lovely,” Esthe says, and bites at a fingernail. Stela reaches over and swats her hand away, making a scolding face. Esthe sticks out her tongue. “That makes sense. Mother was in a fine fit even after the clergymen left, despite the visit going quite nicely.”

“Did he leave any instruction about them? The Speakers, I mean,” Stela asks, her pale brows drawn down, her piercing cornflower eyes fixed on Trevor.

“He said to help them if they asked for supplies,” Trevor nods. “And to give them Winny if they need her.”

“Ugh,” sighs Stela. “He just can’t leave well enough alone, can he?” She flops in the chair in a decidedly unladylike fashion, giving an unattractive, exaggerated sneer, legs splayed out in such a way that her garnet skirt flares oddly. Trevor smiles at her, and she catches his look and returns the smile, gesturing with her fingers for him to come closer.

“Well,” Esthe sighs. “I think they’ll take good care of her. It’s the same group that came last year, from what I heard.”

Stela smooths Trevor’s hair back, kisses his forehead. “You feel warm,” she comments, putting a cool hand to his head.

“I just did a lot today,” he assures her proudly.

“I’m sure you did,” Esthe says, and pats her lap. “But we can’t have you bedridden like I was. Come here.”

Stela puts a hand to her chin, staring out the window into the darkness. Trevor comes up to Esthe, lets her pull him into her lap. He tries to stay stiff and aloof, but he sighs contentedly when she strokes his hair and finally gives up and wraps his arms around her neck. The heavy emerald wool of her skirts is comfortable as a seat, and the dark blue shawl around her neck smells appealingly of mother’s homemade lavender soap.

“He is warm,” she says, squeezing him tight.

“Father is working him too hard,” Stela comments tightly. “Young bodies need to grow at their own paces. They don’t hail to the demands of men, that’s for certain.”

Esthe runs her fingers over Trevor’s sling, sighing.

“I’m ten,” Trevor says from where he’s tucked against his eldest sister, breathing in her delicate, feminine scent, feeling the heavy weight of her dark hair against his cheek. He can’t say why, but he flashes back to the wolf’s eyes as he watched him practice today, the way he curled with him as they read.

You’re in need of a bath,” Esthe says, gently shooing him off her lap. “Wash up and come down to dinner. I think Ilinca wants to read stories again tonight, so prepare your best Big Bad Wolf voice.”

He slithers down again, turns his face up to receive his sisters’ kisses raining down on him like manna from heaven, and goes off to do as he’s been told.

 

 

 

They’re all lined up properly to go eat dinner when the knock comes.

Ioana gestures to a servant, her old footman from girlhood that Trevor used to think was his actual grandfather. He tremulously wanders off, and distantly Trevor can hear the front door opening, a few words exchanged, and then the creak of the door further opening.

Esthe and Roza exchange glances, but Ioana stills them with a look. The footman comes back, bows.

“My lady, it is a nobleman from a border province, along the eastern mountains. He is a man of medicine by fancy and has arrived with his lady servant. They say they were robbed in the southern valley and are in need of shelter while they wait for his family to recover him.”

“Heavens,” Ioana says, eyebrows up. “Does he think we are fools?”

“He bears a very impressive sigil ring,” the footman nods, “I do recognize it from my younger days.”

“Really?” Ioana tips her head, a considering look crossing her face.

“A lady servant?” Asks Daniela skeptically.

“Perhaps to treat womenfolk,” suggests Ilinca, her pink cheeks glowing with excitement. “To preserve their dignity.”

“Is he comely?” Asks Esthe, almost despite herself. Stela snorts, but Mariana next to her elbows her.

“Don’t be so sour,” Mariana sings, “perhaps a man of medicine might find a clever woman a suitable bride!” Stela glares at her.

“None of my daughters are marrying a stranger off the road,” sighs Ioana, putting a hand to her forehead. “I trust none of you are truly so frivolous. Besides, he’s likely forty and covered in pimples. Please bring him and his lady servant in for dinner, Auste.”

His sisters twitter with excitement, but Trevor just feels tired.

 

 

 

“May I introduce Lord Adrian Dracul from the western mountains, son of the house Dracul, and his lady servant Sypha of the Speaker tribe Belnades,” announces a maid, curtseying. Trevor’s eyes fly to his mother.

They’re all seated already, his mother at the head of the table with his father’s chair empty next to her. Trevor is at her right, and his sisters cascade down the table in order of age, from Esthe down to Stela at the end.

Ioana seems to be more surprised than anything. Her normal dislike of Speakers seems to be falling second to something, and he can hear the excited gasps of his sisters as the nobleman and his servant enter the room. The entrance is at his back, and so he’s the last to get a full look at their guest.

The man is tall, wearing a well-tailored black coat with a shirt cut in a curious fashion, a deep V that causes his sisters to immediately hiss into interested gossip. He walks with grace and confidence, and has a serious air to him that bleeds culture. There’s no doubt that he is indeed of some kind of noble heritage, not with the easy, sophisticated way he bows to his mother, raising his head to thank her graciously:

“I cannot apologize enough for the inconvenience we have caused.” Trevor is frozen, watching in riveted shock: the man’s eyes are familiar to him. He’s- this is impossible. That’s- what!?

His eyes dart over to the man’s servant, and he finds himself pinking. She’s staring at him intensely with the bluest, brightest set of eyes he’s ever seen. Her hair is curly, cut nicely to frame her lovely features. She wears a well-made black woolen dress, though she moves as if she’s uncomfortable in it. Everything about her is dainty, precise, knowing, and he finds he has to look away before his blush becomes too obvious. When he glances back at her, she gives him a secretive smile.

The pair makes quite an impression. Even his immovable mother is charmed.

Trevor knows enough to keep his mouth shut, but he keeps on looking at them, eyes flickering from Lord Dracul to Miss Belnades as his mother gestures.

“You are both welcome to our home,” Ioana says, as two maids step forward. The lady servant is settled at the foot of the table. To Trevor’s awestruck horror, Lord Dracul is seated next to him.

For the duration of the dinner, Trevor alternates between trying to avoid Miss Belnades’ piercing stare and trying to catch Lord Dracul’s. He feels too tired and hot and exhausted to eat much, and Esthe notices, catching his gaze at one point and giving a pointed raise of the eyebrows at his untouched main course. He shrugs, then turns his attention mildly to the table when his mother turns her attention away from Lord Dracul and to him for a moment.

He’s witty and clever, and disconcertingly good at fending off the flirtatious advances of seven beautiful women. Stela does in fact find him to be very interesting, and they both go off on a mutual tangent about some kind of philosopher that Trevor is reasonably certain, based on his mother’s expression, she’s probably not supposed to acknowledge that she’s read. Even Miss Belnades, despite Ioana’s inherent dislike of Speakers, proves to be a cheery dinner companion, chiming in at several points on everything from the importance of the womanly arts to the value of knowledge from abroad. Ioana warms to her considerably despite herself, eventually even laughing at a few jokes. Normally Trevor would be bored stiff by all this adult conversation and squirming with repressed energy, but right now he just feels heavy and worn out.

Lord Dracul is surprisingly good at evading Trevor’s gaze. By the time the last dish is being cleared away, he’s been snared by Miss Belnades’ stare at least five times and hasn’t caught Lord Dracul’s eye once.

He feels dead on his feet, too, but knows better than to ask to be excused, especially in front of unexpectedly glamorous guests.

 

 

 

His escape comes more quickly than expected: Ioana offers to have the servants prepare some coffee for a late night chat session with the older girls, herself, and Lord Dracul and his lady servant.

 

 

 

“I apologize,” Lord Dracul says, and he sounds terribly sincere, “deeply. And should the chance for another evening spent in such pursuits arrive, I will gladly take you up on that. But, today has been…” He sighs.

Ioana holds up her hand, closing her eyes in a demonstration of shame.

“I cannot allow you to apologize. I should have remembered that you and your servant have had a very trying day. Please, allow me to offer rooms for your comfort.”

Trevor, fighting to keep his eyes open, is suddenly singed with awareness:

“You will be staying in the center of the house, Lord Dracul, along the same hallway as my son Trevor.”

“That is uncommonly gracious of you,” Lord Dracul comments, his eyes not straying from Ioana’s face. Trevor tries to give Esthe an alarmed stare, but she’s busy doing Silent and Meaningful Womanly Communications with Stela and Rozalia down the table and doesn’t see him. Daniela simply watches Trevor when he turns his appealing stare to her, her russet curls glinting in the candlelight. She looks concerned, but not in the way he’d hoped to elicit.

“Your lady servant will be given private quarters in the servant’s areas,” Ioana continues. “Though I admit, you are no common servant, Miss Belnades, and so I apologize for the odd placement.”

“I am honored to stay with the rest of the staff,” Sypha says softly, and Trevor tries not to notice her strange accent and how lovely it is, how confident and yet earnest her bowing nod of thanks is. Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. “They all seem to be wonderfully kind people.”

“A generous assessment,” Ioana says, placing a hand to her cheek, “and hopefully not an incorrect one. Let us part for the evening- Trevor, please lead Lord Dracul with you. I will send Jules after him shortly to ready the linens, but I must confer with him on a matter related to,” her eyes flicker to Sypha, then back to Trevor, “matters domestic.”

“Is it about the Speaker camp near town?” Trevor asks, before he can stop himself.

“Yes,” says his mother, and her posture goes from ‘pleased’ to ‘cool.’ Trevor catches Lord Dracul shifting next to him at that, ignores it.

“Father said to give them whatever aid they ask for, within reason,” he says, somewhat urgently. He doesn’t feel well at all, but he has this one last task to do and then he can vanish into his bed. He has the feeling he’s going to sleep for quite some time.

“Your father did, did he,” Ioana says, sighing. Sypha tilts her head, raises a hand to her lips, says nothing. Stela turns to her and murmurs something very quietly, too softly for anybody else to hear.

“And to give them Winny if they need a horse,” he finishes, heart beating much too fast for something as simple as relaying his father’s wishes.

“How generous of him,” Ioana tells Trevor flatly, pinning him with a stare. Trevor looks back, uncertain of where to go from here. His father will be angry with him if he fails to stand up for the Speakers; his mother will be angry with him for demanding this of her and the servants. He doesn’t suppose his parents have meant to put him in the middle of them like this, but it happens frequently enough that Trevor is used to the ambivalent, twisting feeling of them both forcing their conflicting views at each other through him. If this is what it is to be blissfully married, he’s mused on more than one occasion, perhaps he’d be better off remaining fond but distant with his wife. ‘Familiarity breeds contempt,’ his mother has said on more than one occasion.

“Father understands the difficulties that come with Speaker life,” Stela chimes in, slicing through the tension and distracting their mother from Trevor.

“I don’t want to start on this again,” Ioana chides, rising from the table. Her tone shies away from outright sharpness because of their guests, but Trevor and his sisters all know she’s seething. “Trevor, I will talk with your father about this when he returns.”

“He said to-“ Trevor starts, standing along with everybody else. He feels so laden with sleep-heaviness that he feels as if he’s about to stagger to the ground.

“I understand what he said,” she snaps, and Trevor sees Lord Dracul stir next to him. He lays a hand on Trevor’s shoulder, leaning in and over him. Trevor thinks of the wolf, curled on his shoulder, reading. He looks up, sees Lord Dracul’s hairless throat, the strange cut of his shirt, the sleek fall of his hair.

“If it pleases you, Lady Belmont, I may offer my assistance tomorrow in delivering any supplies that your Lord master has deemed fit to give. I know it can be challenging for a lady to arrange such things while also staying within the bounds of womanly propriety.”

There’s a tense silence. Trevor can feel the weight of all of his sisters’ eyes on him, is certain that they all are staring intensely at that hand, fine-boned and gentle and emanating confidence, on his shoulder. It’s the same shoulder the wolf grabbed when he fell over.

“That is terribly courteous of you,” Trevor’s mother finally yields, sighing and rolling her shoulders. Lord Dracul has outmaneuvered her, and on Trevor’s behalf: she can’t openly defy her husband in front of this stranger without overstepping her role as obedient wife. Trevor feels a surge of admiration for Lord Alucard’s finesse even as he sees his mother’s dismay and feels sorry to be the reason for it.

 

 

 

They walk together in silence. Trevor keeps looking at Lord Dracul and then looking away, but he never so much as glances down, simply follows in stoic noiselessness. It’s not just that he doesn’t speak to Trevor- he walks near silently as well, a glaring contrast to Trevor’s hard-heeled shoes that echo as they go up.

Nothing can come over the wall, Trevor reminds himself, but how does he explain Lord Dracul and his golden eyes, then? And how does the beautiful- er, the entrancing- um, how does Miss Belnades fit into this?

The mystery turns itself around and around in his head, snaring on itself until Trevor feels dizzy from it. Or- well, he might just be dizzy in general. He pauses in the hallway, looking up doubtfully at Lord Dracul.

“This is my room,” he tell him, tipping his head apprehensively. “There’s a guest bedroom that I imagine the servants have prepared here,” Trevor says, wandering over to the door, and he gives a little cough.

“Are you unwell?”

“I’m fine,” he says, and coughs again, and suddenly the world is going sideways.

Trevor,” gasps Lord Dracul, and it takes a moment for him to realize that he’s caught him, is holding him up carefully. Trevor makes a tired noise, struggling to muster the willpower to stand up straight again. “I see this is a trait trained into you, rather than anything bred in,” says Lord Dracul wearily, which doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, and then he’s being lifted up and carried carefully into his room.

It feels like when he was a boy and Esthe would tend to him, would sling him up on her hip and carry him about. He’s reasonably sure that he, Trevor Belmont, age ten, is supposed to be much too old to be carried to bed and tucked in and smoothed and pressed and given a cool compress on the forehead and talked to gently, but the attention feels nice where his body doesn’t, so he just accepts it. He doesn’t think he could move enough to protest anyway.

 

 

 

When Trevor next wakes up, it’s sunny and Esthe is sitting next to the bed, reading.

“Hello puppy,” she says, and reaching forward combs her fingers through his bangs.

“Esthe,” he tries to say, but instead a rough croak comes out. His throat hurts terribly.

“Drink this up,” she says, putting aside her book to sit next to him on the bed. She holds a mug up to his lips, lets him sip it slowly. Little by little the mixture goes down, and by halfway through, Trevor feels positively human.

“It’s good,” he says, reaching for the mug. Esthe lets him take it, tilting her head, a fond expression creeping across her face as she watches him wrap both hands around the stoneware. He likes how the heat seeps into his hands, gives a contented sigh as he takes another sip.

“Lord Dracul made it,” she tells him, and snorts when he chokes. “He is very worried about you. His lady servant is as well.” Trevor takes another swallow, eyeballing her over the rim of the mug. “More than mother, anyway.”

“Esthe,” Trevor protests.

“She should have put you to bed much earlier last night!” Esthe hisses, uncharacteristically angry. “I would have myself, if I had been able to. The ways she acts sometimes…”

“Mother is just more restrained in her shows of affection, because she doesn’t want to coddle me and make me soft,” he says, because he has to believe that to look his mother in the face every morning.

“Of course,” Esthe sighs, putting her hands on her face. “Of course you are right, my puppy. Mother does love you dearly.”

“I love you, Esthe,” Trevor tells her very seriously.

“Oh,” Esthe says, tearing up, and she gathers Trevor up to her and squeezes. Trevor makes a face but stays still, listening carefully to the slow beat of Esthe’s heart. There’s the little skip-jump-stutter that’s particular to her. He’s spent enough time in her arms that he knows the rhythm like he knows his own heartbeat. “You terrified poor Lord Dracul. He’s legitimately in a tizzy. He’s a doctor, do you remember? He says that you need bedrest and time. No practices in those drafty back halls, not for a little bit.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because that’s how young hunters end up swooning in the hallways.” She isn’t chiding him, but he feels the rebuke anyway, feels a sting of embarrassment when he remembers how kind Lord Dracul was to him last night.

“What is it?” He squirms, shifting to look up at her. She’s left her hair down today, and it falls around them in black tumbling curls, looser than some of the other sisters’ ringlets. “Is it barn-nosed spot disease?”

Esthe tuts. “He said he doesn’t know what it is precisely, but that it’s better safe than sorry.”

Trevor stays silent at that. It sounds made up, but he’s not a doctor, is he? Well. Maybe Lord Dracul isn’t either. Maybe he’s just a wolf in sheep’s clothing, in more ways than one.

“You’ve got your thinking face on,” Esthe says, and pokes his cheek.

“Maybe I have thinking-face disease,” Trevor smiles wanly, and leans back to collapse against his pillows.

“Stela in particular is very taken with him,” Esthe comments with a tone so casual it can only be faked.

“Stela has to wait for everybody else to get married first,” grumps Trevor. Esthe laughs brightly and tweaks his nose.

“That’s my grumpy puppy,” she cheers, and settling back against his pillows with him proceeds to gossip heartily about which sister is flirting in what way with Lord Dracul, and the increasingly complicated ways mother has had to work to keep them away from him to get their guest some peace. Trevor finds it all very silly, but also can’t help but appreciate Esthe’s enthusiasm for the subject. He does like the story about Ilinca and the dust covers, though.

He does notice that she doesn’t mention if she’s been flirting with him.

When Lord Dracul and Miss Belnades come in, Esthe stands up, brushing invisible dust off her skirts and offering a pretty little curtsey. Trevor gives Lord Dracul a squinty, suspicious stare, but he still won’t meet Trevor’s eyes. Instead, he nods somberly to Esthe and walks past her, further into the room.

“I have been meaning to ask,” Esthe says, taking Miss Belnades’ hands in hers, “what is the furthest place you’ve been to? Please, don’t be shy,” she says, and, wrapping a dainty arm around Miss Belnades’ waist, leads her out into the hallway. The woman gives Trevor a stymied look over her shoulder in the instant before the door shuts behind her.

Trevor contemplates the shut door with a furrowed brow for a moment, thinking.

“Trevor,” Lord Dracul says, sitting down on the bed. He does indeed look worried, which Trevor finds odd to say the least. “I’m glad you’re up again.”

Trevor stays silent for a moment, searching the man’s face. Lord Dracul finally meets his eyes, giving a patient sigh.

He is awfully handsome, Trevor resignedly allows. And mother liked his conversation well enough, even if it was all very boring to his ears.

“The wall is supposed to keep you out,” Trevor finally says, brow furrowing. He experiences, just for a moment, a strange sensation- like being older and at the same time young as he is now, like he’s got scars and hurts and aches in places that he doesn’t even have yet. He shakes his head, shudders.

“And what do you think it is that I am, that your wall is supposed to keep me out?” Asks Lord Dracul, and Trevor shrinks under his stare.

“I…. don’t know.” Lord Dracul chuckles ruefully.

“Perhaps you need to study more, then.”

“Then it was you!” Trevor bursts out, popping halfway out from under his covers in his excitement.

“Goodness,” Lord Dracul says, reaching out to tuck Trevor back under his blankets and bed rugs. “I am nothing malevolent,” he finally says, meeting Trevor’s eyes, “and so, I was of course able to come to your house to ask for assistance.” Trevor can’t argue with that, mostly because he’s not quite sure if that’s how the wall works or what. He furrows his brow and bites his lip.

“You’re a very handsome wolf,” Trevor tells him earnestly instead, then, scowling: “What was that about my sling? I wanted to practice swords!”

“You can’t just whip off your sling whenever you feel like it.”

“I didn’t! But I have to practice, and it’s almost healed anyway!”

“A few weeks isn’t,” Lord Dracul insists, expression severe, “almost healed.”

Trevor quakes under the severity of the face, then bristles.

“A Belmont man is held to different standards. You wouldn’t know, you’re a monster!”

“I suppose I wouldn’t,” Lord Dracul says slowly, hands smoothing down the blankets around Trevor. He looks chilly and angry suddenly. Trevor feels bad for calling him that, but he doesn’t really have any other word for a man who turns into a wolf. “But you are still a human boy, and you will only do yourself harm if you tax your arm before it is ready to take the strain.”

“Like what kind of harm?” Trevor asks dubiously, knitting his fingers together. What kind of a monster chides him about mending up properly? “What are you? Really, I mean.”

“There is an increased chance of breaking your arm again later in life if you don’t allow it to heal properly,” Lord Dracul says with considerable vinegar, then blinks and looks at Trevor anew. “… Oh, I see. Very interesting.”

“What?” Trevor asks, drawing his knees up to his chest.

“None of your business,” Lord Dracul tells him, in a final sort of tone.

“Tell me what you are!” He demands.

“If you can’t decide for yourself, then how is that my fault?”

Trevor looks the man over, scowling. He doesn’t have an answer for that, but he thinks he has a question that’s just as hard to answer: “Why did you hang about to watch me the other day?”

Not so, apparently: “Because I care for you, and you seemed very alone.”

Trevor looks at Lord Dracul, at a loss. Seeing some of the confusion on his face, the older man smiles faintly. It’s a heavy smile, one laden with loss and pain and stress. It isn’t a cheery expression, is honestly somewhat intimidating, straining as it is under a depth of emotion that Trevor doesn’t really understand. But it feels sincere, and that coupled with the memory of that warm presence yesterday makes him tear up, mouth wobbling as he tries to control his own emotions. He clenches his hands on his bedsheets, looking down. He can’t meet his eyes anymore.

“Oh, Trevor,” Lord Dracul says, looking sympathetic. “You’re such a sweet boy.”

“I’m not! I’m supposed to be strong-” he tries, shaking his head, but his throat hurts and he’s so tired and he’s never good enough for anybody but his sisters and this magical wolf man. He lapses into silence, and Lord Dracul sits with him in it too.

Finally, hesitantly, he musters the nerve to speak again. “Why are you here? Did you come just after father left on purpose?”

“I was here when he was… talking to you,” Lord Dracul corrects, and Trevor squirms at the reminder.

“You weren’t eavesdropping, were you?”

“Well,” he says quietly. “Like that, I have… big ears.”

Trevor gives him an ambivalent stare.

“You’re going to try to eat my sisters, aren’t you? Or… curse us?”

Lord Dracul leans over and pulls the mug into his hands, frowning when it sloshes.

“I have no desire to do any of that. Here’s what I will tell you, Trevor:” He hands him the cup. “Drink up. It should have some restorative effect on your health, and if you’re recovered enough by midday we can go to the Speakers’ camp to deliver some supplies.”

Trevor, conflicted immensely, sips at the tonic. This man is clearly, obviously a monster. His father has always taught him that monsters attacked first and didn’t show any mercy for young or old, women or the ailing or the weak. They shied from the sun and were filled with grotesque mannerisms, even vampires who wore elegant faces to start with.

It’s the sun that’s confusing him, Trevor decides. If a man with good manners and an alluring sense of mystery appeared at night, transfixing all the women in the house, and he turned into a wolf and had a striking pair of eyes and a beautiful, foreign servant, why. That would be a vampire, nice and classic. Practically stereotypical, even.

But Lord Dracul is sitting placidly on the side of his bed, tipping his face into the sun streaming through Trevor’s windows. He made a restorative tonic, which he’s certainly never heard of any monster doing. And…. He’s been kind to him. Trevor is reasonably sure that monsters aren’t supposed to do any of that, but especially so the last part.

“If you touch my sisters,” he growls, though the rasping of his voice hurts his throat, “I’ll fight you to the death!”

Lord Dracul holds out a hand.

“I suppose that’s entirely understandable. I must ask you something in exchange, then.”

Aha. Ahaaaaa. Here it is, the other shoe, dropping. Trevor takes another swallow of tonic, giving him the hairy eyeball. Lord Dracul opens his eyes against the sun, pins him with that sharp stare.

The light spills in the windows in just such a way as to give him a shimmer of brightness, a halo of light that makes his hair glow luminously golden, a river of of brightness that slides over his skin, illuminating his high cheekbones and long, serious, well-proportioned face. Trevor swallows hard, suddenly overcome with a snarl of emotion that he can’t quite pin down. He drops his eyes, glances up again, squirms under that gaze, and feels heat creeping up his neck, flaring on his cheeks.

“You must promise me to assist in looking after my friend, Sypha. She is a lively woman, and is unsuited to dealing with the frivolities and nonsense of the noble life. I’m sure you understand.”

The unexpected nature of the ask startles Trevor into looking the man fully in the face.

“Lord Dracul, are you two….” Trevor taps his index fingers together.

“A private matter,” he says somberly, which is answer enough.

Trevor considers the request for just a brief second. “Of course,” he says, and, resting the mug on his knees, takes his new partner-in-crime’s hand in his. They shake before Trevor can think better of making a pact, however informal, with an unknown monster wearing the skin of a man.

“And, Trevor,” he looks up, jumps and swallows when those gold eyes catch him again. “If it isn’t a bother, please call me Adrian when we’re alone. Lord Dracul is…. A mouthful.”

“It seems kind of…” he balks.

“It is important to me,” Adrian says, flicking the mug with his fingers. “My father is the Count Dracul, and it is an awkward mantle for me to assume, for many reasons.”

“All right,” Trevor says hesitantly, his voice crackling and throat starting to hurt again. “When are we going to the Speaker encampment?” He jolts. “Did my mother already have the servants put supplies together?”

Adrian taps the mug again, with his nails this time, raising an eyebrow. Trevor picks it up and takes an obedient sip.

“I was surprised, based on her… recalcitrance last night. She has readied quite a large amount of goods. Far more than was requested.”

Trevor feels satisfaction radiating out from his core, enough to make him wiggle his toes and beam.

“She’s a good person. She doesn’t trust Speakers, but she doesn’t like people to suffer.”

“And what do you think of Speakers?” Adrian asks, reaching out and, after a slight motion asking permission, places his fingers over Trevor’s pulse on the underside of his jaw.

“I like them,” he says firmly. “When father and I have been on the road, they’ve always been fun to stay with. And they always have answers, even if the answers aren’t what you want to hear.”

“Hmmm,” Adrian hums, and reaches out with his other hand to feel two-handed at the underside of Trevor’s jaw, along the side of his neck.

“What are you doing?”

“Feeling for swelling or other signs of infection,” Adrian tells him. “There is some swelling, but nothing too terrible.”

“We can go to the camp!” Trevor yells, starting to bounce before remembering the mug and catching it midair.

Adrian’s hand had shot out as well, but when he sees Trevor has rescued the cup he quirks his brows up.

“Good reflexes,” he praises, and Trevor turns pink again. “If you finish your tonic and have a good, healthy breakfast, I think we can indeed make a trip down to the camp. Promise me not to run about, though.” Trevor nods- he wants to go, but he doesn’t think he’s up for much frolicking today.

They sit in companionable silence.

“Does Miss Belnades brush you?” Trevor asks as Adrian tests his eyesight, moving a finger here and there, into his peripheral vision and then back to the front.

“Oh yes,” Adrian says tartly, “and in a decade she’ll brush you too.”

“I’m not a wolf,” Trevor says, confused.

“Perhaps a puppy, for now.”

“Esthe calls me that,” Trevor volunteers.

“Your… eldest sister,” Adrian says, stroking his chin.

“Do you like her?” He asks seriously, draining the mug in one final slurp.

“She is lovely,” Adrian responds evasively. “But perhaps Sypha might… have more insight into her character, than I do.”

“I’m sorry all my sisters are ganging up on you.” He isn’t really. Mostly he wants to see the fun, but he’s not going to say that.

Adrian laughs softly, standing up. “If all I have to endure here is a flight of beautiful young ladies asking me to read literature with them this evening under the watchful eye of their matron, it sounds like a dream compared to some of my recent trials.”

“Like what?” Trevor bounces in place, tiredness forgotten. To have an adult here who will tell him interesting stories, even if it is an adult monster, is more of a treat than he thought it would be.

“I’ll tell you another time,” he says, as a knock comes at the door and Miss Belnades comes in holding a tray with breakfast on it... and something else, tucked next to a steaming teacup. Trevor’s eyes widen.

“Your sister gave me a letter to pass on to a woman in the Speaker camp,” she says, holding up the tray.

Trevor stares at the paper balanced delicately on edge, bites his lip. She- he had promised she wouldn’t. She had promised him last year when the Speakers came around again and all that happened.

“I can give it to her,” he volunteers, “since I can’t help unload the supplies.” Miss Belnades looks relieved.

“Thank you. Here. Don’t forget to offer to read it to her- most Speakers cannot-“

“Alya can read,” Trevor says resignedly, stretching his hand out for the letter, sealed with wax and the family seal.

“I see,” she says, and crosses her arms in front of her, watching him intently. Trevor casts a wary eye over her. As before, at the dinner table, he has the uncomfortable feeling that she’s seeing a great deal more than she should of him.

“This is exactly what I meant earlier.” Adrian smiles fondly at her. “Not so much as an ‘if you please’ or a ‘my lord.’”

Miss Belnades looks like she’s about to pinch them both on the ears and give them a shake. He can practically see the steam coming off of her.

“The day I call either of you my lord is the day I shave my head and go off into the mountains to become a hermit!”

“A rough day?” Adrian snorts. Miss Belnades only grumbles, the breakfast tray clinking ominously in her hold. The two chatter idly as if they’re old friends, relating their various mornings. It sounds like Miss Belnades had a few run-ins with the older maids, stern women who had very firm opinions on things like Sheet Corners and The Angle of Teacup Handles When Served.

Trevor fingers the edges of the envelope, head down.

 

 

 

After he’s left to eat in peace, he stares fixedly at the envelope. When he can’t take it anymore, he takes his butterknife and slithers out of bed, sticking it in the hearth for a moment before he turns it to the seal, slicing it open from underneath. He’s seen his mother do this with letters his father has asked her to send out, though she of course can simply reseal the envelope whenever she wishes with her ring.

Trevor looks down at his sister’s elegant hand and sighs, upset curdling the contents of his stomach.

Alya,

Meet me where we always are.

E’

He presses the knife against the wax from the back, lets it stick again as if he never opened it. A sharp-eyed noble would likely recognize the telltale lack of crispness of the seal, but Alya won’t look. She never does, having eyes only for the contents and the sharpness of Esthe’s hand.

Trevor gets back into bed slowly, turning the envelope over in his hands. He could just…. Throw it in the fire…

No.

She gave the envelope to Miss Belnades, and if it went missing, she might take the blame. Not that Esthe could possibly call attention to it, not really. Trevor sighs, exhaustion coating his bones in a slow dripping wash, like caramel coating a sponge cake.

He has to take his share of the family burden. His mother can’t find out. Esthe can’t carry on with this either, though. Frustration surges through him- she treats him as if he’s so young, but he’s not the one making plans for foolish midnight meetings under a full moon with Speakers when the church is breathing down their necks.

Trevor stares at the canopy of his bed fixedly, trying to decide what to do.

Unbidden, he thinks of Miss Belnades and Adrian. The ride from the estate down to the fields where the Speakers settle is long, isolated. It would be a perfect time to ask for some… maybe, for some adult guidance? A monster and a Speaker woman might be just the right people to ask about this anyway, given the topic.

After all, they’re just as bound up in mutual proofs of silence as he is.

Mind made up, Trevor flicks the envelope up like a throwing star, catching it before it hits him between the eyes. Up, down. Up, down.

It’s sort of nice to have somebody to ask about things, somebody who understands life outside of the normal framework of church and village and home.

Trevor smiles, feeling faintly feverish and shaky, his stomach shifting uncertainly.  Despite that all, he feels cheerier than he has in a long time.

Chapter Text


 

 

Lying in bed that night, Trevor listens with every fiber of his being. The house sighs around him, and here and there he hears what he thinks may be a wolf, singing oddly in the distance. Perhaps it’s Adrian; he hopes it isn’t, because if he catches Trevor out tonight, he has the sinking feeling that he’ll have preferred to have taken the belt from his father.

 

 

 

As it turned out, his mother had sent a few servants along in the wagon. When he thought about it, it only made sense: why on earth would a noblewoman known for her cunning and piety in equal measure send her only son off to a Speaker camp with two strangers blown in by the wind? Even if Adrian was a nobleman, trickier, more turning plots had happened before in the nation’s history, or so Ioana had told him seriously as she shook his shoulders and adjusted his cross and straightened his shoulders.

“You are representing the family,” she told him, and plucked once more at the doubled chain around his neck. “You must be decorous and fair and just. If you must turn a blind eye to certain things, then do it to preserve the peace.”

“I like Speakers,” he told her, instead of, ‘They don’t care about our family, not like that.’ But something about what she was saying tickled at him oddly. It felt like she was reaching out to him like she did with his sisters, but he was too clumsy, too unversed in this woman-speak of indirect warnings and admonitions, to catch her hand properly. He wished, as he frequently did, that he had been left room to understand things left unsaid better. But men could speak as they wished, and women didn’t want men to hear the things between their words after all, and so Trevor was left to fumble through things as best he could. Still he found himself straining at the silence now and then, as if he could make a breakthrough and finally understand, crash into an ocean of darkness and see infinitely.

“I know,” Ioana said, her mouth a firm line, eyes burning straight through him and into his soul, trickling down into the run of his blood with the intensity of the look, “which is why I am telling you that.” And she had stood up, brushed her skirts off, and started to walk him to the door. Trevor’s hand went to the letter, tucked in under his coat.

No. She didn’t know. There was absolutely no way.

 

 

 

The ride down was uneventful, other than an odd moment when Adrian grabbed on to him as their cart wobbled. It was going over the threshold of the wall, where old stones had risen up and made a sizable bump. Ioana had always wanted them to add more stones, or more dirt, around the threshold, to make it less jarring; Andrei had resisted, cheerily saying that anybody that sped over it didn’t deserve a peaceful entry into the family estate anyway, or they’d have known about it to start with.

The cart wobbled and jumped, and Ioana’s old servant driving the cart, laden with food and cloth and even some metal goods, had simply rolled with it. Trevor had been about to as well, but Adrian had grabbed at him, his grip like an iron band around his shoulders and on his wrist, and like that they had crossed the threshold.

Adrian’s movements were so odd that Miss Belnades, riding in the cart behind them with the other servants, had called out to ask if he was all right.

“Fine,” he said, tersely, acting as if he were embarrassed. “Merely an unexpected jolt.” Trevor shook himself out from under the man’s hands and gave him a nervous look- he had felt the strong wash of the threshold over him, like a band of pressure stroking down him like a hand down a cat’s back. Perhaps Adrian had felt it differently, despite his claims to not be affected.

Trevor heard the servants in the other wagon whispering something to Miss Belnades, but his mother’s old servant was too stoic to do much more than snag Trevor subtly closer to him, a gnarled finger hooking in the fur of his travelling cloak when Adrian turned to look at the valley spread out to their side. Trevor caught sight of a set of knives under the old man’s coat as he flicked the reins; he didn’t know how to feel about that.

He turned his eyes to Adrian then, but he was gazing at the fields with a far-away, contemplative expression that was strange to see on his handsome face; Trevor let him be. He wouldn’t have known what to say anyway.

 

 

 

Trevor delivered the letter as asked, while Miss Belnades worked with the other women to organize the deliveries and Adrian sweated and flexed with the servants and the Speaker men, lifting things up and putting them down in mysterious spots that were, somehow, special.

Alya had broken the seal without so much as a flicker of suspicion. Trevor would have liked to think that she simply assumed the letter had been snooped in anyway, but he suspected that really it wasn’t anything half as sophisticated as that.

“Thank you,” she said to him, her face unreadable. Trevor stood there staring at her for a moment, a flush creeping up the back of his neck and over his cheeks. She was beautiful, he supposed, too, lovely like Esthe but not in as special and wonderful a way. She was a Speaker born and bred, with dark serious eyes the color of a storm rolling in at night, her lips thin and mouth narrow, her hair always tied back with multiple ribbons but still managing to escape in a frothing, coiling explosion of chestnut curls. Her skin had a hue to it that was unlike any Wallachian’s he had known; Speakers had many tribes all over the world, according to what Esthe had told him, and Alya’s lineage traced back to a mother from an Eastern tribe, far out where they ate things with paired sticks.

Trevor tried to muster the vigor to hate her, but all he could feel was resignation and fear for her, not of her. She had always been kind to him, had played with him and laughed with him and taught him scary stories from other villages like he’d begged her for every year.

“I think it’s supposed to snow tonight,” Trevor said awkwardly, and shuffled away. He felt hot, but he couldn’t tell if it was from embarrassment or a return of the fever.

They had a meal with the camp, and Trevor stuck close to Adrian without ever getting a moment alone to ask him. He tried to get some time with Miss Belnades, but she was busy talking to the other women whenever he came by, and though they folded him into the conversation, it shifted subtly with his presence to form a conversation one could have around a young Wallachian lord, and he hated that.

 

 

 

He’d come home without using his mother’s advice, too, and that buzzed in the back of his skull like a wasp that wanted out.

 

 

 

It’s snowing. He hadn’t said that just to be an idiot; Trevor smelled wet on the wind long before most other members of his family did, even his father. For a time Andrei had held out hope that perhaps Trevor would be a magician, the first of the line in a very, very long time, but nothing more had come of his gift for smelling things. Stela used him to identify old spices, now and then, but past that he could only say that he had a keen nose, sometimes.

He hopes Alya remembers that about him, that she’s dressed accordingly.

Adrian had poured two more drafts of potions down Trevor’s throat under Ioana’s stern eye when they came back, but even she in her muted caution could see that they were working on him as Adrian had described. Trevor has the dark shadows under his eyes like Esthe had gotten, but the fever has been kept low, and his voice has stayed. He’d stayed abed for dinner, which had been a relief at first, but Miss Belnades had brought him his supper and he’d gotten all tongue-tied and had just mumbled shyly and stared at his soup while she covered her mouth with her hands. He knew she was laughing, but he didn’t quite understand why.

Now he sits in bed and listens, bundled up in a sleek dark oiled wool cape he wears on hunts with his father. He’s been waiting a while, legs swinging on the side as he mentally catalogues his fears. He worries at his mother’s words, feeling like a puppy struggling at a bone with a wet marrow, his jaws too small yet to crack the thing open to get at the core of it all. He puts on his cross, partly because he figures he’ll need what help he could get, and partially in an attempt to ameliorate his mother’s fury if she catches him.

He tries not to think of it, but Adrian’s hands on him, steady and hard as steel, make him clutch at his cross. It isn’t fear- he’s gotten grabbed by monsters before, and certainly they weren’t half as friendly as he is. But he’d found it suddenly hard to meet Adrian’s eye after that, just like with Miss Belnades, and he didn’t really know what to make of that.

Except…

There: the softest of treads.

Trevor slides off the bed and slips after her.

 

 

 

The snow is steady by the time Trevor slips into the woods, a wet, sleety downpour that makes a steady hiss as it lands. He knows the spot Esthe and Alya will meet, and well. It’s where they would meet as recently as last summer, before Ioana had found out and then, later, Andrei had. He stays away from that part of the estate now, and he hoped to keep it that way until some of the memories faded.

His father has a furious temper, though it’s rare to see. Trevor hopes that when he’s a grown man with a wife and daughters, he won’t have that kind of wrath simmering in him, lashing along his bones like spat wyvern-fire. He suspects, though, that he will- that monster-hunting begets in a man an ember of flame, and then another, and another, until suddenly you wake up one morning coughing up lava.

Andrei’s never laid a finger on any of his sisters, nor Ioana, and Trevor knows to be grateful for that. He’s never laid a finger on Trevor except to make him toe a line, or learn a move, or just generally to improve him. He knows to be grateful for that too. But even knowing that, he can’t find it in himself to be grateful for what happened last summer.

He’s so caught up in his thoughts that he almost misses the faint sound of a twig snapping.

Trevor wheels around, his knife out, and glares at the forest. In the distance, at the gates of the estate, he can see lights coming up the path: either his father, come home early, or a supplicant looking to hire him. It’s likely a request, though with the lateness of the hour it must be an awfully urgent one. Andrei will be miffed to have missed an important one like that.

“I’m Trevor Belmont,” he growls out to the forest, voice rough with his illness, “and you’d better keep your distance if you like all your fingers and toes together on you.”

Silence.

Trevor suspects that it may be Adrian. Perhaps Adrian with Miss Belnades, even, since wolves aren’t often in the habit of snapping twigs in midwinter sleet storms. But he still feels strange and wiggling inside himself when he thinks of both of them now, mind flashing to Adrian’s strong hands supporting him and Miss Belnades smiling and loud as she helped to organize the goods his mother had sent.

He turns away with a scowl and sets off at a quick trot, chasing after the sinuous sweeping path his sister’s coat has cut into the sleet.

 

 

 

It takes time, but he finally catches up to her. She has her hood up and is crashing along like a lady better-suited to a parlor might, but Trevor walks silently behind her anyway, eyes darting, mind working. Esthe might be useless in the woods, but-

“Alya,” calls Esthe, and she pulls a little lantern out from under her coat and lights it. The gold of her cross at her neck shines optimistically at her neck.

Alya comes to her like an owl, sweeping in swiftly in her feathered cloak and settling next to her as if perched on her arm.

“I wasn’t followed,” she says softly, barely audible above the crackling hiss of the sleet. Trevor works hard to move slowly, gliding out of view rather than making a rush for it. Motion will attract the eye much better than a slink. Esthe might be useless in the woods, but Alya isn’t. Not by a long shot. She’s a huntress for her tribe, and her cloak hosts not just normal bird feathers, but some monster feathers as well.

“My darling, my Alya,” says Esthe, and then she’s pulling Alya to her and kissing her passionately. Trevor’s eyes widen and he darts his gaze away; Ioana and Andrei don’t even kiss like that, or at least, not in front of their children they don’t.

“Wait,” Alya says, but she’s laughing, pulling back, and her lips shine briefly in the lantern light. Trevor feels the sick plummet of dread in him. He works to keep himself upright, his heart fluttering in an urgent tattoo against his ribs. This is worse than he thought. This is… he doesn’t know what he thought. Of course it was this. Of course it was this.

 

 

 

He’d hoped she would have learned from last summer, when Trevor couldn’t walk right for a week from the caning and Esthe’s knuckles and hands were raw and red from the switch, when Andrei had threatened to kill Alya and her mother and her mother’s mother, when he’d threatened to turn them all in as witches.

The last one had made Ioana sweep in, her mouth set hard into a distant smile, and she had seized Andrei’s forearms and dragged him away to their bedroom. He had come to breakfast the next day whistling, and the sisters had been banned from town from then on, not even with servants to accompany them. Perhaps when Trevor was older, Andrei had said, twisting his mustache, as Ioana sat silently at his side, they could go again with him as an escort when he was about. Perhaps.

Nothing more had come of it after that. Simple as that, for Andrei. Trevor had wondered to his sisters, wincing as he prodded a slice that had been taken out of his leg, what magic Ioana had done to change his mind. Stela had given Esthe a look, and Esthe had avoided her gaze, and finally Rozalia had told him that he was going to be an idiot darling of a husband someday. Whatever that meant.

 

 

 

But she hasn’t learned anything, not a single thing at all. Trevor watches them pet at each other and embrace, over and over and over, heedless of the wet, of the cold, of the sleet as it crumples up around them. He bites his lip, feeling awkward, but knowing that now Alya is here, he can’t make too hasty of an exit or find himself caught in her talons. It isn’t just discomfort and awkwardness he’s avoiding- she has her bow slung over her shoulder, and her arrows packed in tight as well. She’s wearing breeches under her hunting cloak, and her soft boots gleam with fresh oil. Alya has taken the owl as her symbol because of her skill at night hunts, and it would be no exaggeration to say that she could easily kill him without even realizing the error in time.

Anger bristles in him, indignation. Esthe’s willing to put the family name to shame, willing to put herself at risk crashing through the woods at night, willing to use Trevor as a go-between without his consent. For what? To kiss some girl? She’ll have to marry a man, produce heirs, just as surely as Trevor will have to marry some woman and produce heirs. They’ll have to have households. She can’t go off and become a Speaker, and in fact, he can scarcely think of anybody less-suited to doing that than his domesticated and sweet sister.

But

But

But

She spins and laughs in Alya’s arms, and when they tuck together and start to walk towards the spring where Andrei found them all last summer, she looks so happy. Esthe is his darling sister, his purest star in the sky, the fount of all his love and the source from which all others flow, and so he can’t do anything but start to cry, silently, in the woods as he watches her walk arm-in-arm with her huntress lover. She’s so happy, and he knows that nothing good will come from this, but he wants it to. The impossibility of it all wells up in him, and he chokes down a sob.

He rubs his arm over his face, hissing defiance against the misery cording up his throat. Of course he’ll say nothing, again. He can’t do anything but. He’s angry at her and her betrayal, but he loves her more than he resents this-

There’s a snap of a twig again, but from behind and off to the side.

Trevor’s head snaps up at the same time that Alya’s head whips around. She tucks herself over Esthe, extinguishing her lantern and shooing her forward in one smooth flick of her wrist.

He can’t hear what they say, but he doesn’t need to.

Andrei steps out of the woods.

“Ladies,” he says, and takes his sword from his back. “What manner of devilry is this? I leave to slay a beast and come back to find an animal has taken to wearing the hide of my daughter.”

“Papa,” Esthe says, all grace and charm, but with a layer of fear from her that Trevor has never heard. He’s never wanted to hear that from anybody he knows, much less directed at him. He knows the tone, though- it’s the voice of an outed monster begging for its life.

“Esthe,” Andrei glowers, and sneering he points his blade at Alya, who lifts her chin to look down on him. She reaches for her bow smoothly, and before Trevor can blink she’s got three arrows tucked between her fingers, ready to fire. “Get away from your whore of a Speaker before I decide six daughters is enough.”

“Lord Belmont,” Alya says, her tone cold, her accent making the ‘t’ drop. “This is all a terrible misunderstanding, I assure you.”

Trevor, crouched in the dark, hesitates- but he can’t let this happen. He has to do something.

“I give you my trust and my hospitality,” Andrei says, starting to walk closer, “and I even send your people supplies, for old time’s sake. And here you are, you little devil, seducing my damned daughter like some kind of fucking succubus-” Alya launches an arrow, but he doesn’t even flinch, just cuts it down in the blink of an eye. His sword makes an audible swoop of wind as he swings it, and while Trevor has always admired his father’s strength, right now he curses it. There’s no way he can fight against Andrei- he’s a prodigy in all matters physical, if he’s honest, and he knows he’ll outpace Andrei in five or less years, but he’s still ten and skinny and lean, still waiting to grow into the skin of the wolf he wants to be.

Esthe screams as the arrow is split, pulls at Alya, and Alya seems to agree, because in the blink of an eye she’s swooping off through the woods, dragging Esthe crashing behind her. Andrei curses and swings his sword back into its sling on his back, starting to chase them, before Trevor makes up his mind and does the dumbest thing he has in a while: he flings himself fleet-footed through the snow and slams into the backs of his father’s legs, bringing Andrei down and buying the girls some time.

Andrei catches Trevor by the chain of his cross as he’s about to be out of reach.

 

 

 

Andrei doesn’t say anything at all until Trevor is lying on his side, heaving, puking up his guts and then coughing up blood, nose running.

“Pick yourself up,” he says, shaking his head, and starts walking after the obvious trail Esthe made in her heavy skirts.

Trevor, groaning, staggers upright and follows. He struggles to keep pace where before he must have rapidly outpaced his father, based on his positioning when he revealed himself.

“Your mother didn’t say a damned thing about this,” he says, pausing to inspect a deer trail before shaking his head and moving on. Trevor knows what he’s thinking- Alya by herself could easily escape, but she wouldn’t leave Esthe, not after Andrei’s burst of fury.

“She didn’t know,” Trevor says, desperately trying to- to- he doesn’t know. Trying to appease his father’s rage, the stuff burning up under him, the leaking hot molten metal that’s creeping into his hands and turning them into tense corded clenching things.

“Typical of her,” Andrei says, speeding up. “Stop moaning like a woman.” Trevor gives a hiccupping little half-sob and tries harder not to.

They walk like that for a long time, until they start to head up the cliffs that border the river. This part of their territory is remote enough that he can hear wolf calls, distantly, and strange night calls from over the river on the unprotected side of the shore. Trevor doesn’t know what Alya was thinking, going this way- but with his father chasing them, with the lord’s daughter in tow, with her tribe thankful for his generosity and the town aware that they would be staying a while since they were flush with supplies….

Trevor realizes with dawning horror that this has all been some kind of spring trap for Esthe, with he himself as the catalyst. Andrei had used him to snare Esthe and Alya into a corner. If he hadn’t insisted on giving the goods over, if Adrian hadn’t subtly pressured her to bend to his will, then Alya and Esthe could have run back to the camp and they all could have vanished into the dark. Trevor reels with the shock of it all, thinking back to what his mother had told him.

If he hadn’t lead Andrei right to them, if he had simply stayed abed and turned a blind eye, none of this would be happening.

She knew. She knew the whole time. She knew and she had asked him to trust her, and he hadn’t been able to hear her words in the silences.

The slap of the realization is almost physical. He moans, low and tormented, and looks up to where his father has paused at the line of trees that borders the high cliff overlooking the freezing torrent of the river.

“Jesus saves,” he says, and dragging a hand over his face turns away and shakes his head.

Trevor feels a faint blossom of hope in him.

“Are we… turning back?”

“Look for yourself,” Andrei says, and taking his sword off his back again swings it at a tree, over and over and over, wordlessly, burning with that hunt-fire that Trevor is so leery of. He’s silent except for grunts as he works, his back turned to Trevor.

Trevor gives him an uncertain look. Hope continues until he notices that Andrei is hacking artlessly at the tree, teeth gritted, tears leaking down and soaking into his mustache. He has a black eye from his hunt, three little scrapes along his mouth that he’s opened with his grimace. Blood is seeping down his chin, mingling with the melted sleet on his face and the slow escape of wetness from his eyes. He doesn’t look at Trevor, eyes distant, focused on a point seemingly far away and very near.

Dread grabs him by the ankles and spurs him. He breaks out of the trees, working to step in his father’s path, and sees three things.

One: the sheer drop of the cliff. The whole western edge of their lands is shielded by a river and high, high cliffs, and though it claims lives here and there, it hasn’t in recent memory.

Two: a small, jutting branch. On a second look, it’s a tree that has ambitiously tried to grow out into space, away from the crushing press of the forest, and it seems to have recently been split, the earth around it pulled loose and a middle-thick branch cracked away from the main trunk.

Three: Esthe’s cross.

Trevor stares numbly at the chain and glint of gold, mind seizing desperately on anything- any reason at all that that would be there. Esthe isn’t like him, doesn’t just leave it off any chance she gets. She loves her cross, set as it is with amethysts and rubies, loves God and sings in church as if thanking the world around her personally for being there, and there it is, hanging snagged and on a snapped edge of a chain beyond where anybody could reach it.

Mind gone numb, he shuffles painfully to the edge of the cliff and peers down. There’s- there’s some dark hair, caught around the branch, and if he strains his eyes he’s sure he can see a faint smear of blood, as if somebody with a cut hand, perhaps from straining through the forest, had tried to hold on but had- slipped-

slipped

His mind is still working, still catching uselessly at loose ends like a wool comb at the tips of a weak fleece, when he sees it-

Caught between some rocks, the river dragging it taut, is Alya’s hunting cloak, and her bow too, broken and smashed, and blood all over and around under.

Trevor reels back, falls on his ass, scrambles back from the edge. He doesn’t even have any room in his mind for what he saw, just stares blankly while the sounds of Andrei behind him quiet and eventually slow. He can hear a hissing of steps in the woods, then Andrei’s grunt of acknowledgement.

“You’re too late,” he says, and, picking up his sword, moves to another tree. “And if you think I’ll ever welcome Speakers on my lands again, you’re damned wrong.” There’s the heavy thunk of a weapon meant for flesh, if monster flesh, meeting wood. Trevor stares blankly ahead, wishing there was anything, anything at all, to numb the wild, reeling, screaming pain surging up under his eyes, flooding his skull, drowning his hearing in the sound of his own blood.

Adrian sweeps past him, leans out, inspects the river, squints, and then draws back hastily. Trevor just sits there, staring, mind gone blank beyond all reason, beyond anything he’s ever felt before. He knows that if he cries aloud he’ll catch another thrashing from Andrei, and right now he doesn’t trust him to stop before he kills his only son alongside his eldest daughter’s riverside grave.

Trevor can’t do anything with himself but stare at the sky, hazy with snow, and vibrate with pain. He wants- if only there were some kind of magical potion to numb him, to make him sleepy and slow and tired, he would drink it all and drink it forever and lie down numb and still, just to quiet this thrashing- burning- burning-

an ember flicks out and catches in him, just the first

Miss Belnades crouches down next to him, finding his bloodied hand, and clenches it in hers. Her face is drawn and she is silent, eyes brimming with tears. Adrian comes back to his other side, reaches out, and Trevor finds himself sitting in the snow, an adult, memories sharper than they have any right to be.

That terrible soundless screaming in him is louder than it has been in a while, that terrible thrashing inside him that hurts like a knife rattling around his mind and cutting endlessly. Trevor swallows, hard, still staring into space.

“I need a drink,” he says, throat raw and scorched with swallowed embers. “I need a fucking drink.”

Chapter Text


 

 

Sypha and Alucard look at him with drawn, worried faces. Trevor looks anywhere but at them, shame and pain and anger burning hot in his belly.

They’ve been walking for ages now, and though the snow is still gentle, nothing is happening. They’re just forging through endless forest, and if Trevor remembers particular humps of snow or turns of path or twists of frozen river from his family estate, he pushes it as far away as he can, turns his back on the familiarity snarling and seething like a wolf with a lamed paw would at the sight of a steel trap.

So they walk, and every time Sypha or Alucard try to speak to him he says nothing, nothing, nothing, because he can’t bring himself to have any faith that anything he says will be anything but lava spilling out and down his front, burning everything in his path.

The sun is risen above them. The forest is silent and still.

 

 

 

Sypha staggers and Trevor and Adrian both rush to catch her. She jolts in their arms, fingers turning pale at the ends, and looks between them both with a worn, tired expression.

“I can’t,” she says, and then she’s twisting and pulling at Trevor and dragging him to her breast, making little hurt noises. He stays still with her over him, her hands twining and wrapping in his hair, and tries to shut his eyes. But: the cross, glinting coldly in the moonlight, appears in front of his eyes.

“You both look like you’re about to fall over,” Alucard says, firmly, and Trevor remains still and cold and unmoving in Sypha’s grasp.

So they make camp.

 

 

 

Trevor clears off the snow for a spot for them to make a fire as best he can, jaw working occasionally. When it does, Sypha glances at him hopefully, but he still can’t bring himself to say anything. He feels stunned into a state of blankness, to the point where even that dark starscape pool inside is unavailable to him. He feels stuck, as if he’s been reading a page over and over and still can’t catch any of the words.

Alucard asks him, quietly, if he wants to talk later, privately. Trevor shakes his head and works his jaw again and bundles up the boughs they’ve cut for a fire in his arms, hoisting them up on his shoulder. He knows, intellectually, that he’s cold and tired and hungry, but all he can feel is a still, leaden weight along his spine. He remembers it, though it feels like it’s been long enough since he experienced it last that it fits oddly on his body now.

 

 

 

Sypha insists on staying overnight in their makeshift clearing, and Trevor can’t bring himself to resist that. He can’t bring himself to resist much of anything. He lies there under the boughs of a larger tree that night, between Sypha and Alucard, and pretends not to hear them anxiously discussing what to do- turn back? Forge forward? Take a rest as best they can? Try to find a cave to shelter in?

None of that is right, Trevor knows. None of that is right. But he can’t find it in him to say anything about it. He can’t find it in him to care. He feels burned-out inside, and he knows it’s from too many years of long-sitting embers, too many years of charring his bones from the marrow up.

He thinks of Esthe’s cool hands on his fevered forehead, squints his eyes shut hard against even the faintest prickle of tears, and finally dips down into muffled unconsciousness. He feels, as if from underwater, the press of Alucard’s hands on his head, the stroke of Sypha’s hands over his ribs.

 

 

 

He sits up thrashing in the middle of the night.

Sypha is sleeping, arms thrown up above her head, mouth open a little and drooling, and Alucard is pressed against him, hair curling in impossible, beautiful arcs of light that any painter would give his left eye to see. Neither of them have reacted to his violent awakening.

Trevor feels a tickle of a smile at his mouth, snorts faintly at the sight. The weight on him eases, has eased as he slept, and though it isn’t gone, it feels less crushing.

“You two,” he says, softly, and he’s glad to know that his voice is still there after all. He’s not a boy, not anymore, and he has people who want to hear him speak up. He has a duty to them to come back, to wander in from the blackness. No matter how long he goes, he has an obligation to return on paths marked. No matter how far between spaces he travels, he’s always welcome when he returns. Trevor looks up to the sky, muted gray with the fuzzed light at the edges of a snowstorm in full froth, and smiles painfully against the faint tickle of cold and wet, eyes closed. On a whim, he sticks out his tongue, and a sliver of snow lands right on the tip.

Fondness drives him to rest a hand on each of their heads. Sypha sniffs and shifts, mouth closing, and Alucard curls tighter to Trevor.

“Gotta piss,” he tells them, practicing to be annoying and loud and crude again, and then on impulse he leans down and kisses first Sypha’s forehead, brushing aside her soft waves of hair to do it, then Alucard’s, teasing at the little flip of a curl he always pretends isn’t there with a finger.

They both shift, and sigh, and when he slithers out from between them they close the gap unconsciously, latching on to one another over the spot where he is. He leaves his cloak where it is, over them like some kind of sleeping animal.

Trevor contemplates them a moment longer. He supposes, when he gets back, that he’ll just wake them up by jamming himself in the middle again. They might be annoyed, but it’s fine. Hell, they might be happy, after the state he was in today.

He walks out a little bit, not far enough to lose sight of them, and shifts his clothing around until he can pull himself out of his pants. Trevor leans back, adjusting his stance, and as he starts to piss he glances up.

Trees, snow, sky. The moon, through the thick branches of infinite stark evergreens.

The forest is quiet enough to give him the willies, drowning in snow as it is. City people have these ideas of forests as solemn walks of quiet, but in his experience, forests have ever only been loud. Screams and wails and flutters, groans and creaks and hisses of wind- there’s always a lot going on in the world of animals and nature, night or day. The lack of noise only serves to underline how unnatural this place is, how touched by Baba Yaga the land is. Trevor half wonders, as he gives himself a little shake and tucks himself back in, layer under layer under layer, if the land is even real, or if it’s just another mental amalgamation the old bitch has teased out from them like so many pain-darkened wheatberries from the chaff.

Why is she doing this? What’s her game? Trevor thinks back to his first meeting with her, in the dark, with the bottle in his hand and the storm picking up outside. He thinks back to his rant as best he can, flushing when he traces over the rawness of that feeling. Even though he feels more together now than he has in… a long time, the brutal edge of putting his life on the line for a country that doesn’t want him cuts against his throat.

Trevor frowns, resting his head in his hands.

They’ve been traipsing through memories, and they’ve been getting closer (hell, about as close as he figures anybody can get, really), and underneath it all, there’s some kind of undercurrent, some kind of consistent thread, isn’t there?

What had he said? What had he said, while she stretched out paper-fine and ink-thick along the ceiling, undulating and shivering into existence as he talked?

He’d spoken of his love for country, despite the wounds it had left on him. He’s spoken of his family name, and that, too, was despite the wounds it had left on him. He’d talked, glancingly, of his inability to truly understand Sypha and Alucard, hadn’t he? And he’d talked of what he considered his ultimate weakness- that he didn’t know what to do, that he was faltering in spirit and will.

Trevor curses and looks over the sleeping forms of his companions- still prone, still quiet.

And what had he said to her, the second time they had met? The time when, after breaking his body and shattering his strength, she had come and set herself by the fire, had him fetch for her like a grandson to a valued old matron. Before she had set eternal darkness on them, and endless snows, and memories of their darkest days, what had they talked of then?

They had spoken of the hardness of the days, Trevor remembers. And he had said, like an idiot, that you could only endure, and there was no such thing as an endless night. Well. She had sure showed him, hadn’t she?

Trevor paces in a little circle, hand sliding to his whip, mind working at his own memory in little chopping bites.

He had told her of their task. She had pressed on the why, if it was about Sypha and Alucard, and he had told her…

Well, he hadn’t actually told her anything, had he? He had only been able to think about it, but she’d gotten that from him anyway.

Trevor chews on that some more, scuffing at his own footsteps on the snowy pine needle floor.

She had asked the why, why he was motivated to do this thing he’d already indirectly told her he was uncertain of.

The why, the why, the why…. For Trevor, it came down to a painful reality for him: that he was more than simply beholden to his family name. That he wanted to help, that he had that seed of a desire for healing and growth no matter how shame-facedly he wished he could be a pure cynic, that he wanted to clear the space for his country to recover from its long illness and flourish and prosper again. That he wanted happiness and joy again, not just for himself, but for everybody in his homeland.

And what had he had to walk through, in the fields of his memories? The reality of his family life, that it was in fact just a name only; an inheritance and an honor and a badge of pride, but nothing he had ever come home happy to, not like he could with-

it’s too early for happy endings like that, Trevor tells himself, head whipping around to stare at the sleeping heads of Sypha and Alucard anyway-

But he’s got something here, now that he thinks on it. Trevor frees his whip, shakes it about a bit, furrowing his brow.

Sypha’s memory had been about being kidnapped, and threatened, and the defense her own powers had given her, a power she would work over the years to hone into a powerful tool. Alucard’s memory had been about understanding his place in his family, and even if that place was below his mother in his father’s eyes, the love there was still unmistakable, strong and driving.

Power, and love. And his memory- duty, if he boils it down in the same way.

But he’s still missing something, and the frustration drives him to snap his whip at that luminous moon visible through the branches of the trees, a moon that simply shouldn’t be so clear and so bright through a forest of boughs and a snowstorm staining the sky gray.

Baba Yaga screams furiously, her other eye flashing open, and she claws her way down the trunk of the tree like a squirrel, or, more accurately, like a centipede wearing the bloodied skin of a squirrel.

Trevor shudders to look on her, but he finds that if he focuses on the edges of where she is rather than the whole of the vision, it’s easier.

She crouches before him with a bloodied eye, dripping her black witch-blood onto the snow and hissing like a snake, her mouth yawning open to display too many teeth of too many types- long and slender fangs, pillars of white like her precious pestle, strange shifting spikes that look like parodies of monster teeth like Trevor has seen in some older illuminated bestiaries.

“Wake up, sleeping beauties, we have some company-“ Trevor shouts, and strikes out with his whip, putting a defense between Baba Yaga and his sweet idiot companions, who had sat up at the strike of his whip and had scrambled to their feet at her scream. Baba Yaga is reaching out with infinite limbs, unending stringy clawing hands and slithering fat-rippled boneless fingers edged with useless short blood-red nails, and Trevor is striking them all down, slicing and beating them back just barely with the power of the Belmont holy whip and his own hard-earned skill, paid for in coin by his blood and his tears and his suffering.

“You lovely darling children,” Baba Yaga laughs at them all, rearing up to too-tall just-right too-small height, and at the sight of her Sypha shudders and shakes her head furiously, but she reaches out and lights up the witch on fire anyway. Trevor shifts to allow Alucard up behind him safely, just the faintest pause in his defensive striking, and in that moment Baba Yaga snaps one of her manacle-hands around his ankle.

“TREVOR,” screams Sypha, lighting the limb on fire and hitting the wrist with ice, and damn if that isn’t one of the most impressive displays of distinctive elemental control Trevor’s seen from her yet,

but alas, the mighty hunter Belmont is dragged off his feet to the sounds of Alucard’s furious yell and Sypha’s enraged screaming, and suddenly the forest is zipping past his head at a speed so far beyond horse-gallop that Trevor can only take it in with fractured awe.

There’s a beat, and then another, as his mind starts to catch up to the speed. He realizes that he’s being dragged somewhere, that Baba Yaga is withdrawing with him in her claws, and he feels a lurch of fear in his belly that quickly slides up his throat and turns into him vomiting when they stop moving abruptly.

“Children are so dramatic,” she sighs, and he feels too many hands smoothing circles on his back, all of them with too-many too-few fingers or bumps and ridges in the wrong places, and it makes him puke again.

He’s still quaking on the ground, heaving up what little remains of food he has in him, when he hears the clank of heavy, solid metal. Groping for the whip no longer at his waist loses Trevor the precious seconds he needs to make a run for it, and it’s with a cry of mingled fury and indignation that he’s scruffed and pulled backwards, thrown into something and shaken around like a cat in a sack until Baba Yaga does something that makes a nice loud squeal and ‘SNKT’ like a gate slamming and latching.

“Give me a break,” he wheezes, panting and trying not to throw up again, cheek pressed to…. Metal?

The ground under him starts to sway, and Trevor looks around with some confusion. Metal rods surround him in a circle, and under him is a solid metal plate, and above him where all the rods come together, there’s a loop, like where you’d put the loop on a bird-

“Fuck me sideways on the mountain on ice,” Trevor groans.

He’s in an oversized birdcage.

“Beautiful boys always do have grimy mouths,” Baba Yaga says from somewhere up above, in the darkness, and she throws a cloth over the cage, like you’d cover a fucking canary.

“FUCK NO,” Trevor yells out of sheer defiance, and spends the rest of the trip trying to make the cage swing and sway and just generally be as unmanageable as possible. It’s hard, since there’s not a lot of room to move about, only enough for him to sort of crouch in place. It also serves to clarify that no, he’s not about to bust out of his reinforced jail cell, the metal so thick as to almost be sarcastic.

He sure hopes that Alucard and Sypha pick up his whip. And, uh, come after him, and rescue him.

Fuck.

 

 

 

Trevor blinks himself awake hours later. He’s come in and out of consciousness, the dark rush of however they were travelling pressing heavily on him, sapping his strength and making his eyes ache with exhaustion. He has a hazy memory of Baba Yaga clanging through what sounded… sort of? Like a gate, but not one made of any materials he would make one out of. At that point he snaps awake fully and strains his eyes, craning his neck to see if he can make anything out.

Supposedly, Baba Yaga lives in a hut on chicken feet, or a chicken feet, one behind a fence make of human bones. Trevor can’t say much about either of those, not from under his canary-cover. What he can say is that she seems to have a lot of actual chickens, all of them curiously small even compared to Trevor himself. He catches sight of a few as she walks in her yard and the cloth catches on the fence, lifting up just for a second.

There are small chickens in all sorts of odd colors everywhere, crowded in together dense and clucking and moving like sheep, all clustered up. Some of them are the hot red of ripe apples, and those are the most normal colors he sees- there’s a chicken the color of half-ripe raspberries and a belly of summer-sky blue, and a whole bunch of chickens with splatterings of rich pink and purple and orange and blue, like somebody had taken a paintbrush and just flicked dollops of paint at them for hours on end.

There are chickens everywhere, including standing along the shores of a small, well-kept pond that seems to have some kind of undulating serpentine shape coming out of it, bowing towards Baba Yaga like a favorite servant greeting its master.

Trevor is still drinking that whole scene in when the canary-cover flutters down again, and he makes a groan of frustration.

Baba Yaga gives his cage a quick swirl, which presses Trevor to the bars. He tries to stick an arm out and pull the cover off, so at least he can see where he’s being taken, but one of Baba Yaga’s skeleton-claw fingers with the spoon-wide nails swims up under the cloth after him and seizes his arm. She gives him a little jerk and he finds, to his sudden shaky-breathed horror, that she’s got his arm pinned against the bars in such a way as to break it straight in half if she so chooses.

“Keep your little sticky fingers in your home, my boy, or I may find that I care not to prepare and cook and eat you all in one piece,” she sings, and gives a little tug, and Trevor shudders. The intention is clear: forget breaking his arm, she’s threatening to rip it straight off.

“Didn’t realize you even planned to eat me at all,” he drawls, to hide his fear, “I thought a Belmont would be too stringy and tough for your tastes, old lady,” and the nails tighten on him. He feels the blood rush from his head, starts to try to jerk his arm back. That’s not a fight he should have picked. Fuck. Fuck.

She lets him go and swirls the cage again, chuckling lowly.

“You don’t need all four of those skinny little arms to sit in my belly,” Baba Yaga tells him, and Trevor is too nervous of what she might do to him to point out that only two of his limbs are arms.

There’s more motion as there’s a sound like a door opening, though that, too, sounds creaky and wooden but in an off way, like it’s got a resonance to it that is a little too bell-like, crystal-twinkling, to be a nice, normal door. Trevor figures that it might be better off that he’s been canary-covered, because the sound hurts his ears in a nice way, makes him want to listen to it over and over again, makes strange icy chills race down his spine that don’t stop for several minutes. He doesn’t want to know what the sight of the door might have done to him.

There’s a lifting sensation, and another metal creak, before the cover of his cage is whipped off and Trevor is tilted on his side, yelling in protest and struggling desperately for freedom when he’s grabbed from seven and more angles by limbs hard and soft, pushed this way and that, freed from his cage only to be dumped into a larger, yet more solidly-built one.

Baba Yaga bolts the cage door, gives a satisfied sigh, and stretches. Trevor wants to look away, but all he can see is confused angles on clothing that doesn’t make sense, the tremulous wobble of that strange nodule between her eyes, the flex and lift and sigh of an old body packed into a sight his brain literally can’t make sense of. His eyes start to water and his nose springs with wetness, and he feels his knees buckle as Baba Yaga rolls her thousands-and-just-one shoulder, easing her pestle out of her hands and into the corner. It’s still smeared with crystal-red-gold shards here and there. He drops to his knees, feeling his heart fluttering in his ribs unevenly in a way he’s never felt before, but he can’t stop looking: blackened thumbs and swollen fat elbows, arms dripping skin like it’s liquid, shoulders rolling into craggy sheafs of rock that sprout young trees, bone spurs and hooves coming out at odd angles that reach and grab for a massively large silver hairbrush hanging on the wall

Trevor passes out, and is glad of it.

 

 

 

When he next comes to, he’s alone. He sits up, clutching his head, and examines the blood coating him. Nothing too fresh, which means he stopped bleeding from the nose relatively quickly.

He looks around the cage, stands up when he realizes he can. It’s yet another bird cage, this one large enough that he can take three long paces before he’s from one edge to the other. There’s a big heavily-latched door at the front, and he dashes to it and spends several minutes trying to wrestle it open before he realizes that the bolt is a shot of metal as big as his body, and he’s got about as much chance of forcing that up as he is of spontaneously discovering that he’s got magical talent.

So he paces, and kicks the bars, and wrestles with them, and even tries to bite them. Nothing does much of anything, and so finally Trevor throws himself down and looks around, panting and exhausted but damned ready for his second wind.

The house is compact enough, if on a different scale than human, with a front door that looks like a night sky on a cold, clear winter dawn. Trevor stares at it in awe for a long moment before realizing that it has a tiny chicken door in the bottom, and one-by-one the tiny birds are stepping in and out, as if they own the place. They really are small, he realizes- they would probably only come up to just above his ankle, even on him. To Baba Yaga, who seems to fluctuate size but never truly diminish below the size of a small tree, they must seem so small as to be sparrows.

The room his cage is in seems to be the only one on this floor. There’s a staircase leading up behind the table his cage is on, and in front of him, a kitchen with a single comfortable chair and knitting with entirely too many needles to be reasonable coming out of it at odd angles. Trevor himself is neither good at knitting nor practiced, but he’s well-versed enough to know that the most he’s ever seen on a sock at one time is four plus the work needle, and here he sees nine straight ones and then a strange pair with a swirly glass core jutting out like they’ve been stabbed into the woolen monstrosity to stake it to the ground. Trevor stares at it for a moment longer, uncertain if he’s actually seen the knitting shudder or if his nerves have just gotten the best of him.

Oh. Oh, it yawned and all those needles came forward like a strange conical toothed mouth, and now it’s turning around on woolen half-knitted feet, and…. Okay. That’s. Okay.

In an effort to distract himself from the terrifying possibility that the knitting might take an interest in him and eat him, Trevor looks about some more. The chair the knitting in is absurdly tall, stretching up far beyond anything that should be able to fit in the room. When he traces it with his eye, he just keeps going up and up and up, until he realizes he’s craning his neck and snaps his eyes away and down again.

The fire in the hearth is normal enough, if large enough to roast entire houses in. It’s on the same rough scale as the table his cage is resting on, though, so Trevor supposes that’s…. something. At least some things make spatial sense in this glorified optical illusion.

His main takeaway is that everything is big. Baba Yaga runs a tidy ship, and honestly, he’d been expecting less, uh, fluorescent chickens and clean corners and more skulls and piles of rotting flesh. He supposes that the witch herself is horror enough, and the thought comforts him somewhat.

Then the knitting snatches up a chicken that’s wandered close with a loop of thread, and Trevor watches aghast as it latches on to the bird, looping it up in thread tendrils of yarn like a spider would wrap up its prey.

The bird starts struggling, trying to fight, little purple-green spotted wings flailing uselessly against clutching fine tendrils of yarn, and Trevor winces. He’s happy enough to eat chickens, but these are so small, and so defenseless against the clinging horror of that knitting (?) monstrosity, that he can’t help but feel for the guy. Besides- he’s always killed them with one stroke. Whatever that thing is about to do to the bird, he doubts it will be kind, or pretty.

The ambient noise of the room fades away except for the crackle of the fire, and Trevor’s keenly-honed sense of danger screams.

All the chickens have fallen silent, and as one they turn towards their now-squawking brethren. Something about the way they all move together makes Trevor shudder- it looks less like a herd of docile animals and more like a collective, one of keen and assessing intellect. The needle-mouthed knitting monster picks up two of its lumps that may be ears, twitching this way and that, and it leans in close and starts to swallow the chicken it’s caught in the manner of a heron- head back, needles gaping like an open beak, throat flexing to pull the animal in.

The chickens swirl as one around the chair, forming a torrent of feathered bodies in such a blur that their colors merge together into a muzzy brown. Trevor blinks, realizes he’s clutching his arms to his shoulders defensively, and watches silently as the chickens, still in their rushing mass, scramble up the chair and slice the knitting into ribbons, sending bits of wool everywhere. It only takes an instant to reduce the knitting to nothingness, the whole event silent except for the constant thunder of dozens and dozens of tiny chicken feet moving at wholly unnatural speeds. Then, as suddenly as they started, the chickens slow and stop again, making contented chicken noises and loitering off to do whatever it is tiny collective-minded chickens do when not brutally murdering magical constructs.

 The original seized chicken arises from a nest of woolen fluff and shakes itself stoically. Giving one serious ‘cluck,’ it hops off the chair and back down to peck at the floor.

Trevor swallows. He isn’t sure he likes chickens anymore.

 

 

 

He dozes, nervously inches away when some chickens flutter up on the table, dozes again. He’s thirsty and hungry but hell if he’s going to try to attact Baba Yaga’s attention to get that taken care of. Trevor still hasn’t figured out how to get out of here, but the doorway dawnscape has given way to a pastoral scene of sheep with long black ears and flicking black hooves with too many joints. He hopes that it’s a way to keep track of time, because the house doesn’t have any windows, no escape route but that tiny chicken door and the larger imposing bulk of the magical entrance. He hopes that Alucard and Sypha can find him. He hopes that the chickens don’t decide to shred him. Hell, he hopes that Baba Yaga doesn’t come back.

He hopes for a lot of things, but has precious little faith in any of them.

 

 

 

The next time he wakes up, he’s got a chicken on his head. Trevor nervously reaches up and picks it up, two-handed and over the pastel yellow-turquoise wings, but for all that it reacts he could have been on the other side of the moon.

The room is getting colder. The fire in the hearth is getting lower, and nobody has appeared to refuel it. When he thinks on it, he supposes it makes sense that a witch might sleep all day and go out at night, even a major witch like Baba Yaga. Dracula recognized her in Alucard’s memory as a fellow monster, after all, and monsters near-universally preferred the night.

So, he had a little time, perhaps, before she would wake up and perhaps cook him? And? Eat him?

… If he’s honest, it all seems a little anti-climactic. For all that she’s been terrorizing him, he’d expected a fate a little more existential. To simply cook and eat him is hardly welcome, but it seems awfully low-grade horrifying for a witch whose mere physical appearance apparently breaks his sanity in half.

Trevor turns his gaze to the chicken still sitting mildly in his hands, then to all the chickens muttering and picking and sauntering about.

“… I’m going to eat my words on that one before I get out of here, aren’t I?” says Trevor resignedly to the chicken. It blinks at him, turns its head this way and that, and- smiles.

He screams and throws it away from him, standing back and on his feet as far as he can get from the bird before he knows it.

The bird bounces a little, catches itself, and turns its head this way and that to look at him. Trevor shivers, partially because of the cold, and partially because he’s only got his short knife and his throwing knives on him, and in a true melee situation, they’re all but useless.

“Cluck,” it says to him, and it sounds like a person saying the word, but mockingly, which is really all the confirmation that he needs to break out into a cold sweat and deeply regret everything in his life that’s led to this moment.

He hunkers down again when the bird makes no major motions towards him, because the hearthfire is dying down and turning blue-black, which he’s pretty sure isn’t normal but is so far the least weird thing that he’s seen in this hellpit of a house.

“Fuck,” Trevor sighs, and rests his head on his knees. So far, from what he’s seen, he doesn’t have the slightest idea of how to get himself out of this situation. His cage is well-made, the door is both too large and too small to escape from, and there are no windows.

There’s a flutter and then the soft ‘fmp’ of a weight settling on the back of his neck. Trevor tenses, but, at least for now, it does indeed just seem like the terrifying chicken is simply sitting on him.

Well. He can’t blame it. It is getting cold in here.

Trevor sits and puzzles over Baba Yaga’s house, trying to think up some kind of daring plan to escape. He’s stymied by the fact that, at least for now, there’s precious little he knows, certainly not enough to safely secure an exit. He needs to know more about this place and its rules in order to break them properly, but he can feel the danger breathing down his neck with every second longer he spends here.

He shivers. The hearth is fully consumed by black fire now, and the temperature is dropping rapidly. He’s glad he left his cloak with Sypha and Alucard, in case they need it, in case there’s a storm that Baba Yaga’s called down on them, but damn if he doesn’t wish he had anything more on than the shirt on his back and the new woolen pants Sypha sewed him. The terror chicken on the back of his neck is rapidly becoming the warmest focus point on his body.

Trevor shivers himself into a half-drowse, the cold seeping into his limbs slowly. He can’t tell if the hearth fire is eating warmth or is serving some other function, but he can feel his thoughts slowing, can feel the ice sliding up his fingers and toes.

He starts to feel sick with the cold, nausea clenching his gut, and then sleepy, dazed and slow and stupid. He knows he should get up, should pace, but the sickness is still coiling in him, and the tiredness that’s seizing his body is unconquerable. A few more chickens come up and cluster at his ankles, and Trevor is too paralyzed by the chill to do much more than shift so they can snuggle closer. They may be terrifying, but when they’re not smiling and speaking, they’re cute enough. Trevor is cold and lonely and his mind is winding down, running slow like molasses, and if he’s honest, he’s still feeling brittle and hurting from his memory-walk. He needs the comfort, even if it’s from terror chickens. When more and more chickens start to pop up, he has a dim thought: perhaps they’ll swarm him and eat him, or crush him to death.

But he’s so tired, and so cold, and so worn out, that he can only sigh and bend further under the weight of more and more chickens scrabbling up his back to rest on his shoulders, on his arms, on his head and his knees and his legs.

They reach a point where the chickens on him warn the others off, though, and Trevor realizes that they might be simply defending their territory, but he’s relieved he doesn’t have to worry about death via chicken crushing. Of all the ways the Belmont line could end, that is absolutely one of the stupidest, most humiliating ways he can imagine going.

Trevor passes the day like that, shivering under a rotating crowd of tiny chickens. He wakes around what looks to be noon based on the door, spends some time pacing and straining at the bars, watches the knitting as it slowly, agonizingly re-winds its yarn and starts to knit itself back from nothingness. If he wasn’t so damned terrified by literally everything in the house, including his own current state of defenselessness, it would be interesting.

“We’re friends, right?” he asks the chicken who first sat on him, and the bird refrains from smiling but does give a mocking little laugh that creeps Trevor out so much that he gently pushes the bird out of his cage. He hops right back in and dogs Trevor’s heels until the next time he sits down, after which he resumes his perch on Trevor’s spine.

He jolts back into awareness at what is- by the door- sunset. There’s a flurry, a rush of motion, and then the whole house jumps as the front door is flung open by Baba Yaga, her arms stretching down down down from the top of the stairs. Trevor shrinks back under his fine dusting of chickens, but to his mingled frustration and relief, he only catches the back of her as she scuttles off out the door, thundering it shut hard behind her as if to convince Trevor to stay put. She’s singing as she goes out, and it makes Trevor feel low to know that it’s the song his mother used to hum when she would knead her doughs out in the early morning, before most of the servants even were up.

He doesn’t know if that’s a song she simply knows, or if she plucked it out of his head like a ripe plum. He hopes it’s the former, suspects it’s the latter.

Trevor spends some more time observing the house. He’s pretty sure that he won’t luck out when Baba Yaga returns today- this house shows signs of use, of living, even if monstrous living. Baba Yaga may have not spent time down here last night, but she likely will today. Hell, for all he knows she’s collecting ingredients to simmer him down in.

 

 

 

Perhaps an hour after Baba Yaga storms out, there’s a small commotion at the chicken door that makes him jump, dislodging and scattering his current guests. Trevor dusts off a few aqua feathers with white polka dots and cranes his neck, trying to see what’s happened. Most likely it’s some kind of chicken drama, but like hell is he going to miss his one chance to escape because he’s pretending to be too dignified to look at chickens being assholes to each other.

As Trevor strains to see what caused the commotion, something shoots through the air towards him, and a sharp, shrill noise hits his ears. Already made cautious by the most consistently weird past few hours of his life, Trevor flinches back, hand going for his long knife.

The thing comes closer, flies nimbly through the bars of his cage, lands on the ground and does the weird there-and-not thing that Alucard does-

And then there he is, standing tall and beautiful and present, Alucard, right in front of him.

Trevor,” he says, his golden eyes burning with happiness and worry and Trevor lunges for him, wraps his arms around his neck and pulls him in and buries his face in Alucard’s mane. He feels like he should have words, but the bright golden pool of relief in him runs overfull and streams from his heart to his mouth, rendering him mute with surprise. He had told himself that they would come for him, he had told himself that he would have to rely on them, but if he was honest, he hadn’t actually had faith. And yet, here Alucard is, and for him to be this calm, Sypha-

“Sypha has your whip,” Alucard tells him, embracing him carefully, hands roaming up and down Trevor’s body, pressing gently in key places. It feels like he’s checking for injuries. “You’re covered in blood.” Sypha and Alucard are fine, and they came, they really came, they actually came to a witch’s house to rescue him. Trevor’s hands clench on Alucard’s clothing, feeling dizzy with the flush of pleasure that’s come from having his faith rewarded, for once.

“It’s fine,” he says, and takes in a deep breath and gets a whiff of the particular smell that Alucard carries around with him, which is just Alucard, and it eases the ache of fear he’s had since he was dragged off by his toes at nine million inches a second by a legendary witch-goddess. “Where is she? Is she somewhere safe?”

“Hiding until I return with more information,” Alucard agrees. “I am so glad-“

“I missed you,” Trevor says, and some of what he really means must leak out from his eyes, or in his voice, or something, because Alucard leans down and looks at him, his golden eyes piercing Trevor through, and then he leans further down and kisses him, tipping Trevor’s chin up with a hand and pulling him close with the other, pressing their bodies together and twining their tongues. Trevor gives a surprised little moan into the kiss, which only makes Alucard tighten his hold on him possessively, give his lip a little nip. He sways his body against Trevor’s and pin him back against the bars of the cage, boxing him in. Alucard shifts his legs to further trap Trevor against him, which personally Trevor thinks is just overkill when he’s in a literal cage.

He’s also reasonably sure he shouldn’t be this turned on in a cage owned by a witch that wants to eat him, being ravished by the vampire son of the vampire prince of darkness that’s currently trying to kill every living human in his home country, while endless throngs of rainbow terror chickens watch them with a possibly collective consciousness. But, Trevor decides, feeling resigned but in a cheery way, this is his life now, and he might as well just own it.

Alucard pulls back and looks at him, licking his lips. Trevor clutches at his shoulders, panting.

The chickens make a collective “oooooooh” noise, like a crowd of immature teenagers.

Alucard’s eyes narrow, and without turning his head he slides his eyes about, taking them all in. He turns his gaze back to Trevor and raises a single eyebrow. It is the clearest non-verbal ‘explain’ he’s ever seen in his life.

“I don’t fucking know,” he says, shrugging helplessly. “But be careful- I just saw them tear apart some kind of knitting monster, and I don’t want to fight them if I can help it. There’s just too many.”

“Hm,” Alucard says, and leans down again and kisses Trevor again, less burning and demanding and more slow, intimate, as if trying to reassure himself of Trevor’s safety, of his presence in front of him and under his hands.

The chickens “oooooooh” again. There’s a clear wolf-whistle this time.

“Please get me out of here,” Trevor begs.

Immediately,” Alucard says, turning to glare at their audience.

Chapter Text


 

Escaping from a witch’s house is easier said than done, it seems. Alucard is able to open the latch of the cage easily, thanks to his stupid ridiculous strength, but they both agree to leave it latched until they think of a plan. Neither of them knows what Baba Yaga’s daily itinerary is filled with, but she’s bound to come back at some point, and it’s better for Trevor if she thinks he’s perfectly stuck if she happens to catch them off-guard.

Alucard is leery of the chickens, worrying if they’re some kind of dispersed familiar. Trevor frankly hasn’t the foggiest what the shit that means, but he lets the nerd vampire fret about it while he scours the room once more, trying to formulate a plan.

“I came in through the chicken door,” Alucard says, pointing, squeezing next to Trevor as if losing immediate physical contact with him will cause some obscure disaster to occur. Trevor doesn’t mind, but hell if he’ll admit it. Turns out being dragged about in a cage makes a man crave comfort; who knew?

“I sure as hell can’t- wait. How did you manage that?” Trevor squints at the door, then turns and looks Alucard up and down indignantly. He gestures with his hands, just to emphasize the point.

“Oh,” he says, trying for airy but ending up looking like a dog caught about to eat a chicken, “I can also, hm, turn into, as it goes, other things.”

Trevor leans back and narrows his eyes.

“Other things like what?” He swears to god, if Alucard can turn into a horse and he’s just been holding out on them….

“A bat,” he says, meekly, and abruptly turns very pink and starts to study the chickens clustering by the hearth.

“Okay,” Trevor says, “and….?” because he’s both neutral on this revelation and confused by Alucard’s reaction.

“It’s just a bit, ahem, perhaps, if one were to perhaps follow the thread of that thought….”

Trevor waits, his expression shifting from unmoved befuddlement to befuddled annoyance.

“… it is, not to put it too bluntly, just a bittoostereotypicalformytastes,” finishes Alucard, and though everything is crisply enunciated as always, he spits it out so fast that Trevor takes a moment to sort through it.

“Hang on, and a wolf isn’t?”

“When I was younger I hoped for centipedes,” Alucard says defensively, those hooded gold eyes fixing earnestly on Trevor’s.

“Centipedes can’t fly,” says Trevor automatically, and then really, sincerely hopes that’s true.

“True,” Alucard agrees, looking somewhat crestfallen for unknown reasons.

“So you can turn into a bat, too. That’s… handy,” Trevor admits, rolling his head back and forth to loosen his neck up. “Anything else you can do that you haven’t shared with the class?”

There’s a brief silence. Trevor looks up at Alucard. Alucard gives him a slow, meaningful smile that’s just a hair shy of menacing, his gaze projecting a peculiar sort of heat that makes Trevor recall the cage against his back.

Well,” he says, but doesn’t say anything else.

Trevor gives him a dirty look, hanging his arms out of the cage, the literal fucking bird cage, he’s stuck in. Alucard blinks, long and slow, at him.

“Can we actually get out of active danger before you start doing whatever it is you’re doing?”

“Yes,” Alucard says, expression sliding into seriousness. “You are correct, of course.”

“About time,” he grumbles. “Since her house is just a bit too big,” Alucard raises an eyebrow at the understatement of scale, “I wonder if I could fit myself into something she’d bring out of the house with her. Weird, the whole ‘no windows’ thing, given how fucking loaded with glass our lodgings were.”

“There are windows on the exterior of the house,” Alucard tells Trevor, nestling in close again. Trevor huddles in as well, and if he’s called on it, he’ll say it’s for warmth, thanks. Chickens can only do so much, and while he knows Alucard runs colder than he or Sypha do, after a long day of huddling under tiny birds for warmth, the vampire feels positively cozy. “Given that her powers seem to focus around warping space to yield to memory, it makes sense that her house would make little sense on the inside as it relates to the exterior.”

Trevor thinks of that soundless house, the way noises didn’t carry in any way, let alone a way that made sense. He thinks of pounding on the front door and screaming, and then leaning on the stool while Baba Yaga chatted with him about the current state of the world.

Eating him is a ruse, he decides, or not the whole truth. She’s got other plans. Why a birdcage?

“I guess our first order of business should be figuring out this damned place as best we can,” he says, melting into Alucard’s arms as he folds his coat around Trevor. He’s frowning. “Maybe we can find something. I still think my best odds are to have the old hag smuggle me out herself. No way am I fitting through that door.”

“Why are you so cold?” Asks Alucard, rubbing his hands up and down Trevor’s arms.

“Who cares?” Trevor scoffs.

“Considering I was feeding a younger version of you a fever reducer less than a day ago, I do,” Alucard says. Trevor jerks.

“Can we not- talk about that right now?”

There’s a brief silence, though the chickens continue to make soft noises all about them. The cold black fire in the hearth continues to burn, sending oddly spiky shadows up when it pops.

“I want to…” Alucard starts, then pauses, seeming to reconsider. Trevor braces for impact. “Your father… was hard on you,” he says, carefully.

“Holy Christ on a Roman flatbread,” Trevor says, trying to draw back. There’s not a lot of room for him to, not in a cage.

“I don’t mean to- to- speak ill of the dead,” Alucard tries, but Trevor shakes his head, holds up his hands and pushes Alucard away. He goes, unwillingly.

“Hold your fucking tongue, then, and let’s skip this chat. My father did everything he could to prepare me for a life of monster hunting, which by the way we’re actually in the middle of right now,” and fuck all if he wanted to do this right now, but here they were.

“Your father broke your arm, overworked you among other sins, and killed your sister,” Alucard says, temper flashing. Trevor rears back as if he’s been hit- the words do feel like a physical blow, and though he’s dragged himself back from that blankness, has resisted the lure of walking the darkness, there’s only so much mental fortitude a man can have in one stressful day. He shies away from Esthe’s memory still, can’t handle that, can’t handle talking about that right now. But anger- anger is close at hand, and he seizes on that like a dog, worrying and tearing at it to keep himself here, heedless of the blood he spills as he does it.

“My father was trying to give me anything at all he possibly fucking could to keep me from being killed before my balls dropped,” Trevor seethes.

“My father managed to give me similar tools,” Alucard says, growing cool in his own anger, “and he never broke a bone in my body to do it.”

“That’s not even close to the same thing-“

“My father-“

“YOUR FUCKING FATHER IS THE REASON I HAD TO GROW UP THAT WAY,” yells Trevor, and regrets it instantly. He keeps going anyway, because, who knows, fuck personal growth and fuck good decisions, apparently.

It’s Alucard’s turn to jump back, and he does it well, pressing back against the bars of the cage, hands finding the bars. His eyes have gone very wide.

“Your father- fucking Dracula!- is a fount of monsters and darkness and black magic. Deny it all you want, but it’s the goddamned truth. Things appear here in Wallachia that don’t anywhere else because of his castle’s presence. I am glad you had a good childhood, with a loving set of parents, tucked in the bosom of monsters, but I’m also glad my father taught me what I needed when I needed it to not fall to the fangs, and the claws, and the venom, and the magic, of all the monsters you grew up alongside as friends. Every time my father rode out, we never knew if this would be the time he didn’t come back and the next monster I would have to handle by myself, so every time I trained, it had to count. If that means I got a little banged up, so be it.”

Trevor’s heaving for breath, but he keeps going, spreading his arms to gesture to himself: “And I swear to god but if I hear one more thing about my father breaking my arm- I’m a normal fucking human, Alucard! I can’t do magic and I don’t heal in the blink of an eye! You’ve said it yourself, haven’t you?! I’m just a man, and I might be the last fucking son of the Belmonts, but Belmont blood sure doesn’t seem to do anything special!

He bites his lip and turns away, raising an arm to scrub at his face.

The room is incredibly, deeply silent.

Alucard exhales, low, slow, cautious. Even the chickens are softly shuffling, no clucks or scuffles to be heard.

“I’m sorry I said that about your father,” Trevor says, voice muffled by his sleeve. “I like you just fine.”

“Are you crying?” Asks Alucard, sounding nervous.

Trevor makes an angry noise and shakes his head.

There’s another beat of silence.

“You’re not wrong,” says Trevor, feeling miserably charitable simply by the fact that apparently he’s scared the shit out of the son of Dracula. “My father was- crap, he was just- crap.” He leans against the bars of the cage again, tucking his head against the cold metal. “But it’s more than just that. He did his best. It just wasn’t good enough. Nothing close to. But I don’t know what possibly could be good enough in the situation we were in. Monsters at the rear, the church at the fore, and nowhere else to go. We would have fallen to either one eventually.”

He finally turns his head and looks at Alucard expectantly. Alucard is watching Trevor uncertainly, apprehension riding him like a cloak. He’s still reeled back, trying to give Trevor as much space as he can in the confined cage.

“I apologize,” Alucard says, putting a hand on his heart. “You told me that you didn’t want to talk about this now, but I pushed regardless. It is entirely my mistake.”

Trevor sighs, looking Alucard over. “You look pathetic like that.”

Alucard remains still, eyes shifting, stance tense.

“Maybe it’s better to just get it out there,” Trevor says, and scoops up a chicken- hey, it’s that one guy who sat on his neck- trying to jump into the cage, gently shooing him out again. “People are complicated, Alucard. Nobody is good or bad, not all the way, not even the goat-fucking peasants or the holy men in stupid hats. Everybody just tries to do what they think they have to in order to survive.”

“I want more than that,” Alucard says, “for you, I mean, and for Sypha. It was… my mother’s life work, actually.” He lifts an arm, sighs, remains where he is. Trevor knows what he wants with that gesture, but he’s content to let Alucard go without for a few minutes while they put… whatever this is… to rest. “She wanted to give humans the room to live lives filled with joy, with curiosity, with compassion. She wanted to educate the people and bring them medicine, knowledge. Peace.” He spreads his hand, motions as if there’s something grand in front of him.

“Peace,” Trevor tries out, but even the word feels foreign on his tongue. “I know it was just a memory of her, but… I liked your mother.”

“I want to continue her work,” Alucard tells Trevor, his tone begging Trevor to understand. “But for now, I am content to only want these works for two humans.”

“Selfish of you,” Trevor comments.

“I want you to be happy,” Alucard tells Trevor, sounding urgent. “Do you remember what I told you, when you came back frozen and injured from that monster?”

Trevor blinks.

“I told you that I love you,” says Alucard, and hell if that’s not a total Alucard move, just busting that one out in front of a rapt avian audience. He finally moves back towards Trevor, clutching at him, leaning down and in and close. Trevor stands his ground. “You and Sypha both. Watching you in that memory was- it was agony, Trevor, do you understand?”

Trevor, in watching Alucard’s expression flicker from tenderness to something else entirely, starts to get a clear idea. The chickens scatter elsewhere in the house, near the door.

“It is suffering, to watch somebody you love in pain in front of you. I know you know that.”

"Sure,” Trevor says, not sure how else he can possibly react to this.

“I overstepped, didn’t listen to your request, and I apologize. But please, understand that I meant no malice or blame by it. Know only that I love you,” there he goes again, and Trevor can feel himself turning red, “and so it was a torment to see you in pain.”

“Okay,” says Trevor, still uncertain as to how he’s supposed to react, what he’s supposed to say. He’s reasonably sure that Sypha would know- she’d probably- oh, you’re supposed to say that back, aren’t you? That he- uh. He’s pretty sure he can’t get that one out, not properly anyway. Certainly not in front of a crowd of enraptured chickens with black shiny eyes all fixed on them.

It still feels like something is hanging there, something heavy and weighty, something pressing in between them. Trevor wishes he could reach out and shove it aside, or, better yet, smash it into pieces.

“I had a crush on you,” he says, because yes, let’s just go for complete awkwardness, nothing like bringing up prepubescent feelings in an adult relationship, nothing weird there.

Alucard blinks at him owlishly. A single golden brow goes up.

“Uh, I mean, you know, in the memory, as a younger me. I thought you were…. kind, and cool, and… gentle,” he says, feeling especially sheepish about admitting admiring that last one.

“I am glad,” Alucard says, and it’s him that reaches out and smashes the thing holding them apart, simply by leaning down and pressing his forehead against Trevor’s. The motion is so satisfying that it makes Trevor close his eyes, sigh, relax his back and his shoulders and his spine. The easing of tension feels good after the last few- everything. It feels like it’s been a while since he’s been able to be content, if even just for a moment.

“How about this: if we get out of here, you can doctor me all you want, and keep me on bedrest until you’re satisfied, and I’ll just moan about the normal things, no, you know, awful shit like perpetual cycles of murder and fear rooted in lineages,” Trevor offers, breathing deep, soaking in Alucard’s presence, ignoring the almost physical weight of chicken eyes on them. If they want dinner and a show, they can pay them, dammit.

“I would like that,” Alucard says, and he gives Trevor a little squeeze. “I will keep you and Sypha both abed and force all sorts of hot things into you.”

“Wow,” says Trevor, feeling sort of aghast, wow, because, again, wow, Alucard has consistent a gift for making things sound unsettlingly sexual at the weirdest times. Is that a vampire thing? A human thing? An Alucard thing?

“Not,” Alucard responds primly, and it’s his turn to turn red, “like that.”

The chickens titter.

“This has been charming, and I genuinely mean that, but can we focus on getting Trevor out?” says Sypha, popping up from nowhere holy shit.

 

 

 

When Alucard and Trevor have finished recovering from their heart attacks, Sypha explains that she came in through the chicken door.

You can’t shapeshift, can you?” Trevor asks suspiciously.

“I’m just flexible,” Sypha huffs.

“You’re small, you mean,” Trevor corrects, because hell these chickens are small, and how tiny is Sypha, after all?

“Not where it counts,” Sypha flares up.

“Your spirit,” Alucard says, diplomatically, but his eyes fall to her chest. Trevor, also looking at her chest, can’t really fault him.

“Breasts can squish, you know,” Sypha tells them with an exasperated tone. “It’s my hips that are the real- hello, Trevor.” She positively coos her greeting to him, and it startles him so much that he finds himself unexpectedly abashed.

“Hey,” he says, and she hugs him through the bars of the cage.

“I hate this,” she says firmly, pressing herself against the metal regardless.

“We could simply let him out,” offers Alucard dryly.

“I think we’d better hold off until we have a plan,” Trevor says, though he’d really, really like to get out for the principle of the thing if nothing else.

“Let me kiss you,” she demands, pulling at his shirtsleeves.

“Guys,” Trevor protests, but he obediently leans down and out enough so that she can give him a sweet, lingering kiss. The chickens hoot.

“What on earth?” Sypha spins on the spot to gaze out at their audience. “They talk?

“No,” says Alucard, sounding long-suffering despite only having been here for a short span of time, “they only heckle.”

“I hate chickens,” Sypha tells Trevor with intense seriousness.

“I’m coming around to it myself,” he responds, feeling a fond smile creep up on his face.

“I’m happy to see you back to normal,” Sypha says, and bites her lip. “Ish.”

“I’m trying,” Trevor offers. She puts her slim hands over one of his, smiles, smiles. “So: the plan?”

“The snake in the pond outside,” Sypha pauses to look annoyed, “eventually told me that Baba Yaga loves to smoke a pipe in the evening. The tobacco comes in boxes.” She holds out her hands, indicating something Trevor might be able to jam himself into, with help. “He also wanted me to marry him, which I declined.”

“Okay so that’s…. good thinking, on both of those,” he says. A snake wants to-? You know what, never fucking mind. An idea is forming, so Trevor goes with that instead of the image of Sypha in a wedding gown next to a snake in a wedding suit. “So, I get into a box, somehow, positioned so that she’ll toss it out in the trash heap.”

“She doesn’t burn her trash, does she?” Asks Alucard, and Trevor blanches. Oh. Right. That’s an option too.

“The chickens eat it, supposedly.” Sypha looks at Trevor’s not-friend the smiling chicken, who has come up and abruptly perched on the toe of her boot. “I’ve never met chickens that eat metal before.”

Trevor, looking at the bird too, feels a grim acceptance settle over him.

“Sounds right up the feathery assholes’ alleyways.”

 

 

 

In the end, Trevor does have Alucard let him out of the cage, because there’s no point in him just endlessly staying in there. If Baba Yaga comes in in a hurry, the ruse will be up, but Sypha’s snake from the pond had apparently told her that the wind howls and the trees moan at her approach to her home, and the house itself gives an eerie wail.

“I imagine it’s eerie, anyway,” she says, smoothing her hands over Trevor’s hair. “He didn’t say that, but I can’t imagine it would be a nice, cheery sound.”

“So this snake,” Trevor tries, mind fixating on snakes in wedding suits again, but Sypha gives him such a withering look that he stops. The sun is at about midday, based on the image on the front door, and the long-eared things are sleeping with their feet all tucked under them but one. They look like clouds on posts.

“Should we split up, or stick together?” Alucard eyes the chickens, none of whom have bothered them in the least, all of whom seem to be interested in walking over their boots in inching lines. Trevor would find it funny, but he has the sinking suspicion it will make hiding impossible: the chickens, out of malice or natural curiosity, will out any intruders simply by clustering around their hiding spots.

“I think we should stick together,” Sypha says, and though Trevor thinks rationally they should split up, he’s grateful she’s suggested otherwise.

“Didn’t you say there are unknown monsters about?” Alucard asks Trevor. He jerks his chin at the knitting, still lumpily re-forming itself.

“Oh my, how interesting,” Sypha says, clearly really meaning it. She cranes her neck, puts a hand up to her eyes to try to get a better look at the thing.

“It is a fascinating display of the theories of imbuement as applied to non-standard materials,” Alucard agrees.

Trevor gives them both disgusted looks and walks to the edge of the table to get a different view.

Just beyond where he’d been able to see, before the stairwell up, is a door. There’s a faint crack of light, green and piercing and somehow shrill, spreading from underneath. Unlike the front door, which is well-sealed and doesn’t seem to have any visible knob or other opening apparatus, this door has a clear latch-handle. They can probably stand on each other’s shoulders to open it, or use Trevor’s whip to unlatch it and go from there.

“What’s in there?”

Alucard and Sypha stop being gigantic gross nerds and walk over to inspect the door as well.

“If it’s glowing…” Sypha says, and gives a little shimmy of excitement.

“Treasure, you think?” Trevor grins.

“Unlikely,” Alucard sighs.

“Speaking of treasure, I don’t suppose either of you thought to bring my cloak with you?”

Alucard and Sypha give him guilty looks.

“I… we chased after you with no pause,” Alucard explains, at the same time Sypha says,

“We didn’t have time! Between you and your cloak, what do you think we’ll choose?!”

Trevor scratches his cheek, looking between them both. He thinks he should be annoyed, and admittedly, he is forlorn at the loss of that glorious, wonderfully warm cloak. But when faced with that kind of earnestness in regards to rescuing him, what’s he supposed to say?

“You two,” Trevor grumbles, and uses his swinging down from the table, a good six meter drop, to hide his fond grin.

“I saw that,” Sypha calls out after him.

“Saw what?” Alucard asks, as they turn to peer at Trevor, now below them. As he predicted, chickens are congealing around his ankles, clinging closer the longer he stands in one spot. It was bad enough in the cage, but now, here, on the ground, it quickly seems overwhelming.

“I’ll drop you flat on the ground if you tell,” Trevor says lightly, and when Sypha flattens her mouth into a line he grins at her and holds out his arms. She slides off the edge of the table, giving a little shriek when he catches her and spins her around that slowly dissolves into laughter. Trevor winks up at Alucard, still peering over the edge of the table.

“You need some help up there, Rapunzel? Shall I catch you as well?” Alucard sneers and blurs into nothing, reappearing next to Sypha and Trevor. His eyes glint as he leans in close to growl, hands catching at Trevor’s sides,

“The only thing that you will be catching-“

“OH,” shouts Sypha, out of pure surprise, which interrupts them both. The chickens give a depressed sigh around their ankles, which Trevor and Alucard trade befuddled looks about before dashing off to her side.

She’s made her way to the side door emanating light, and once he’s standing there behind her, Trevor almost gives a shout of surprise himself.

He’d known, somewhat, that proportions in this house were off. But this is… too strange, even for something like Baba Yaga.

The door is their size. In fact, if Trevor is completely honest, it’s a bit small for them. He turns his eyes to the front door, with its strange magical window into that sunlit field- yes, it looks as if the top of the two doors are on equal height. Eagerness surges through him, and Trevor takes the ten steps forward to find-

“Holy hell on a shit biscuit,” Trevor mutters, craning his head up and up and up. The door goes on forever, it seems like. He whips his head around- Sypha and Alucard are just where he left them, looking perfectly normal-sized. Not an optical illusion, then- just plain old raw magic, tangled and irregular and maddening.

He kicks at the chicken door, but it’s still too small indeed for him to squeeze through. It’s marginally larger up close, which explains how Sypha squeezed through, at least. She’s small, but not that small. Probably two or three chickens astride can come through the door at once.

“I have never met Baba Yaga before,” Alucard says, giving a low, impressed whistle. “But seeing this, I understand why she would be so reclusive despite her strength. It would take years-“ he shakes his head, corrects, “centuries of research to gain mastery of magic to this degree. She could only have achieved this skill by means of almost total solitude.”

“It is a shame,” Sypha sighs, walking back and forth between the side door with its emanating light, the front door with its endless stretch up, and the stairs, which are, based on how they come up against her shin, slightly oversized but only enough to be uncomfortable. “I would love to learn from her, if only for a short time.”

Trevor snorts.

“Well, if you want to pledge yourself to a witch for a few years, be my guest.”

“Unadvisable,” Alucard says somberly while Sypha chases after Trevor and tries to beat him with his own coiled whip, which she’s pulled out of her robes. He laughs and takes the blows, which turn out to be feather-light flailings anyway. Sypha snorts and presses the weapon into his hands above their heads, her eyes warm as she looks at him.

“Thanks,” he says, and it feels damned good to have that back on his hip, doesn’t it?

“I did grab that Belmont family treasure,” she assures him, giving him a cheeky little wink.

“Shall we look inside?” Alucard asks, a hand resting on the doorknob of the side door. Trevor steps away from the mountain of a front door, readies his knife, and nods. Sypha pads behind them, a flicker of flame fluttering at her fingernails.

Alucard unlatches the door with a ‘click’ of metal on metal, pulls it open, and….

They squint into the light, which feels sort of like a visual version of lime juice. It’s hard and astringent on the senses, slinking into the corners of their eyes and settling in, leaving burning lines of light where the brightest emanations are coming from.

The initial hesitation fades, though, because inside that closet is a veritable wonderland.

“How beautiful,” Alucard breathes, swinging the door wide open so they can all see better. There are plants stretching back forever, far more than should be able to fit in a house, but if he’s honest, Trevor is over that kind of warping of space and time. At this point, that’s practically old hat for Baba Yaga. What he’s more interested in is… everything else, pretty much.

There are plants in huge pots, as big around as two men’s circled arms, with heavy vines stretching up and up and up, and drooping fruits hanging down in strange shapes. Interspersed between the pots are strange marble columns carved in ways Trevor has never seen before- some with naked people flexing and moving and- he coughs and looks away, because oh- and others carved like the flutter and fall and weaving of intricate, fine cloth, all undulating dragon-scale weave and twining braids and other wondrous sights.

There’s a warm wind carrying the scent of hot grass, gently rustling the leaves of the enormous vines reaching up into the sky, and a long, stupendous sliver of road leading down and down and down through endless green-yellow fields, in undulating humps that feel familiar in some strange way. They’re standing on a dirt path between the pots, the earth hard-packed from years of use. Grasses grow up along the sides of the pots, hissing enticingly, invitingly, whenever the wind comes. It carries with it the faint scent of salt, as if a sea is nearby. Iron, too, but that might just be the pots, whatever they’re made of.

Most importantly, more important than anything else- there is sun and sky and it’s endless.

“That feels so good,” Sypha says, tipping her face up and spreading her arms. She’s pushed back her sleeves to reveal her pale arms. Trevor sighs and walks forward a bit, until he comes to a strip of grasses, and flops back eagerly to stare up at the sky. The light in here isn’t anything like it was outside the doorframe. They can’t hear the house here, no chickens or the faint click of the knitting creature as it makes itself back to life, and no pop or snap from the cold fire in the hearth.

Alucard remains in the shade, looking up dubiously. Trevor can’t blame him- fall and winter sun may be fine and good, but he can’t imagine that a human as pale as him would last long in this kind of light, let alone a half-vampire. Still, he seems glad enough, and even unbuttons his coat and starts to tie up his hair, a slight air of contentment about him.

It’s like that, lying flat on his back watching Sypha and Alucard, that Trevor notices the vines- really, really notices them.

“Uh,” he says, and sits bolt upright. The sun suddenly feels cloying, the summer breeze too sweet. The smell of iron clings to the back of this throat. “Guys.”

Sypha snaps to attention immediately, and Alucard glances around, falling into a ready stance.

“What is it?”

Trevor scrambles to get his feet under him, skitters closer to Alucard and Sypha. He’s still further from them than they are from each other, but he doesn’t want to get any closer to the pots than he has to. He points up.

What he’d mistaken for vines- what they’d all mistaken for vines- are actually….

“Oh, those are flesh,” says Sypha, and turns green.

“Does she grow extra arms?” Alucard questions, intrigued.

They have vines growing over them, with roots and feelers going into the gray and nobbled flesh like knives into a body. The arms are bloodless, but Trevor would recognize those unsettling extra-thumbs too-many-joints not-enough-angles too-much-stretch limbs anywhere. The hands hang off the vines like fruit that’s been touched by the Devil himself, and Trevor feels sick thinking about them walking through that grove as if it was a treat rather than a damned travesty of nature. He’s glad the pots are too tall for them to see into- he doesn’t want to know what they look like at the roots, doesn’t want to know what she’s feeding them.

“I don’t think I want to learn this sort of thing,” Sypha says, reeling, and presses back against wall of the doorway.

“They seem to be inert,” Alucard counters. He’s inspecting them with great interest, though he’s positioned himself not to be directly under any of the hands. He’s no fool, even if his curiosity leads him to some weird places.

Trevor grimaces.

“Should we burn them or something? Do you think she gets power from these?”

Sypha cracks her knuckles, looking serious.

“It’s worth a try.”

Alucard puts a hand to his chin, still looking up.

“I’m uncertain if that would actually help. They could simply be a backup plan or a research project, in which case, burning them would only serve to alert her to our presence-“

“Too late,” sings Baba Yaga, and Trevor whips around and cracks his whip at her before the rest of his brain can catch up. He should have remembered, he thinks, as he surges into action and snaps off two hands reaching for Sypha, one going for Alucard’s back, should have remembered that you can’t hear things properly in these little spaces- the world jerks and Trevor tries to roll to his feet, only to be jerked off-balance again.

Sypha screams like a falcon and pours fire into the hand that’s seized on Trevor’s ankle, but it only hardens and tightens on him as she seeks to destroy it, more swarming up his body, catching his hands, his knees, his elbows, even in his hair. Baba Yaga starts dragging him back, and though struggling against her hold on him is like fighting the tide, he does it anyway, because it’s all he can do. There’s no room in him to give up, not now, not ever. Alucard charges toward him, gets grabbed by two undulating, gelatinous hands from behind and flung back so hard he breaks the pot he slams against. Clumpy, viscous red water starts pouring out, and Trevor sees his eyes flash red- blood in these pots, then, he mentally confirms. God but he wishes monsters weren’t so damned predictable in some ways.

Sypha is being dragged back further into the grove as well, kicking and fighting and sending out bursts of flame that keep getting seized and stifled by a veritable ocean of arms, and Trevor yells out in fury when he sees a gnarled, blackened hand catch in her hair and pull her head back, forcing her backwards to the ground-

The door slams shut, and three hands slide out from the mass of Baba Yaga to hold it shut against the steady thud of what must be Alucard and Sypha struggling to break out. Trevor snarls, struggling with all his might, his hand still on his whip. Baba Yaga’s hands shy away from it, and she makes soft hissing noises when it makes contact with her flesh, like a mother minding a hot stove who’s well-used to cinder-burns.

“Let me go!” he cries, thrashing wildly. Baba Yaga gives him a shake, then another, and damn if she isn’t playing for keeps this time, because each one makes his eyes rattle in his skull. He thinks he can manage to get away long enough to open the door for Sypha and Alucard if he uses the whip just right, and together, they can-

But then he realizes that she’s using more hands on him, one to hold his arm and the others to unfold his fingers. Trevor grits his teeth, yelling in frustration, in fury, but agonizingly-

“one,” she hushes, tone amused,

“by,” she croons, and Trevor shakes with desperation, held out on his back by infinite maddening limbs, unable to look this thing even in the eye to spit in her damned face,

“one,” she snickers, and the whip falls to the ground, out of his forced-open hand.

“Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you,” he chants, stoking that hunter-fire in him, burning with righteous fury, embers lighting up on his mortal frame to bring him the determination he needs to fight and win-

Baba Yaga tuts and plants a hand over his mouth, a boneless one, and Trevor jerks away in horror but it stays in place.

It’s- it’s cutting off his air, fuck, he realizes too late, starting to struggle with passion renewed. He can’t die like this, not with Alucard and Sypha right there, not with his family shirt on his back and his whip almost at hand and not for nothing, he won’t die to serve as supper in some witch’s stew-

“No manners,” she says, as if from a distance, and Trevor shakes and struggles and watches his world restrict, down and down and down into a narrow foggy black tunnel, then a pinprick, then-

He gasps for air, shaking, coughing, head spinning. Weakness nests in his limbs and he fights against it- perhaps now is his chance!

But it certainly isn’t, because she hasn’t let him loose, and is dragging him to the fire, where she’s stoked a burning red fire and has put a big iron pot with a big iron top to hang on the hearth-hook. Trevor struggles and thrashes, trying to find purchase to pinch, to bite, to kick, but everywhere there are hands on him, moving over his body like insects, pinching and prodding and holding him.

The chickens choose that moment to kick up a fuss, and in that instant Trevor feels gratitude surge in him. Friends after all, he thinks, and, I’ll never eat another chicken in my life.

“Whatttt,” Baba Yaga drones out, leaning sideways with a sound like a dead tree rocking in the wind. It’s the kind of sideways that people can’t do- the tilt of a board rather than the sway of a man. “Oh yes, my dears, yes, you are so good to an old woman.”

The hands shift to lift him up in the air and start to strip him, tearing off his tunic and unlacing his boots and going on and on.

“To cook a boy, one must pluck his feathers first. You are so right, my darlings.”

Baba Yaga hums as she works, never taking more than one hand at a time off of him. He catches sight of those milky swimming-fishbowl eyes at one point and loses track of himself for a moment, and it’s enough to give her the chance to take his pants off in one swoop.

If I live through this, he seethes, breath coming fast from danger and fear and indignation, I will eat every chicken I get a chance to.

She juggles him in her hands once he’s naked, stripped even of his darned socks, and smiles at him. Trevor wants to curl up, wants to hide himself, wants to scrabble for his whip even like this and flay the bitch, but she gives him no chance even for that.

She opens the lid of the pot, shuffling around in her apron for something. The liquid inside is golden-cherry-summer-sunset-winter-dusk-stormsky slopping iridescent around the edges and despite himself, Trevor thinks that it is one of the most beautiful things he’s ever seen.

“I found your cloak for you, boy. I spent all my day looking for it, you see,” she hums, and another two arms rise up to display it. The closet door is thumping, and Trevor grits his teeth, hanging there nude, forced still by an endless sea of hands.

“I’d prefer my whip, thanks,” he growls, and snaps at the hand that’s come up too close while she was distracted displaying her prize. He gets a taste of blubbery nothing, grins at her scream of fury. She gives him a slap and he sees stars, reeling in Baba Yaga’s hold, and she lifts him up again off the ground and wraps another hand over his face.

It’s Trevor’s turn to scream, or try to. He tries to bite and thrash, but again comes the dark, and again comes the press of his own body against his mind, and again at the last moment she releases him. He coughs and retches and hangs in her hands, trying to drum up the energy to fight. But his fire is spent, oh, and his bones are so tired. Trevor can still hear the thumb of the door, of Sypha and Alucard fighting for him, and it rouses him. He lifts his head, panting, looks around blearily.

Baba Yaga goes to cut a snippet of hair with a glinting set of scissors, smoothing under the fall of his hair along his neckline. Her touch, feigning intimate gentleness, makes him shudder and jolt away as far as he can get, which is woefully nowhere. She slices off the faintest, finest hairs at the nape of his neck, collecting them and pinching them and ferrying them to the enormous pot. She sprinkles them in, gives him an assessing look with those silver-milk orbs, shimmering and sliding with black nothings under the surface, like fish under a frozen pond, like worms under the skin of an infected sheep. Trevor tries to fight anew, but his struggles are weak, black crackling spots still dancing at the edges of his vision.

The liquid roils furiously, and, giving a contented sigh, she produces a small, sharp knife.

“Hold still, you naughty boy,” she says, tone sing-song, teasing, as if she isn’t coming at his face with a knife. “We wouldn’t want you to lose those beautiful eyes.” Trevor screams out, half in fury, half in despair, as she slices the path along the scar on his eye, forcing his head forward to drip fresh blood onto his cloak. It burns, throbs and aches and hell, hell, it never did heal right, and now he’s got a witch’s mark on it too.

She drops his cloak into the potion as well, admires the color- the red of fresh heart’s blood, glistening with the white of fresh snow, of raw bone. It shimmers blue along the edges, and Trevor knows without having seen himself in the mirror too many times lately that it’s the color of his own eyes.

“Oh my,” she sighs. “Oh my.”

“Why,” Trevor coughs out. The beat of Sypha and Alucard against the door isn’t cheering anymore, is just a regular, steady thump, like a heartbeat in a trapper’s shack, one from the wolf in the next cage over from your own. He’s still going to die, regardless of the steadiness of that beat. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because you are beautiful,” Baba Yaga tells him, with real, raw, honest tenderness, so abruptly sincere that it shocks him into falling still. “And rare, with a powerful heart and a will of iron to hold the endless fire of good.”

“I don’t understand,” he says, tearing up and hating himself for it. “That’s no reason at all.”

“It is all the reason Baba Yaga needs,” she says.

“It’s why every damned one of us is in this mess in the first place,” he tries, hoping to crack through to that emotional core she just showed him, hoping to foster some kind of anything, anything at all, “people just endlessly hurting each other, mindless of the consequences. Destroying something good because it’s there, because you can, is what the men in this country fell to. Aren’t you above men?”

Baba Yaga smiles at him softly, sadly.

“I am, as any other monster, of men, Belmont, and women too. We place those lines in the sand between humanity and monsters only because it makes us feel better about our lot in life, makes the burden of our existence easier to bear. Not just men, sweet boy, but we monsters as well.”

Trevor doesn’t have anything to say to that, because he can feel that she’s right, though not in any way he knows of. Baba Yaga is a symbol of wisdom undesired but present regardless, of darkness, of triumph for the weak against the strong, he remembers. She helps young women more than anything. She is a monster of women, but a goddess of them too. He has no chance of defying her, not once, not even from the beginning when he first stumbled onto her lands. He has to keep trying anyway, because it’s not in his blood to die like a wolf slaughtered for its pelt.

“And so you cook,” she chirps, snapping back to malicious cheer in a brittle instant, and shoves him into the pot, slamming the lid shut on him.

 

 

 

He doesn’t remember how long he’s been in here. He tried to keep his head above the liquid, but he’s slowly lost feeling in his body, is terrified of what’s happening to him to make that happen. Trevor tried to push the lid open, tried to climb the walls, tried to swing himself back and forth, but the water was so hot and his body could only work so long before he…. Before he….

Trevor drifts, breathing in when he knows he shouldn’t be able to. It feels like he’s in an egg, one that’s boiling hot with a thick metal shell. The longer he lets himself go, lets himself rest, the easier the temperature gets, until finally he simply feels comfortable.

His head swims, his thoughts changing shape and clouding, clearing differently than they started out as, and if he thinks he can hear the dim echo of something from outside of his egg, he has no chance of caring.

He loses track of himself, forgets his name, misplaces his body. There’s only the warmth and the darkness and the heat, a heat burning up from inside him until it spills out, filling him with a sense of rightness. He dreams of treetops and sunrises, of mountains unending and golden stretching deserts, and through it all he forgets what he was, what he is. He curls and stays still, shifts and stays still again.

 

 

 

“Look for yourself,” says an old voice above him.

He struggles to awareness.

His liquid is gone, and his senses feel tight, alert, ready. He’s still wet, can’t move well.

“You’ve cooked him,” says a young woman, her voice gone high and thin with pain.

“I said I would,” says the old voice.

“Trickery,” snarls a man, disbelieving. He sounds ragged with grief, as if his voice is a funeral suit and he has torn it to shreds in his sorrow.

“I do not trick,” says the old woman. “I only demand, and for those who meet my asks, I reward them.”

“Trevor didn’t ask for anything from you,” screams out the young woman. He lifts his head at the fury in her voice. He hears her.

“More precisely, he asked for nothing,” laughs the older woman, and an iron ladle comes in his egg. He shuffles away from it, hissing, and outside he hears fond laughter mingled with moans of distress. “My apologies, my apologies, my darling, my friend, my old enemy,” she sooths, and the ladle dips out, to be replaced with a burning-white poker, sending off incredible, searing heat. It taps around his egg, and, with some degree of deliberation, he latches on to it.

The heat is wonderful, alluring, and he allows himself to be drawn out gently, holding on determinedly to his hot poker.

Baba Yaga, he knows, and looks her straight on, seeing her old and young and wild and tamed, and fluffs himself, spreading himself out to dry as she lofts him gently above the fire, up and down, up and down. He knows her with her wandering nose and cloak of arms, which something seems to have shredded and fought wildly with. She’ll have to spend a long time repairing that, perhaps enough to keep her from mischief for a while. He turns his head, balanced on the poker, to examine the two humans in front of them.

The woman gazes at him, blank for only a moment, before bursting into tears. The man- not fully human, he decides- narrows his eyes.

“Trevor,” says the woman, falling to her knees and reaching for him, tears spilling from her eyes unendingly. He turns his head this way and that to look at her, uncomprehending.

“You dare,” snarls the half-man, brandishing a line of cold steel at Baba Yaga. His eyes are garnet, an alluring shade of red that he thinks upon before deciding it isn’t true heat, is only the faint flicker of reflected fire from a vampire’s soul.

Up to your evil ways, Baba Yaga, he thinks, and flares out his wings, spreads the long train of his tail, bobbing his body in the heat.

“This shape,” she says, gesturing with two thumbs and seventeen fingers, “is especially magnificent. I haven’t seen you in such a form in centuries, my unfathomable enemy. You are a true and honest phoenix. The Belmont boy has a wondrous heart.”

It doesn’t matter what shape I take, he thinks, flexing his wings, lifting and lowering his tail. He is dry. I am a Firebird regardless.

And he pumps his wings and shoots up the chimney, streaking like a comet into the forest.

Chapter Text


 

 

Sypha stares numbly at the pot left cracked on the now-empty hearth.

Alucard grabs at her before she realizes she’s moving, catching her around the ribs and hugging her back to him. She’s not Trevor, never will be, there’s no way that she can overcome his hold, but she still tries, clawing and snarling and screaming at Baba Yaga, this profane witch of a woman who has taken Trevor and replaced him with- with-

with a bird, her mind helpfully supplies,

and fire and ice and hissing furious steam sparks wildly in front of her, but each and every magical swipe is met with another of Baba Yaga’s arms, and another, and another, until Sypha is left hanging from Alucard’s arms heartsick and laid low.

She wants to ask Alucard how he can remain so calm, but she knows he isn’t, is just as wound up and terrified as she is. Trevor is blind to magic but Sypha isn’t, and to her senses, Alucard has always been as readable as a campfire, perhaps intentionally, perhaps not. The magic in him is strong, and loud, and right now it is an inferno of rage.

“Oh my,” Baba Yaga is smiling so broadly that it looks like her teeth are sliding off her grizzled old face. “Come now, children are so dramatic. It is not that big of a deal.”

“It is,” Sypha seeths, and Alucard, still clutching her, agrees,

“Quite a bit, actually.”

“Pssssht,” Baba Yaga says, waving a hand dismissively. Sypha tries not to fix her eyes on whatever that black twist of flesh is behind her thumb, keeps her eyes locked on the witch’s face. Her eyes are bulging and huge, luminous and rippling with feral magic. Sypha clenches her fist, imaging Trevor, Trevor with no defenses against magic, looking at this thing. It must have hurt, she knows, and burns a little hotter inside. Alucard shifts behind her, looping his arms around her waist. “I will keep him for some time, and then I will let him go. It is no big deal. He will be free to terrorize young tsars eventually. It is no problem of when- now, or in seven years, what does it matter?”

“It matters a great deal!” Sypha shouts out, clutching at Alucard’s arms around her middle. “We need him to kill Dracula! It is a prophecy passed down by my people. It is a matter of import to the whole of Wallachia! Nobody in the country can wait for seven years!”

“Wallachia doesn’t seem to want him very much,” Baba Yaga says, mildly, and Sypha hates her for it because she’s right.

“Then- then we need him,” Sypha says in a diminished voice, glancing up at Alucard. He nods, picks up where she’s left off.

“Seven years is a long time for a human life,” he says coolly. Sypha can feel how turbulent the currents of magic he’s putting off are, can feel how badly he wants to let go of her and bring Baba Yaga down together. “As we said, we need him.”

“For your prophecy,” Baba Yaga says, and it sounds like she’s mincing the words, chopping them up into smaller and smaller pieces. She gives them both an odd look.

“For us,” Alucard says firmly. “Because he is ours, and we love him, and cannot let him go so easily, not to such a cruel fate.”

“So instead you want to march off with him to a conjoined cruel fate,” Baba Yaga laughs, delighted. “Do you think, my children, that if you struggle against me so much, Dracula will be an easy victory?”

“We will work together to find victory,” Alucard rumbles.

“Seven years,” Baba Yaga says, and shrugs, and all her arms fall off of her into a jumble on the floor, leaving only two long ones on her. Her actual arms are narrow and bony and tight as the stretch of a skin on a drum, ending in fingers and fingers and fingers, and extra thumbs in different colors of decay. “That boy has made a mess of my cloak of arms, and an old woman needs time to repair it. Leave me be and go do whatever stupid, suicidal thing it is idiot children do for fun these days.”

“I will never leave here, never! Not until you give Trevor back to us,” screams Sypha, and the cloak, a profane jumbled mash of limbs, bursts into flames. Baba Yaga swears and stomps on it, shuffling this way and that, muttering curses and vexations in too many languages to count.

“I am already running low on my stock of feathers, and now look what you’ve done!” She flares up to a too-tall height, and Sypha wants to cower but she can’t, not when Trevor is gone and in his place is a- a-

a bird, her mind helpfully supplies again

so she rears up as well and bares her teeth at the witch. Alucard looks down at her, looks up at Baba Yaga, gives a sigh, and says,

“Surely there is some sort of agreement we can come to, Baba Yaga.”

The witch mutters, stomping out the last of the flames, and inspects the singe marks on her floor. Sypha feels a thrill of vindictive pleasure that she tells herself has nothing to do with pettiness.

“I have a firebird now, and I did before, but that bird is gone, and now I have a new one. I’m almost out of feathers, will be by next year, and what, you want to make a deal? What do you think I am, one of Dracula’s little demons?” Baba Yaga shakes the cloak out, frowns, and in a fit of rage throws it into the fire. It goes up like oiled tinder, sending sparks flying everywhere. The chickens, which have been hiding since Alucard and Sypha broke down the door, are now starting to creep out of their hiding places; a few rush to the fireplace, fear forgotten, to stare in stupidly.

“Surely you could find another man to make into a firebird,” Alucard says, ignoring Sypha’s jerk. He knows it isn’t a good question to ask, but one man sacrificed to save the man who will help the whole of the country… well. It’s a fair trade, in Alucard’s opinion.

“Oh, it’s so easy, is it? Where do you think I got all these things?” Baba Yaga waves her arms, spreading them about. Her reach is so long that her hands pass over Alucard and Sypha’s heads. Her nose, jerking and wriggling like a fat worm, droops. “These failed men, these worthless women, all of them I tried and none of them made the bird that your boy did. Instead, psht!” She kicks at the chickens, and Sypha gives a little horrified gasp, but they all scatter more efficiently than the old woman, even supernatural as she is, can move. “In to my pot goes a human and out comes a chicken.”

“I see,” says Alucard, the whites of his eyes showing a little more than usual, his mouth a little tighter around the edges. Sypha covers her own mouth, looking around at the sea of birds, thinking of how packed the yard is. All of them, every single one-?

“And there is only so much chicken a belly can hold,” Baba Yaga finishes with a dark little smile, a funny turn of her too-broad lips. Sypha clamps her other hand to her mouth too, chases that thought away from her mind before she retches.

“You intend to eat him, then? Trevor, that is.” Alucard tips his chin up, looking disdainful.

“No, no!” Baba Yaga groans, cracks her knuckles, her fingers, her wrists, her elbows. The display is grotesque and crude, and it makes Alucard curl his lip. “Never. What a sin, ach. Even I wouldn’t commit it. My firebird, my lovely enemy. I use the feathers for my magic, but special magic. Only the most special of magics from my divine hated love. Only pure, strong young hearts can host the fire of that thing, that creature.”

Sypha thinks it’s a bit rich to hear Baba Yaga of all things calling something else a creature, but she keeps that opinion to herself.

“Take me instead,” Sypha begs, surprising even herself with the words.

No,” Alucard snaps out, tightening his hold on her so that it’s almost painful. “Sypha, what are you thinking?! We need both of you, cannot simply-“

But there’s no need for the argument, because Baba Yaga gives a shrieking cackle.

YOU?!” She pulls one of her eyes off of her face, and Sypha screams, covering her own. Alucard tenses, tries to stay still, stoic. Sypha feels more than hears the quick intake of breath he gives, but she won’t tell. “You little mouse, you Speaker heroic. You are not one of my people. You have no special love for this land, no special reverence for Baba Yaga. I refuse. You would be just another chicken for the pot, and nothing more.”

Sypha tenses at the reminder about the chickens, looking about at them all. She wincingly looks back at Baba Yaga, but the eye is bloodless, no wound on her face. It looks for all intents and purposes as if she has managed to suspend fogged crystal balls in front of where her eyes should be, though tight spirals of flesh are where an empty eye socket should be. It’s horrible to look at, and Sypha’s fingertips itch with the desire to burn this monster out.

“Then I demand treaty,” Alucard says firmly, “as Alucard.”

There’s a silence.

“Um,” says Sypha, but Baba Yaga beats her to the punch and cackles again, less mocking and more sincere amusement this time. She rolls her loosened eye between her fingers, holding it out to look down on them from above. It’s enormous, this close to them, the size of Sypha’s head easily. She thrills with fear, suddenly uncertain of exactly how big Baba Yaga is. Given the distortions of space even ten paces away from each other, the concept of Baba Yaga’s size rapidly becomes… questionable.

Poor Trevor. He didn’t have a chance, not alone.

“Oh and who is that, this Alucard? You think you are so famous, boy, you think you are so grand!?” The witch sneers, her nose lifting and falling, the motion somewhat mocking.

Alucard hesitates, bites his lip. Sypha jabs him with an elbow, jerks her head to Baba Yaga, motions broadly to the hearth where Trevor apparently turned into- into-

a bird, her mind wearily supplies,

and hisses, “Now is not the time for dignity!

“I demand treaty as Alucard, only son of Dracula, He who is Lord of these lands both in shadow and in sun, I who is beloved by He in name and beloved by He in truth,” Alucard says, and Sypha feels a little shake go through him, a beat of fear.

There is a pause.

“Very well,” Baba Yaga says, pursing her lips and clenching and unclenching her grotesque clawing hands. “Let us go outside, little lordling, to stand in the air and treat as we monsters do.”

Alucard, visibly surprised, only nods dumbly.

Sypha turns as Baba Yaga shuffles past them, leans in conspiratorially.

“What is it?” She asks, plucking at the sleeve of his coat. Worry has furrowed her brow.

“I… didn’t expect that would hold weight,” Alucard confesses. “It is a title given to me by my father directly. I had assumed….” He bites his lip, starts to walk after Baba Yaga. Sypha walks next to him, sparing a look for the chickens. “I had assumed he would have revoked it, honestly,” he confesses. Baba Yaga’s shoulders work as she pries at the front door, and it makes Sypha’s magical senses hurt to feel the way she simply crunches the heavy thing up like a curtain, holding it aside for them.

“Your father has done no such thing,” Baba Yaga says, popping her eye back on her face with a sound like crystal hitting wood. “Go, come now, don’t keep me waiting.”

“Thank you,” Alucard says, bowing his head, and guiding Sypha in front of him they cross the threshold. His expression, when she turns back to look at him, is pensive.

“Loving is complicated,” Baba Yaga says, “and hard. Even for monsters like us.” There’s a pause while Aucard struggles with himself, visibly working to maintain control. “Especially, perhaps, for monsters like us.”

Alucard turns away at that, into Sypha’s arms, and she draws him down and kisses him on the forehead, wiping away the tears he sheds.

Baba Yaga ignores them to walk into her yard. It’s as dense with chickens outside as it was inside, decorated with human bone fenceposts and skulls strung up on fine thread, all lit up from the inside when it’s dark in the most ghastly, garish display Sypha has laid eyes on in some time. Alucard had reassured her, when they found her cottage, squatting there like a fattened, elderly dog, that it was actually quite restrained and tasteful by the standards of many monster courts. Sypha felt strongly that any hut resting on a tangle of knobbly chicken legs could not possibly qualify for ‘tasteful,’ but she had only whispered it to the chickens, not eager to pick a fight.

The heavy ‘vmp’ of the front door slamming into full being as Baba Yaga releases it sends a wave of air out, one strong enough to blow Alucard’s hair out of order and send a few chickens, roosting on the bannisters, flying through the air. They look nothing if not alarmed, fluttering through the air to land safely down below.

When Alucard has collected himself again he hops down the stone steps, reaching up to help Sypha down after him. One by one they spiral down until they’re in the yard, shooing away more chickens from underfoot as they go. People, Sypha hisses to herself to stoke her inner fire, her fount of magic, people she failed to change in a way she found pleasing!

Baba Yaga opens her mouth and starts to sing. At first Sypha is puzzled- she feels like she’s heard this song somewhere, and recently, but she can’t for the life of her think where she could possibly have heard a new song. But then she remembers heating water at dawn in Trevor’s memory of the kitchen, remembers drilling the servants for information, trying to understand what she was there to see. She remembers Ioana coming in, strictly bundled-up and neat as a pin, and her song as she kneaded the dough, her smile as she joked with the servant women who were working alongside her. Ioana had no need to work in the kitchens, as Sypha recalls learning; it was only that she enjoyed it, and enjoyed it more than any of her other wifely duties, including lying abed until a less eye-cracking hour. Ioana’s song, Trevor’s mother’s song as she worked the dough in the dawn, and Baba Yaga is here now singing it out shakily, with sour notes and bitter resonances and a flat, maddening tone that sounds uncomfortably close to grief.

Alucard clutches at her arm, and Sypha feels immediate relief when something burning hot red-white-red bursts out of the darkness trees, spiraling up and dipping and swaying in a peculiar way above their heads. Baba Yaga stops singing. That’s a relief too, albeit in a different way.

“He flies like he fights,” Alucard says, trying to sound annoyed but just sounding tearful. Sypha catches his hand in hers, tangles their fingers together.

“Trevor!” Sypha calls out, but he just keeps wheeling and swaying and dodging above them.

Baba Yaga watches him fondly, turning her head this way and that to keep track of him. Finally he wheels closer, wings raising shimmers of heat as he flaps, and with a complicated twist of his body hangs upside-down from a tree in the yard, watching them all with alert blue eyes that have no business being on a bird.

“How beautiful he is,” Baba Yaga sighs, putting a hand on her breast, and despite her hatred of the witch, Sypha can’t find it in her to disagree. Trevor looks like a hawk, all sharp angles and hooked beak and strong dagger-like talons, but with a long, swan-like neck, trailing eyespots at the tips of his wings that flash white, a curled yellow crest at the top of his head that resembles nothing so much as a crown, and a tail that goes on for longer than his entire body, ending in spiked, swirling feathers in stark white and more of those trailing eyespot feathers that flash in the light, changing from the color of wine to blood to pale carnation and then back again. His whole body burns red in various intensities, fading to a white core at his breast. He is also, literally, on fire.

Sypha thanks the stars, the wind, and heaven itself that magical fire doesn’t catch like natural fire does. Otherwise, they’d be in a sea of flames right now. As it is, Trevor puts off a powerful searing aura of licking heat that feels like the roar of an open blacksmith’s fire.

“Trevor,” Alucard says, less a call and more a remark. He snaps his attention to Baba Yaga.

“He is healthy,” Baba Yaga says, stroking her chin. She looks pleased, her dense, furry eyebrows drawn up in frank assessment. “No firebird will ever willingly touch the earth. The closest they will come is when they burst from my hearth, breaking their iron cells, and even then, they must be hung as they incubate, or they will grow wrong, and sour, and rot.” She chuckles to herself. Alucard and Sypha give her an outraged stare as one. “Didn’t you meet one of those rotten things, once?” Baba Yaga asks, her nose wriggling like a pleased puppy.

“I was unaware that it was sent by you,” Alucard says stonily, “but yes, I did meet a creature… similar.” His eyes slide up to Trevor, hanging silently above them. Sypha doesn’t need him to say anything to know what he’s thinking- there’s no comparison between the vital burning creature above their heads and the crawling, miserable shadow entity Alucard had seen as a child.

“Not by me,” Baba Yaga frowns. “I would never violate a firebird in that way. I have known, and will always know, the only way- the right way- to raise that creature from the ashes of a man.”

Alucard looks at her silently, assessing. Sypha can feel his confusion, but she can’t take her eyes off of Trevor, who still dangles out of reach above their heads. She holds out her hands again, but he startles back as if she could somehow grab him. Is he in there as Trevor, confused and frightened? Or is he being ridden by his instincts as a creature of magic, his soul pressed down into silence? Or- or worse, and here she wavers and feels weak, worse, is he gone entirely, and this thing is all they have left of him?

No. She cannot think like that. They will recover Trevor.

“To treaty,” he finally says, avoiding the snare the witch has clearly laid down for him. Sypha doesn’t doubt that Baba Yaga would be able to answer his questions about that night, about the thing that crawled out of the hearth and tried to consume Lisa and Alucard. But it would come at a cost, and their debts are already writ large across Trevor’s flesh.

“To treaty,” Baba Yaga assents, giving a mirthful smile. “I see that Alucard, joy of his father’s eye, is as measured and as wise as the stories have said.”

“I hope you will forgive me, but I have heard nothing of you, Baba Yaga, though I assume it is from your preference rather than the opposite.”

“Yes,” Baba Yaga agrees. “I like my distance. Court games hold no interest for me.”

Sypha turns to look at Alucard, but he nods slightly and she turns back to Trevor. He has whatever they’re supposed to do with the witch well in hand, leaving her to reach out to Trevor as best she can. She contemplates him, the fast, sharp way he turns his head this way and that, inspecting her. The image of him rising, damp and dazed, from the pot comes to the forefront of her mind’s eye. He had looked like a chick coming wet from an egg- well, perhaps he was. Baba Yaga had fished him out with a white-hot poker- he had rejected the merely warm one, so perhaps…

“Come here, Trevor,” she whispers, fire springing from her fingertips. “Please, come back to us.”

He fluffs his feathers, fixing his gaze on the flame. She increases the intensity of the heat, and that seems to be a good enough lure, because he suddenly dives down in a steep plummet. Baba Yaga and Alucard pause in their talking, but when Sypha turns around with two armfuls of Trevor, his long tail looped naturally around her neck, they resume talking. Sypha makes a startled noise as he slips about in her arms- like Baba Yaga, there is more of Trevor in this shape than she had expected.

Baba Yaga fixes her gaze on Sypha, who is shifting and arranging Trevor, heedless of the bloody scratches his metal talons raise on her skin. Sypha leaves him be, satisfied, when his body is cozied around her neck, his hooked beak catching on her fingers gently when she reaches up to feed him her fire. Her own power keeps her safe from his heat, but she doesn’t doubt that almost anybody else would have been incinerated by this degree of proximity. Even Alucard wouldn’t be able to wear him on his skin, not like this. As it his, Trevor’s heat cauterizes the wounds raised by his claws almost instantly.

“Well well,” Baba Yaga says, and strokes her eyebrows as if they were mustaches, watching this all with intensity. “I have terms, if you will hear them, Alucard, son of Dracula.”

“We will hear them, of course,” he says, and sneaks a look at Sypha, and Trevor with him. Longing crosses his face before he resumes his cool, noble mask.

“I was planning to tend to this firebird for six years and one,” Baba Yaga says, counting off seven on one hand. “A firebird drops three feathers in seven years, and as we have chatted on, I need those.”

Alucard nods, quick, alert. His eyes slide back to Sypha, to Trevor’s intense, burning stare. He flicks his attention back to Baba Yaga.

“So here is the deal I will cut you, my little lordling, my handsome pretty boy with your beautiful burning girl.” Sypha snaps to attention, self-consciously clutching herself up around Trevor protectively. Realistically speaking, it’s a nonsense gesture- now more than ever, Trevor is the best-suited of them to protect himself. “I will make a wager with you, because Baba Yaga loves to gamble.” She grins toothily at them.

Sypha stares back unsmiling. Alucard also gives no reaction, stonefaced. She can feel his temper scraping at the air around him once more, and she’d like to reach out and touch him, give him some small measure of comfort, but Trevor starts to move again at just that moment, getting comfortable (she hopes), so she doesn’t dare.

“Within three days and three nights, plus this day we stand in now, if you can bring me three firebird feathers, I will let him go,” Baba Yaga says. “He will become a man once more, in body, then in mind, and you will have your boy back again. And, because you will have bought me time before it was due, I will give you a reward for that victory.”

Sypha breaks out in a sweat. Where are they going to find-? They don’t even have one- perhaps they could- would Trevor-? She looks at him, and he looks back. For the first time, staring him in the eye so close, she realizes that whatever Trevor is right now, the man she loves isn’t it. The creature that stares back at her is a wild thing, no tame beast to be groomed like a pony. His beak, long and curved, is big enough to take both eyes out of her face in one snap, and that makes her bite her lip in abrupt terror.

Still, he flies like he fights, and so she reassures herself that yes, yes, somewhere in there is Trevor. He’s strung around her neck like a fine lady’s fur stole, Sypha reminds herself. No unknown wild animal would allow such proximity, not even a strange one like a firebird. Baba Yaga has confirmed that he can be restored. Trevor isn’t gone, and they will bring him back.

“And the terms for failure?” Asks Alucard, because Alucard is nothing if not thorough. Sypha clutches at Trevor’s claws, feels them tense and relax under her fingers. She doesn’t know if she’d have the nerve to ask something like that so bluntly. She’d like to think that she could, but she doesn’t know.

“Your boy will be released in six and one years, as before you interfered,” Baba Yaga tells them, her fingers dancing spider-like through the air. Trevor picks up his head from Sypha’s fingers, watches those fingers move. He decides Sypha feeding him fire is more interesting and puts his head down again, swooped against her bosom to catch at her hands. The gentle tickle of his flame-tongue on her skin is a novelty, at least. He is very careful with his beak, though occasionally the sharp edge of it catches on her skin. It cut like a knife where it does- a sharp one. Sypha is not a tame woman herself, and so she simply continues to feed him fire, dribbling round puffs of heat into his hungry mouth.

“Very generous,” Alucard says, and doesn’t say, but this is your fault to start with, as Sypha wants to. She clamps her mouth shut before she gets them into terrible trouble, biting her lip forcefully to keep her words in. It isn’t a natural state for her, but for the sake of- everything, really, from Trevor all the way on up to Wallachia itself, she does it.

“Isn’t it just,” Baba Yaga chortles, and, raising a finger, continues on: “But your beautiful girl will be turned into a firebird as well, and she I will hold for twenty and one years. Or maybe she will be a chicken, and stay forever.” Sypha stares back, chin lifted, as Baba Yaga looks her over greedily. “I think I will have my two birds, though. And as for you?” Baba Yaga shrugs, feigning indifference, her hands spreading out wide. “You will stay with me for the same amount of time, as my servant, to do with as I please and, heeding all commands.”

“Agreed,” Alucard says, snappily, snappishly, as if this is the simplest thing in the world.

“You cannot agree for the girl,” Baba Yaga says, her mood suddenly turning dark. “In the world outside, perhaps, but here, no. Each man, woman must speak for themselves.”

“I agree,” Sypha tells them both, tells Trevor too, “I agree,” who only looks at her with those animal eyes, blue as his but lacking in the shine of warmth, the glint of mischief.

“Then,” Baba Yaga says, and turns to leave, calling out over her shoulder, “I will see you in three nights, and three days, and today done too.” Her nose pokes out over her shoulder even as her face turns forward, and Sypha shudders with the horror of it all.

Alucard takes Sypha by the elbow, leading her gently out of the yard lined in human bones. He is very, very careful not to touch Trevor. Sypha can see a shape out of the corner of her eye beckoning from the pond. Based on her last encounter with that rude snake, though, she doesn’t want anything to do with it now.

He waits until they’re out of the yard, leaving the constant heckle of the chickens behind, until they’ve walked in silence for some time, until the forest has closed around them again.

Alucard shouts out in frustration suddenly, clutching at his face two-handed, sending Trevor into a startled flapping.

“Could you not, perhaps?” Sypha asks, wincing at the touch of those iron claws. They pierce her woven robes like they’re nothing, but honestly she’d rather he cut her to the bone than vanish again.

“I apologize,” Alucard says, stooping like an old man. “I apologize. What have we gotten ourselves into?”

“Shh, shh,” Sypha soothes, stroking down Trevor’s back, conscious of the way he watches her as she speaks. “I don’t know,” she admits, biting her lip hard enough that it hurts. “Do you know how to get a feather? Could we- pluck him?”

Alucard winces; Sypha ruffles at Trevor’s feathers. It’s like touching a painted sheaf of silk, with no opening or purchase for her to get her fingers on.

“I doubt we should, even if we could. Baba Yaga isn’t known for gently observing polite customs,” Alucard points out, “and even she balked at the thought of harming a firebird.”

“At least you know we’ll be in good hands,” Sypha grumbles, “you know, when we, inevitably, fail.”

“You, perhaps. As for myself… I am uncertain.” Alucard waves her concerned look away, focusing on Trevor. “Regardless, it means little. We could not fail before in our mission to kill my father, and we cannot fail now. It is a simple as that.”

 

 

 

It is not, in fact, as simple as that. There are no ideas to be had, no secret knowings that either of them have that would be a key to this task. Trevor knows of Baba Yaga more than either of them combined, and he’s been set alight, burned and the ash reshaped into this creature with his eyes.

As sunset passes and the woods slide into night, Trevor lifts off Sypha’s shoulders and vanishes into the thick black woods. His wings trail flame, his tail trails starfire, and his claws leave long bloody stabs on her flesh. Sypha hisses, clutching at her shoulders as he departs, and Alucard is there in an instant, taking her into his arms and kissing her temple.

“Heal yourself,” he tells her. “I am confident he will return to us.”

“I want to save my strength,” she demurs, but he glares down at her with intensity. For a moment, the piercing nature of his stare calls the firebird to mind.

“Heal yourself, and I will lend you some of my strength if you need it.”

“Oh,” Sypha comments, coloring. They have pooled their magical resources before, notably and most recently when Trevor was savaged by Baba Yaga last. It felt… intimate, she supposes, like twining your legs with somebody, and then the rest of your body too. There had been no time to relish how close, how warm, how good that had felt. They had both been terrified, prying Death off Trevor fingertip by fingertip.

Now, though, in a magical glade, trying to wring out of their tired brains a way to produce more firebird feathers in three days than will apparently come in three years, Sypha feels a surge of need for some form of intimacy, some measure of comfort. She looks at Alucard, tips her head, and bites her lip.

“ ’Oh’?” Alucard asks, puzzled, looking her over. She stares up at him, reaching up and running a hand through her hair. He tips his head, considering, and Sypha can practically see when he catches up. “Ohh,” Alucard says, eyebrows darting up.

“Give me a moment,” Sypha murmurs, peeling her robes off, dirty and stained with blood and travel sweat as they are. When they get out of this, she isn’t sure she’ll be able to wash her clothes fully clean, but heaven and stars above, she’s going to try.

“Sypha!” Alucard says, looking scandalized, and gathers around her, glancing this way and that.

“Oh, come on. What, will you defend my honor against a peeping deer?” She raises her eyebrows at him, spreading out her outer cloak to make a comfortable place to sit on the pine-needle forest floor.

“I would like to think I am at least a match for a deer, so perhaps yes,” Alucard grumbles, all hurt male pride and tired flatness. Alucard, Sypha knows, is a man not used to coming up against his limits, but here, now, he’s been slamming against them harder and harder. She imagines that it must be… jarring, she decides, stripping to the waist and putting her hands on the bleeding slices Trevor’s iron claws left on her. Jarring, and, if her own struggles against her limits have been anything to go by, frustrating.

“Would you like a taste, before I mend?” She asks, wincing as she touches the edge of a wound and watches the flesh peel away from itself easily. Blood is flowing everywhere down her chest, a bead of it collecting around a nipple. The pain is sharp, keen-edged to her frazzled nerves, and while she isn’t happy to feel it, at least it’s something she can do something about, at least it’s a problem she can solve. Trevor… No, even if touching him hadn’t dissuaded her, the injuries the firebird has left on her as casually as he flies would do it. She can’t imagine what kind of damage a firebird would do if it was angered.

“No,” Alucard tells her, temper flaring. “Heal yourself, and I’ll clean you of the blood.”

“Hm,” Sypha hums, and does as she’s told for once.

She takes the time to mind her small cuts and scrapes after, touching here and there, running her fingers slowly up the seams Trevor has cut in her.

She knows that Trevor, Trevor the man, is blind to it, just like he’s insensate to Alucard’s magical climate, but to her eyes her healing magic raises sparks in brilliant spring green explosions. She’s always loved healing for its beauty- shimmers and streamers of copper and purple when forcing out an infection, rocking waves of iridescent cobalt when mending a bone, the slow, soft pulse of red lines emanating out from the treatment of hypothermia, and so on. No two healings are alike, a treat and a balm for the senses despite the frequently fraught circumstances they take place in.

When the final spark fades from her sight, Sypha turns her gaze up to Alucard. Goosebumps are rising on her skin in the cold. He sinks to his knees in front of her, leaning in. He closes his eyes and inhales slightly.

She thinks about kissing him, thinks about tugging at that funny little curl at the part of his hair, thinks about nothing at all but what’s in front of her right now. It feels like forever since she’s had the luxury, and though certainly right now she could do something else, if she’s honest, she’s not sure what. Sypha knows better than almost anybody that inspiration for magical work springs from the void, from the silences between instants. With that knowing hovering in her mind she allows Alucard to come in close, to nuzzle her cheek, draw his tongue along the bloody tracks of her now-healed wounds.

She can feel him picking up her tempo, can feel the flush of warmth spreading through him as he adapts to her leading heat.

Alucard dips his head to trace the lines of her blood, tongue laving at her skin where the lines catch and stick. Sypha shivers again, winding her fingers in his hair, stroking down the curve of his skull, tracing the graceful swoop of his spine into his shoulderblades into his collarbone. Her fingers trail lightly over his skin, and by the time he gets to her breast, by the time he snatches those beads of blood from her nipples and then bears down, flicking his his tongue over her skin, his body has caught up to hers and overtaken her, and he is burning against her, his body a barrier of heat against the cold of the night.

“Come here,” she says, cupping his face in her hands, and he follows her with a sweet, gentle expression that is so filled with longing that it cuts her.

“Are you comfortable?” Alucard asks, and when she nods, he comes in close and kisses her, hands finding her elbows, the small of her back, the nape of her neck. He moves to lay her down on her own cloak and she lets him, breasts bared to the moon above and the cold forest around them, and to the man on top of her, looking at her with eyes the color of the sun.

“Closer,” Sypha demands, reaching for him and pulling him down, twining her legs with his. “Come closer. I want you.”

“You have me,” Alucard says, somewhat wryly, and then yelps as she twists and rolls them. Sypha laughs, flinging her head back, and bounces on him, her hands moving to spread his coat open and touch at his twinned belts and open up his pants. “I am happy to be of service,” he tells her, propping himself up on his elbow and shuddering when she strokes him through the fine leather.

“But?” Sypha asks, tracing the shape of him as he hardens under her fingers, drinking in the way he lifts his hips and shimmies his pants down as if there isn’t a woman on him too. The casual display of strength makes her mouth water.

“But- perhaps I could offer myself to be more of service,” Alucard offers, smiling wanly and flashing a little fang as he does. He’s good with his mouth and he knows it.

Sypha shakes her head, reaching down to pet at him again, tracing the valleys in his skin between his muscles. She rubs little circles against his hipbone, watching the effect that has on his cock, and starts to rock against him. She can’t see overly much, not in the total darkness of a winter forest, but she can see enough. His eyes have gone a little red around the edges, both in the whites and the iris, his fangs are a little more visible in his mouth. He’s eager for her.

“I don’t think,” she says, the sadness under everything surging up to her surface for a moment. She takes a breath, closes her eyes, focuses on the freezing cold of the night on her skin, the heavy sway of her breasts as she rocks, the pleasing tension of Alucard’s body under his. “I want it this way,” Sypha says, and doesn’t tell him that she wants a little sting of pain right now, wants to force herself to take him, wants to have to work for her pleasure. She’s not as prone to masochism as her two men, but even she recognizes the cathartic nature of a small amount of suffering to ease the continental ache of the larger body.

She also knows that Alucard wouldn’t exactly see it in the same way, and so she shields him from something that would hurt him even as it heals her.

“I’ll stay on top,” she tells Alucard. He puts on a thinking expression, which she promptly does her best to chase away by reaching down to hitch up her own robes, flinging them over his torso with a laugh.

“How am I to see?” He demands, feigning indignation, though there’s nothing indignant about how he cups her breasts, giving one nipple a hard little tweak that sends a thread of hunger through her.

“You can’t always see,” Sypha tells him. He scowls, even though his flush increases notably and his breathing comes shorter. Taking off her robes would be too time-consuming, too inconvenient, and, if anything comes after them in the dark, too damned dangerous. She only did that out of convenience, but to her delight, it does indeed seem to be a tease for him, a denial of a privilege he’s rarely without.

That sparks a thought in her, and for a moment Sypha simply ruts on him, gazing down at Alucard and pressing into his hands when he gives a mean pinch at her other nipple. Perhaps a blindfold and a gag, and to tie him spreadeagled, to hold him mute and blind and at their mercy, she could work together with him to find something that would truly hold Alucard, could ask Trevor-

No. Not now. No no no.

She finds his cock with her hands and plays her fingers around him, reaches below to press at his balls. Her touch is delicate but he hisses anyway, and if it weren’t for how his cock bobs in her hold she’d think he were in pain.

“I would like to, though,” Alucard presses, and he gives a pleased moan when Sypha leans down and kisses him, her fingers dragging red lines down his chest. He shudders against her, hips bucking, so she does it again, channeling just the slightest touch of ice on her nails when she slides past his nipples. He grunts, jerks, tosses his head back and snarls.

“I told you no,” Sypha says, smiling fondly at him. She pulls her nails down his chest one more time, this time trailing heat, and when she comes to his chest and his sensitive nipples she circles them, rubbing around the nubs with the hot pads of her fingers.

“Please,” Alucard says, a whine half-catching in his throat, hips starting to hitch up in a jerky, desperate rock. “Sypha, please.”

“You will take what I give you,” Sypha says lightly, leaning in, and she gives his collarbone a bite. His hands fly from her breasts to her back, and he shudders against her, eyes screwed shut. She shifts a bit until she can feel the hard, girthy press of his cock against her, even through the layers of her slip and underthings and such.

“I object,” Alucard says, but his voice has gone breathy and his body is fever-hot under hers. Sypha combs a hand through his hair before leaning back, reaching under her robes to free herself from the remaining layers between them.

“You have no right to,” Sypha says pleasantly. “I have to sit here in the dark all the time. Simply because you can see in the dark doesn’t mean- ooh!” She exclaims, because he’s shifted his body and shimmied her in such a way that her clit rubs against the base of his cock. “Mmmm,” she continues, eloquent, and lets him take her wrists in his hands, lets him guide her in repeating the motion. They stay like that for a while, rocking and shifting and giving soft, muted sighs of pleasure.

“Hands off,” Sypha says finally, and when Alucard tries to ignore her she sends a glazing of ice skittering down his forearms.

He hisses at her again, releasing her.

“Good,” she praises, lifting a hand to press at the darkening mark she’s left on his skin with her mouth. Alucard presses against her hand eagerly, the ice melting quickly on his burning skin and sending little droplets of water skittering off between them. “Good, Alucard.”

“Sypha,” he says, voice dropped into a low, intimate pitch, a tone made richer by the fondness in it, “Sypha, bite me again, please, I beg you,” so she does, because he asked so nicely. He twists against her mouth and cries out raggedly, and she feels his cock jump against her, feels how easy it would be as he tenses and flexes against her to lift her hips and press his head against her entrance.

So: she does.

At the first press of his head against her she gasps in anticipation, relishing the pressure, the promise of being parted and opened up. Alucard’s eyes have gone huge, and he’s sucking in deep, steady breaths, holding himself still against her, shaking with the effort. She knows from asking him that he relishes this part in particular, adores the way his partners’ faces change as they begin to accept him into them, worships the radiant flush of eagerness as they feel him prying them open and filling them.

She doesn’t deny him that, then, could never deny him that. Sypha points her face in his direction and closes her eyes and bites her lip, and she feels his hands on hers and takes comfort from the gesture.

She bears down, and his intense, heady girth is no different than any time before. He feels too big, too hot and too much to take. Her breath hitches, because despite that, because of it, Alucard feels so good, pressing her into her own pleasure and chasing after it himself. She sinks down, bit by bit, shifting and clutching at his hands, working her way own around him with the sound of his breathing in her ears, the hot steady flare of his power around her.

Finally, finally, she makes one further hustle down and finds that she’s taken all of him.

“You are incredibly beautiful,” Alucard tells her sincerely, clutching at her hands and giving a full-body tremor. She knows it’s from him trying to hold himself back, knows it’s from him trying to keep still like she likes him while she takes him in. She loves that he gives her that power, bows his head gently to her wishes and follows her directions with only the mildest of fusses; even those small rebellions, she knows, even those are there only to remind her of the power she holds over him. It makes fondness grow in her heart like a garden, love spilling out from her breast like a surplus of flowers.

“You are too,” Sypha tells him fondly, and moves on him, rising up on her knees to pull him almost out of her, then down again. He can’t make a response, can only gasp, but that’s fine. She can’t say much either, not right now.

Sypha continues to rise up slowly, bring herself down again, until Alucard is writhing under her, chest heaving, irises dyed hot hot red, and still he lets her do as she will with him. Still she rises, falls, the pace steady, quiet, slow. He gives a little moan, then a pitched groan, baring his teeth and snapping at the air. Still he leaves his hands on hers, his fingers tight now on hers.

“Would you like,” Sypha asks, made breathless by the slick hot rush of him in her, the way he feels against her body, the simmering sparks of pleasure that slide up from her belly to her throat and shower down again, “would you like to- oh- oh—OH!”

She quakes on him, nails digging into his hands, driving herself steadily in that just-right way, feeling the slight flex of his body as Alucard offers himself to her and moves just the slightest, the gentlest way, to tease her over the edge of the cliff she’s climbed up on.

A wash of golden satisfaction surges through her, but she keeps going, keeps the slow steady flow of their movements and the wave turns, rebounds, curves on another angle and comes through her again. Sypha cries out, feels Alucard freeing a hand to sweep it up through her hair. She tucks her head against his touch, panting, and licks her lips. She opens her eyes to see him watching her silently. He’s flushed, eyes brilliant ruby now, and still he patiently waits for her permission, buried in her to the hilt and sweating hot in the winter air. Pride and satisfaction and joy climb up her throat. When she’s recovered a bit, she asks:

“Do you want to drive the carriage for a bit?”

He snorts, teases his fingers against her scalp.

“Do you want me to be on top, or do you?”

“I’ll stay,” Sypha says, feeling the final echoing wave of her orgasm slide through her. It leaves hunger behind again, hunger centered around the enormous ache of Alucard’s cock between her legs.

“I see,” Alucard says, eyes narrowing. “You are tremendously spoiled.” And he lifts his hands from her hand, from her head, to clutch at her waist. Oh, oh yes. She knows what he means with that. Sypha gives him a prideful, arrogant toss of her head, though the sweatiness of her curls interferes with the image somewhat. She enjoys playing this game of his too.

“I am! And completely- oh!” He sits up off his elbows, surging back to lean against the tree at the head of where Sypha has thrown her cloak.

“Are you repentant in the least?” Alucard asks her, as she finds herself tucked against his chest suddenly, in his lap.

“I am not,” Sypha tells him. “But you should be. How terrible you are, pulling me about like that.”

Alucard laughs, and the motion sends an echoing jolt though her where they’re joined. Sypha bites her lip, prickling her nails along his shoulders. This is a better position, she decides. She likes that she can kiss him like this, can bite at him better.

“You’ll think I’m worse in a moment,” Alucard teases, and lifting her up off of him in the darkness he turns her around to face his knees, crooked up to provide her with a cradle- or a cage, she supposes, if one felt that way.

She does not.

“You can’t see my breasts like this,” Sypha points out, shifting to rest them against his knees.

“But I can do this,” says Alucard, fishing under her robes, and she turns her head to give him a narrowed stare. He smiles back winningly at her, and Sypha whips her head around, feigning irritation; something of the smile, be it the arrogance or the charm or the sheer enthusiasm of it, reminds her of Trevor, and she can’t think of him, not now.

Alucard adjusts them and presses her down on him again. Sypha takes him more easily now, shifts to accommodate the new position and plants her hands on his knees. Still, even with her slick and ready for him again, the weighty press of his cock in her feels huge. It feels good.

“More,” she demands, arching her back for him prettily, her nipples drawn taut from the chill of the air around them. Alucard snorts.

“I thought-“

“Harder, too,” she says contemplatively, and turns her head back to him to give a cheeky grin of her own.

“Woefully, I cannot argue,” Alucard says. Sypha opens her mouth to chide him, but then his hands lock on the bare skin of her waist and he draws her up, up, until her lips are kissing goodbye to the head of his cock again-

and down, in one delicious hard bounce, putting his strength to good use. Sypha gasps, digging her nails into his pants. Alucard growls behind her.

Oh yes,” Sypha agrees, and they set to it, Alucard bouncing her up and down on him, enjoying the way she clenches on the downsweep, the way she presses her hips into it and cants them and comes down on him in just the right way to make her scream and swear, fingertips bleeding fire with every delicious hard surge of his cock into her.

He frees a hand once Sypha has gotten the pace, slides it under her robes again to find her clit, circles it and pets at it and rubs, rubs, rubs and presses at just the same moment as he brings her down on him, sparking wild golden searing fireworks in her, an explosion of brilliant fury wheeling and swooping down and then up again, with more sparks and a flood in her, waters rising up to drown her in glorious, perfect-

Sypha throws back her head and screams, still riding up and down on Alucard. He gasps behind her as she clenches on him, brings her down on him faster and faster until he’s shuddering, muscles working hard under his skin and he goes, and goes, and goes, chasing more fireworks up in her, drawing her close to press his mouth to her ear so she can hear his frantic breathing, so she can feel his breath in her hair, so she can feel the warmth of his chest at her back as he pumps frantically into her, then gives a hard buck, then another, and finally one long push in and a long, breathy, relieved sigh.

She can feel the pulse of his cock as he comes in her, the way his sex jerks and twitches and then the pooling of heat in her, both physically and magically, as she receives what he gives her. Sypha breathes out a faint moan, though she’s got no more room for any further pleasure- she loves that feeling, that final indication of satisfaction and joy in her male partners.

They lie there together in silence. Alucard kisses her hair, kisses her cheek, kisses her fingers when she brings them up to his lips.

 

 

 

They’re lying on their side together under Alucard’s coat, absently lamenting the loss of Trevor’s fluffy cloak as they drift off to sleep, when light starts to trickle through the trees.

“Is that-?” Asks Sypha, putting a hand to her eyes.

“I certainly hope so, or the planet has gone quite askew,” Alucard comments dryly, bracing himself up over her. She doesn’t know if he realizes, when he does things like that, but she can’t help but find it amusing and irritating in equal portions. For something approaching from a distance, she should be ahead- she’s the only one that can strike from afar.

The light is, of course, Trevor. He comes lofting towards them, white tail trailing behind him like the air behind him has been seared hot into stripes.

“Trevor,” Sypha says, and reaches out for him, heedless of her state of dress.

He circles around them, calling out some strange cry that Sypha can’t put words or syllables to.

“He wants something,” Alucard decides, watching him fly around and around in their small glade. Trevor alights on a tree in that odd upside-down pose once more, tips his head back and calls at them, another wordless cry that fills Sypha’s heart with courage, with strength, with passion.

With fire.

“Come here,” Sypha says, pouring fire into her hands and holding the blossom of orange fire out to the bird that is one of her men.

Alucard hesitates, then pulls her up again against his chest.

“I don’t think I can touch him,” he says, “not directly.” He sounds pained.

It makes sense, though not the kind Sypha will say aloud. Baba Yaga didn’t touch him, was careful to offer a poker. Alucard is a monster too, if not completely, and the same rules likely apply here and there.

“Trevor,” Sypha says, and pours more into her hands, the fire growing redder and wilder.

Trevor swoops into her arms with ferocity, burning wings enfolding both of them for an instant before he draws his wings back tight against his body and starts to rub his crest against her hands, then to rock about, then flex and turn and twist-

Alucard stifles a laugh.

“Is he doing what I think he’s doing?” Sypha asks, both amused and irritated. How very like Trevor.

“I believe he may be taking a bath in your flame,” Alucard chokes out. Sypha can feel the shimmy of his belly as he represses his laughter. Trevor gives an indignant shriek, spreading his wings and examining the flame she has for him from this angle and that, his head tilting quickly in an obvious inspection.

“Fine, fine. I get it.” She focuses, pouring yet more power into her hands, and the flame pops, abruptly, into a white-hot droplet, compressed and smooth. Trevor arches his long, beautiful neck and- nibbles.

He seems to find it to his tastes, because he opens that glinting gem-like beak and snaps hungrily at the fire, wings half-spreading and his long sweep of a tail curling in Sypha’s lap, somehow managing to stay off the ground as he moves about. It looks effortless.

“Alucard,” Sypha says, breath coming a little quicker already at the exertion.

“I’m here,” he tells her, and the pooling of their powers is made easier, more efficient by the heat they’ve just shared between them.

 

 

 

They feed Trevor endlessly, it feels like. He calls with indignation when the light falters, when the heat drops down to red again, and so Sypha works, and works, and works, and Alucard clutches behind her, wringing himself dry to give her everything that he can, every ounce of his own power fed into her, fed into Trevor.

It’s sunrise by the time Sypha can draw nothing further out of either of them, and Alucard reels behind her, exhausted, sweating, trembling.

“I’m sorry,” she says, tongue thick with exhaustion, her vision blurring, her body straining to stay conscious. “It’s everything, Trevor. It’s all we have.”

As the sun rises, as the first beam of light sweeps into their spot between the trees, Sypha feels herself swoon and comes to rest on Alucard, who is similarly laid low. She struggles to lift her eyes open once more and sees Trevor settling on her knees, his tail coming gently up to cover the pair against the cold of the air. Alucard is touched by a feather but nothing terrible happens, and so Sypha finally gives up, eyes fluttering shut.

She sees Trevor lowering his beak to his feathers as she drifts off into darkness, and then she’s gone.

 

 

 

By the time Sypha next wakes, it looks to be about noon. She squints into the light, her head pounding, mouth feeling as if she’s packed wool into it and left it.

Alucard is out cold next to her. She smooths some hair away from his face as she sits up. From past experience, she knows that her drawing so heavily from him is hard on him. It wears him through like a foot through a slipper, sends him into a deep sleep that he- eventually- rouses exhausted from. Moving him like this is impossible, and she can feel his arms locked tight around her waist, so-

“Hello,” Sypha breathes out, and Trevor lifts his head from where he’s curled. He looks like a cat, all bundled up in a little circle. There’s a little red tip poking out from under him. “What’s this, Trevor?”

He blinks at her, chatters his beak, peeps. Sypha reaches out slowly, carefully, loathe to disturb him. Her caution seems to be for nothing, because he lifts his wings and does some stretches, standing with one metal talon on Sypha’s hip and one on Alucard’s. Under him, between his enormous iron claws, is-

“You beautiful boy,” laughs Sypha, “My sweet Trevor.” There are tears brimming up in her eyes, and she reaches down and picks it up and holds it out to the sun-

A single firebird feather, glinting like gold and rubies in the light.

Sypha dips her head down and cries into Alucard’s shoulder. The relief, however temporary, is simply too much to bear.

Chapter Text


 

 

Alucard puts the feather in his coat.

They admire it together first, leaning against a tree and watching how the feather takes in light, amplifies it, sends it out again in great scattering bursts of light.

“No wonder she wants these,” Alucard says gravely, handling the feather with a delicacy that Sypha would expect for a firecracker.

“I can’t tell much about it, other than how lovely it is,” Sypha admits, and it’s true: all she can sense from it is a warmth, a supreme heat like the rays of the sun, golden and liquid, as they sink into and through clothes on a summer sunset. Sitting in a winter clearing, having struggled through what feels like a forever of hard storms lately, the feather is a balm on the soul.

“I don’t know how to make use of it,” Alucard says. “It’s like asking for some paper and ink and receiving endless sheafs of vellum that are the size of a room, and a charcoal stick the size of a needle to write on them with.”

“I see,” Sypha says, putting a finger to her lip.

“Do you?” Alucard asks.

“Are you implying that I’m simple?” Sypha smiles out with too many teeth.

“I merely- I didn’t know if perhaps I had selected a poor metaphor,” Alucard says hesitantly. Sypha gives him a pinch in the side now. He grumbles but leans into her again, a wordless apology, a supplication for forgiveness.

It’s true, she supposes, that she doesn’t read like he does, and, based on Trevor’s memory-version of his family grimoire, she doesn’t read like Trevor does either. She knows important words for things here and there in a scattershot of languages, odd symbols and marks and characters picked up along her tribe’s travels. But she doesn’t have enough of any of those words to help her read, not an entire book.

It doesn’t mean that he has to act like she’s unfamiliar with the very concept of writing, though.

Alucard’s words did make sense to her- just not in the way he intended. She would be flummoxed if somebody gave her any writing materials at all. Unlike Alucard’s school of magic, Speaker magic relies on no seals, bases itself on no foundational scripts or codexes.

It’s precisely the reason it’s so taxing for him to funnel his strength into her- Speaker arts handle magic in a rawer format than the monster arts, it seems, and the transfer in formats can’t only be on the side of the receiver, her. He has mentioned, on many occasions, that there are endless schools of refinement and manipulation and control in the world of monsters, which is why they’re all so divergent, why so many monsters have such unique, specialized abilities. For him, sending his magic to her, it’s not simply a donation of energy as it would be from one Speaker to another, but a distillation and a transfer in one. It is doubly demanding, and only a testament to his power and concentration that he can do it at all.

Alucard sighs, looking gray around the edges, and Sypha focuses her gaze on him. Well. He’s spoken poorly, but he does look tired. They’re both exhausted, really. It’s only fair to give him some leeway, especially since he looks as if he could fall over at any heaven-sent breeze. Hopefully he’ll give her the same slack.

 “I don’t suppose we’ll be able to scavenge any food out here,” Sypha sighs, and the change of topic is meant to be a peace offering. Trevor is still standing on them, warm and alert, still with one talon on either of their legs.

“I didn’t mean to imply,” Alucard says, and Sypha looks at him from under her lashes.

“I know,” she says, and smiles at him.

He studies her.

“You look tired.”

“I am,” she agrees, her fingers finding his under their makeshift bed. “And so do you.”

Trevor flicks his head this way and that, piercing eyes landing here and there.

“I can’t do that again tonight,” Alucard tells Sypha, staring fixedly at Trevor. Sypha looks at him too, tries to pretend she can’t feel the shaking in his hand, the chill in her own fingertips that signifies a major degradation of her magical stores.

“We’ll have to figure something out,” Sypha says. “It’s noon, isn’t it? Or past it.”

Alucard yawns in response. He starts rolling his shoulders, trying to sooth the ache and the stiffness out. Sypha guesses he won’t be very successful, not without some rest, some food, and… Trevor, back with them. And not…

a bird, her mind resignedly fills in.

“I did enjoy last night,” he tells her, resting his chin on a hand and reaching out with a finger towards Trevor.

“Good,” Sypha tells Alucard. “Be careful. His beak is sharp.”

“I can feel the strength in his talons,” Alucard confirms, wincing a little bit around the eyes. “Do you think it’s Trevor in there somewhere? Or has he simply been pushed down to make room for the firebird?”

“I don’t know,” Sypha admits. Trevor is watching Alucard’s fingers advance seriously. His stare is so intense, so wild, that it’s hard to tell what he’s thinking. “But Baba Yaga said we would have him back, so at least he isn’t….”

“The pot,” Alucard says, with such an absence of tone that it only makes it sound more ghastly, “I thought… hells below. I thought she had killed him. I really thought she had roasted our sweet-eyed hunter.”

Sypha giggles. It is, she knows, a wholly inappropriate sound given the topic, but she can’t handle the way Alucard thinks of Trevor sometimes. It’s also a welcome break from the concept of what they’re both dancing around nervously: if Trevor is aware, if he’s suffering, if he’s frightened, if he’s in pain. None of those questions can be answered, and so Sypha buries herself in loving, fond thoughts of Trevor-the-man.

“You know, he is actually dangerous. He’s just as dangerous as you or I. Perhaps more, really. He was on his own for so long.”

Alucard shrugs. Danger, Sypha has long ago realized, features very little in how he perceives people. Perhaps that’s just one of the things that comes with growing up with monsters, as a monster of sorts: if everybody is a walking fatality, if your father is literally Dracula, does it make any sense to conceptualize of the ability to kill at the drop of a pin as something to be cautious of? No wonder he gets so fussy about Trevor and herself, Sypha decides. They must seem dreadfully, woefully soft and tender and easily lost to minor things like illness or accident.

“He has gentle eyes,” Alucard says, and touches the feral-eyed thing in front of him hesitantly, with the back of a finger. Trevor fluffs, shifts, holds still. “He cares, though he wishes he didn’t, and it shines out through his eyes even when he schools his face, which is, by the way, rarely. Am I wrong?”

“No,” Sypha agrees quietly, tipping her head to rest it on Alucard’s shoulder. “But I do still think it’s funny.”

“I wish,” Alucard says, quietly, running his fingers over Trevor-the-firebird’s breast, who puffs up for Alucard handsomely, “that he would come in from the cold a little more.”

“He’s trying,” Sypha tells him firmly, thinking of Trevor sitting in the bathing room floor, naked and hurt and come back for them. She thinks of him telling them, awkwardly, that he missed them, and her toes curl in her boots, in her socks, which are patched and warm and soft again because Trevor darned them up nicely for her.

She had noticed that he had made her patches with fancy stitches, had wound in stars and twill and patterns she hadn’t known a person could make in darning. She had been meaning to ask him to show her, and now…. Now he doesn’t have any hands at all. She’ll ask him when he has them again, she decides. And she’ll make Alucard learn next to her, as revenge for that crack about writing- he’s crap at mending, resolutely refuses to acknowledge that he is. She finds that unbelievably endearing, enough so to overcome her ire at his natural, assumptive arrogance that she cares about writing even a little, that she would feel chagrined at not being able to.

“Perhaps if he were as friendly as a man,” Alucard laughs, because Trevor is awkwardly clambering up their legs now to cozy in with them under their shared coat. “Hell, he’s hot. Ah- Sypha- help-”

“It may have something to do with the literal flames he’s emanating,” Sypha says dryly, prying Trevor away from Alucard before he can roast the poor man. “Come now, slow-cooking one of your lovers as he lies in your embrace is in poor form, whether you are a bird right now or not.”

Trevor screams at her but stays where he’s put, clicking his beak angrily.

He does snake his head around under his wing to give them a sulky look, though. Alucard smiles at him, and despite Sypha’s scolding as they tidy themselves for the day, he keeps reaching out to pet Trevor, to caress him. She leaves to go handle her morning toilet still cautioning him against being too eager to touch, in case Trevor burns him.

She returns to find Alucard has bundled Trevor in his coat and is rocking him upside-down in his arms, laughing at the way the marvelous, fire-and-magma train of Trevor’s tail floats along the air like a will-o-wisp in the wrong color as he’s cradled. The more she observes the firebird, the more she realizes that his feathers don’t yield to the steady pull of the earth like almost everything else does. He really does move like fire, like light, like flames rising up eternally to the heavens.

“I can’t tell if he likes it truly,” Alucard tells her, looking fondly down at Trevor with his pale belly and his lazily-curled claws, “but he hasn’t taken my face off, so I presume he does.” Trevor is chattering his beak, chest rising and falling leisurely. One of his wings is splayed up and over Alucard’s arms, making him look like he’s wearing a particularly lavish cloak.

“You’re both idiots,” Sypha says, but she cracks a weary smile at the sight anyway.

 

 

 

Their good cheer is temporary, though, when faced with a rapid descent of the sun and a dreamy splay of approaching storm clouds.

Sypha and Alucard had debated, but eventually decided to walk on; they didn’t want to stay in one place for too long. While it was deeply likely that Baba Yaga knew where they were, approximately, they didn’t want to make it too easy on her in case she had plans of interference for them.

So now they walk through a copse of stiff firs, watching a storm come in with silent, expectant misery.

“I don’t really know what we’re going to do,” Sypha explains to Trevor as they go, who is swooping and diving and feinting in front of them. “I have nothing else to give you for now. But I refuse to lose you like this.”

Alucard, watching the storm with an intent expression, pulls a sudden, severe frown.

“We need to get to shelter,” he says, and immediately starts circling out from where they stand.

“I suppose,” Sypha agrees, though she doesn’t quite see the rush. “I have enough strength in me to make an ice house if everything is so truly dire, though.” … she thinks.

“I can hear something coming,” Alucard clarifies, continuing his circling. “And I can hear the crash of the storm, too. The wind is,”

But he doesn’t need to finish, and can’t anyway, because the first gust of wind from that unassuming slip of storm ahead of them brings ice through Sypha’s lungs and steals the words from the air.

She hears it then, what Alucard can likely hear much better: the snap and pop of tree limbs giving way and dropping like leaves from a young plant, the sound like a canon from the battlefield, and it terrifies her. She’s only heard it once before, but it was during a dire freeze, one so cold that horses were dying in the night frozen on their feet, bundled together and under blankets. There had been no rest, no respite, only the insatiable, clutching cold, and a need to keep moving unless they wanted to join the horses. She had hoped she would never encounter something like that again, but here it is now, rising in front of her with teeth made of ice and claws made of wind, and the earth weeping before its maw is shattering trees in sacrificial supplication.

“Trevor!” Sypha calls out. But he’s gone, flying up to meet the storm, wings flaring hard blue-white as the wind hits him. He doesn’t wobble, doesn’t dim, and something about that makes Sypha’s heart soar with fierce joy even in the face of such an unmatched adversary as they now have.

“We’re screwed,” Sypha says fatalistically, and immediately joins Alucard in trying to figure out how to make that not so.

 

 

They end up finding a tiny, tiny crack in the ground, just big enough for two Syphas, and Alucard and she work quickly to dig it out a little bigger- Sypha heating the soil with tender, shoot-like licks of flame, Alucard in wolf shape digging out the warmed earth efficiently. They have a small urn-shaped cave soon enough, protected by the earth on most sides.

Alucard cuts down some branches, and Sypha ties them together with some left-over yarn she has in her pockets, and then they have a door of sorts too, to keep out the snow.

They pack in with just barely enough room to light a small flame between them, which struggles and gutters in the face of the approaching wind. Sypha doesn’t mention that, when she put ice on the edges of their door to keep it in place, she broke out in a sweat. She doesn’t see the point- Alucard is dazed and weary next to her as well. Feeding a firebird, she thinks, is a task best left to the sun after all.

“I’m sorry,” Sypha says, hands trembling. She has no strength left, truly.

“It’s all right,” Alucard tells her, his brow furrowed and his face turned away.

“What do you hear?” She presses closer and he lifts an arm absently. Tucking in under him, she strains to listen as well. All she can hear, though, is the wind, rising and screaming, and the faint patter of hardened ice-snow as it starts to fall.

“Four limbs, but no breathing. A heavily-furred tail of some kind. Clicking?” Alucard freezes, pupils narrowing to slim, snakelike shape.

Sypha follows his example and quiets her breathing as best she can, peering out through a small gap in the door of their cave.

Even she can hear the steps now, the faint crackle of pine needles breaking underfoot faint against the wind. The clicking sounds wooden, rather than animal, and the noise confuses her. She’s heard a few monsters’ noises by now, has fought against more than her share of demons, but she hasn’t heard anything like that, not yet.

The creature that trundles into view is familiar in some way, but grown horribly, changed and stretched and added to in ways that Sypha shrinks back from. The tawny yellow is the same, the spiral of wooden needles leading to a small hole at the mouth is the same, but now Baba Yaga’s monster has a spine and bloodied ribs of inhuman size jutting from its woolen body, the ridge of it ripping past the stitches, lurching up above its back and shoulders and head and ending in odd, snail-shell spirals that seep some sort of fluid. The head is no longer featureless and lumpy, but stretched haphazardly over a short, blunt skull. It looks like a human head, but where the mouth should be is only the tight draw of yellow knit stitches ending in useless knitting needles; the face is the same featureless slide as the rest of its knitted body. But down below, where a neck would be, hangs a hole, and from that hole sloppy tatters of something pink and fleshy dangle, dripping and bouncing and heaving with every bounding step the creature makes.

The tail is lush and full as any fox’s, but it has none of the spryness or grace of a true tail. There the knitting is compact and tight on it, and the fabric has been brushed to give it the appearance of lustrous, radiant animal fur. But something is off, and as Sypha watches she sees: it moves like a bag of meat, inert and leaden. Something slides under the surface of the tail, long and sinuous, like a needle under the skin, and then another, and another, until she realizes with a shock that the whole tail is simply a bundle of- of- of somethings.

Sypha’s fingers clench on Alucard’s leg, but she doesn’t dare breathe, let alone exclaim. He is similarly tense beside her, and Sypha knows that without Trevor’s sacred whip (in her robes but useless in her hands, and dangerous to Alucard to hold), they have no chance against this creature, not left weak as they have been by their feeding of their firebird.

The tension is short-lived, though: the creature bounces off toward the storm, away from them. It moves quickly and eagerly.

Sypha catches, or thinks she does, sight of its feet as it bounds away: sticky spreads of yellow wool, felted and pooled out to give a good hold on the earth. It leaves a faint trail of fluid that rapidly turns the pine needles under it a shocking shade of ultra-black, a black so deep Sypha finds that she can’t make much detail out at all.

Alucard clutches at her, growling and shivering, and tucks her into his chest. She knows that it’s frustration, exhaustion, and instincts thrown into a blend and mashed together that make him clutch at her so, but nevertheless she gives him a little nudge, then a bite at his collarbone when he doesn’t let her go.

“Gracious,” he complains, drawing back and looking peeved.

“You bite us both,” Sypha says with a put-upon air, “all the time. Where do you think that thing is going?”

“Into the storm, for whatever reason,” Alucard responds wearily. Sypha’s stomach takes this moment to remind her that it is, in fact, Very Hungry. The growl of her belly rises up even against the shrillness of the wind now heckling at their door. “Oh, Sypha…”

“I don’t care,” she responds firmly, because she doesn’t. Speakers are used to going without, and Gresit isn’t so far off in the memory that she doesn’t remember the tense clutch of her belly at her spine. “Why is it going into the storm in such a rush?”

“I don’t care,” Alucard tells her back, turning her response on her, and starts rummaging in his coat. He won’t have any food on him, or he would have turned it up earlier when he looked then, too, but she lets him try while she thinks. “Surely I must…”

“Trevor went into the storm, as well,” Sypha says slowly, at the same time that Alucard says,

“If we wait out the storm we can find something when it dies down, but when will it end?”

“We can’t wait out the storm,” Sypha explains, “because that thing is going to look for Trevor.

Alucard looks at her in the growing darkness, his hair starting to lift and twist with the wind. Snow has started to fall in earnest against their door, and, without breaking eye contact with her, Alucard reaches up and pokes a hole through the accumulating snow to allow air exchange.

“No,” he says, unblinkingly.

“We have to,” Sypha begs him. Without Trevor on her side now, she knows very well that his natural sense of caution when it comes to putting a human in danger might cost them everything here. She cannot let that happen. “I know this.” She pounds at her heart with a fist.

“Did you not hear the sounds of this storm?” Alucard demands, looking fierce and suddenly remote as a star in the sky. Sypha draws back from him, then steels herself and presses forward again, her hands on his shoulders, her face up close to his.

“I said we have to,” and suddenly she knows, deep in her where the source of her fire comes from, that this is right, this is correct, this is what they have to do or say goodbye to Trevor forever- because Trevor-as-a-man won’t survive seven years as a firebird, she realizes.

No man could, not even Trevor. Because when he comes back to land, the world around him will be razed, and even if Sypha and Alucard survive long enough to find him again, they will be too far away from who he is, will never catch him and cage him and tame him back to the human ways again with their bodies and their hearts. Already in the years since his family’s murder he’s gone half-feral, drunk and tired and staggering through life as if he wishes he could vanish into the earth face-first; seven years and the total massacre of Wallachia will sever his ties to this world completely. Perhaps then he won’t vanish into the earth, but simply float away from the murdered land, a symbol of power and life on burning wings, forever, forever, forever.

“No,” says Alucard, firmly, and he pries Sypha off of his shoulders and blocks the exit with his body.

Here Sypha looks at him with pity, because she knows why he’s resisting. His mother’s death is fresh, and before that are years and years and years of being shown and taught that a human you love is infinitely, indefinably fragile; all of his life has shown Adrian that his human side is weak but lovely, and Alucard that his vampire side is strong but savage.

But while the Lisa she met in his memory was lovely, she was the loveliness inherent in a favored pot or a good spindle- nothing so fragile as Dracula has always led Alucard to believe. And the Dracula she had met in his memory was not so savage as Alucard seemed to fear, doting on his wife with courtesy and consideration not for her weakness but for his strengths.

Now he’s lost Trevor, and perhaps Alucard didn’t know it, but his face as he watched Trevor be dragged away by the witch was bereft, stricken, agony given living shape on his features. He was the one that had snatched up the whip, bloodying his hand to do it, and he was the one who braved the unknown of Baba Yaga’s house first to find Trevor. His mother was burned at the hands of men and begged him to forgive them, and so he has. He has learned how to shoulder the grief of death more easily than the rawness of uncertainty, and so now, to him, it might as well be that Trevor is truly dead. Better to mourn than foster hope that will only be crushed, violently, by his own failure. His mother died in flames before him, and now, so has Trevor.

All of this leads Sypha to one, singular conclusion:

“Move, or I roast you where you sit.”

Alucard does a double-take. It’s been a long time since she advanced on him with any genuine threat, and he has to work through a few levels of danger assessment before he, blinkingly, reaches for his sword. He doesn’t dare tighten his hand on it, though.

“Sypha, what madness has seized you?”

“I won’t let you do this,” she tells him, fury blazing up in her. She can feel the fire licking at the back of her neck and welcomes it- anger can spark flame in her when all else is burned to ground in her reserves. “I won’t let your uncertainties doom us, the nation, and Trevor. Have you forgotten? We need him.”

“He means more than the prophecy,” Alucard says, his face twisting into unhappiness, surprise, caution.

“I know that,” Sypha growls, advancing, her fingernails scoring dents in the earth, sending up little hisses of steam where they hit ice. “But do you think he will care about that? He loves this country, hell if I know why after what they did to him.”

“We can,” Alucard starts, but he backs up when Sypha claws forward again, forcing him back against the boughs of their door, rocking and bucking in the wind.

“Do you think he will forgive us if we turn our back on this, even if for a temporary break only? Do you think your mother will? We have a duty,” Sypha tells him firmly, rearing up and planting her hands, the fire spreading from her nails to her fingers to her palms, on either side of his head, “to fulfil the prophecy. Let your love spur you, and I will let my power lead us. If you love him, and I know you do, then now you will have to show him the way he shows it to us- with your acts.”

She incinerates the bough-door as if it were dried kiln wood, not fresh green sap-laden tree-flesh, and Alucard skitters back, wincing as the storm slices ice into Sypha’s hair almost instantly.

“Let’s go,” she yells. Alucard turns, looks back and forth between her and the solid wall of clouds. Distantly, Sypha thinks she can hear more popping, more canon-firings. She doesn’t care- she’s blazing inside, her fire stoked, and she is more than willing to take on core-rotten fleshbag witch monsters.

“Sypha,” he calls out to her, reaching for her. She tolerates it, will genuinely light him on fire if he tries to stop her. He clutches at her forearm, gazes at her intensely.

“Thank you,” he says, and gives her a squeeze on her arm before he’s releasing her, letting her fly free, letting her light the way for him through the thrashing mess of a storm.

 

 

 

By the time they find what they’re looking for, the wind is so fierce and the snow is so strong that Sypha has to hold on to Alucard to walk forward. A few times trees have broken in front of them, scattering shards of ice and wood as branches peel off and leave exposed wood behind, leaking sap dripping like blood. Sypha has only had to dodge a branch coming down on her once, but the forest seems to have it out for Alucard- he dances back and out of the way and sideways off more times than he can count. At first it’s an annoyance, but the further they go, against a wave of darkness that’s less a storm and more a total destruction of the senses, the more Sypha sees it for what it is: a stall. Without Alucard to hold on to, Sypha has to struggle for every single step, and for every branch that falls in their way, they have to work around it, or over it. But spite and anger drives Sypha, and she claws through the snow like she did through the earth, Alucard coming with her as if drawn in her wake at first, until he has to take the lead.

The snow has drawn the world in a blur of gray, denser than any fog could ever be, but through it all Sypha has felt a pull in her, like calling to like. When the light totally failed, when the storm was all they had left, they couldn’t follow the droplets of black any more, but Sypha was unafraid, and Alucard trusted her to lead them true. They’ve trudged through unerringly since, fighting in the most visceral way against nature, clinging to trees and staggering through waist-deep drifts.

They see Trevor’s light before they see anything else. Sypha calls aloud but the wind snatches the sound away as if she never knew how to speak at all. Alucard says something too, but it’s lost in the same fashion. He squeezes her hand and pulls, leaned down almost double against the incredible force of the winds. Sypha half-pulls, half-walks next to him, and that way they come up to the monster as it lunges for Trevor, spiraling ribbons of flattened pink flesh exploding from under its tail and reaching out like a grotesque peacock, profanity where there was once beauty, dismay where they was once awe.

Trevor dodges most of the grabbers, is seized on one wing by a lick of flesh and struggles, sinking talons and that glass-sharp beak into the monster. Sypha feels righteous anger burn through her, pushing aside her mounting fear and panic, pushing aside the animal dullness struggling through the storm has sewn through her leisurely. She gestures and calls and a lake of fire comes to her fingers, spitting clinging flames at the monster. It shakes the embers off along with a heavy sheaf of snow, but in doing so it releases Trevor, who flies up and up and up.

The wind is battering at her, threatening to bowl her over. Sypha looks around, spies what she thinks is the trunk of an enormous fallen tree, and struggles desperately toward it. The monster, perhaps sensing her intention, rounds on her, its yellow pelt soaked through with that liquid from its spine, slowly turning black from the feet up.

Alucard, his sword now drawn, dashes forward and drives his sword into the under-mouth. His fighting style, normally so acrobatic and free-flowing, is clipped here, struggling as he is against the wind. He’s weakened terribly still, but as with Sypha, he seems to have found a second wind. The monster splashes out a spurt of pink, and by Alucard’s face it isn’t blood, as Sypha had assumed.

She struggles further, dropping to her knees as the world around her screams and the storm doubles intensity, threatening now not to just knock her over but lift her up and away. Gritting her teeth, Sypha drags herself through the piled snow, keeping an eye on Alucard as he buys her time she needs to anchor herself and rejoin the fight.

Alucard goes on guard against the monster, heedless of the pink smear eating at his coat, the tips of his hair coated in hoary frost and creeping upwards with every second. Their clothes are already glittering with ice, made jagged with the ferocity of the cold, but so far Sypha’s hood has kept her actual head clear of frost, aside from the curls that poke out. Alucard has fared worse, but has so far dismissed the frost creeping up his boots, the lapel of his jacket, the ice that has a few times frosted his eyelashes even.

He’s bowled to the ground and stepped on, grabbed by the revolting clutch of fork-tongued tendrils that burst out from the tail again, and the ice in his hair breaks, reforms, breaks again. He may be calling out in pain, but nothing can be heard over the rush of wind and the echo of breaking tree limbs around them still.

Sypha drags herself on her belly now, desperate to reach what is definitely a wind break. She’s almost there when she catches motion and flings an arm out on instinct.

Her fireball catches the thing as it rears back, the knitted cowl of its body drawing back to its waist to reveal a mashed-together skeleton of arms and ribs, with an obvious cage of bones in the belly, and in that cage a bloated, waiting oil-cloth sack that throbs and heaves and jiggles with contained liquid. There- there is where it hoped to catch Trevor, holding him inert for however long it could to doom them all.

The monster tosses its head- a human skull with eye sockets too big, she can see clearly, enlarged like a chicken’s, the teeth merging forward halfway into a beak, the knitting needles clenched between the tooth-beak uselessly wriggling like upset fingers. It screams and buries its head in the snow, and Alucard regains his footing, drenched in more pink liquid, shaking the stuff off desperately as it forms into ice. He snarls, eyes catching red in the dark, teeth catching white.

Sypha’s defense of him has cost her; she’s slid backwards, is continuing to be blown back now. She grits her teeth and starts to drag herself forward once more. The roar of the storm is so perfect now as to simply be silence- she can’t hear her heart, can’t hear any of the noises of battle, can’t even hear the give of trees as they drop limbs now.

The silence makes it feel like the world around her has paused, and Sypha takes that chance to reach out, shakily, her hood blown back and ice threatening to catch her eyes shut with every blink she makes.

Her hand meets the bark of a tree, and it’s so ancient and so heavy that it has deep ridges she can use to pull herself up on, and so tall that it has a tiny little gutter of snow-less earth at the very base of the thing. Sypha spares a thought of gratitude to this creature, this enormous giant fallen and returning to the earth, before she drags herself into a secure location and braces herself and turns back to the battle.

She can only work one-handed, clutching on as she is against the battering ram that the storm has become. Even Alucard struggles to stay in place now, and she sees the monster start to slide as well. It becomes an odd battle of attrition, both sides fighting to stay in place even as they cut and slam and charge each other.

Alucard is trying to avoid the black pools the monster has left in the snow, is trying to slice away at whatever soft parts he can reach of the thing though it seems to spawn them anew when they’re severed. Sypha forces the monster away from him with fire when it comes too close, but the longer the fight goes on, the more her mind circles back to that sack, the exposed jiggle of liquid in its belly. If she can get it to rear again, and perhaps- yes, perhaps light the sack on fire-

She hammers it with ice this time, gluing its feet to the ground. Alucard whips his head around, gives her a questioning, furious stare, but something in her face must convince him of her intentions, because he rounds back on the thing and resumes his pattern of dogging it, stabbing and dodging and occasionally taking hits that send him flying, make him scrabble desperately at the ground to regain his footing.

The thing rears again when it realizes it’s stuck, and the knitted skin droops back again, revealing the fat dangling oilskin. This time Sypha is ready and strikes at it, pouring her fury at the presumption of caging not just a firebird, but Trevor, her Trevor-

It lights up as if it were a straw effigy, shattering the ice holding its rear feet as it starts to thrash around. Alucard springs into action, eyes narrowed against the snow and the light, sword a beam of reflected light as he charges in and pierces the jiggling burning bag.

It vomits pink liquid all over him, and Alucard recoils in horror- but the wind is so cold, the storm so severe, that it freezes almost on touching him, and he shakes it off like a dog would water, sending shards everywhere.

The thing is staggering now but still living in whatever obscene fashion it does. Alucard rounds on it again, swipes off the forelimbs. They fall to the ground and spray chicken feet, fleshy and limp, instead of blood. Sypha lights them up before they can cause trouble- her caution is rewarded when they jump up on their felted blackened paw-pads, rolling and bucking and heaving, spilling chicken legs and feathers, until they both collapse in heaps of wool and dissolve in the wind.

Alucard meanwhile is fencing with the creature again, sword swirling every time he thinks he might be able to make a cut for the thing’s skeletal head. Without its forelimbs all it can do is shuffle against the wind, and then, when the storm bowls it over, wriggle toward him like a worm. Its head lifts up and reveals the undulating pink source of the ribbons hanging from its mouth; Alucard wastes no time in driving his sword up into the monster’s maw again and again. Still it snatches at him with those sticky threads, and to her horror she sees it draw up its yellow body and start to knit with its not-mouth, beginning to work on new front legs.

Sypha recalls, suddenly, playing in the snow with Trevor and Alucard. They had practiced for hours, fire and ice and light and other things. But why not a sword, instead of a whip? She had gotten the knack of it, after a while, had figured out that the whip was a vessel but could also be coated, and so why not Alucard’s sword?

The blaze of fire catches him by surprise, but he’s no fool- he drives forward again, and this time the monster rears back in a panic, tries to slug-writhe away. Alucard drives that burning sword into the monster, which seems to do some damage but not much. Sypha switches to illumination on a whim and the thing spasms, jerking its head away so quickly that Alucard has to release his weapon and dance away lest he be flung off into the woods.

The monster flails again, raises its faceless head to the sky, and- collapses, dissolves truly and fully into a pile of feathers and wool that’s swept away by the storm almost instantly. A sense of elation fills Sypha, and she calls to Alucard though the storm is still screaming.

Alucard’s sword drops to the earth. He goes after it with grim determination, too worn-down to use any of his abilities to fetch it. Pulling it out of the earth from where it landed is difficult, unsettles his balance. He’s blown away, struggles back toward Sypha with determination naked on his face. Sypha beckons to him with her free hand. He reaches out- their fingertips catch- and then he’s pulling himself in.

Even this close, huddled in the shelter of a grand tree and thrumming through with adrenaline, they can’t hear each other. They settle for gathering themselves in, shivering, to try to wait out the storm. It quickly becomes apparent that this is a fool’s errand, though- especially as they cool from the heat of battle and begin to shudder with cold.

Alucard lifts his head, eyes scanning through the darkness, and he nudges Sypha. She simply places her hand in his, jittering with nerves descending from the tension battle and cold both, and lets him lead her. They crawl along the tree, which despite the wind hasn’t even groaned. Alucard, still holding on to Sypha, digs at the snow, pauses, and surges forward, pulling her with him.

“Oh,” Sypha gasps.

Alucard simply collapses on the rotten floor of the hollow they’ve found, breathing heavily.

It’s huge, large enough that they can both stretch out comfortably as long as they don’t move too much. The entrance is small enough that they’re shielded from the wind and the cut of ice, too.

Sypha crawls up next to Alucard and bundles him up to her, kissing his face, his forehead, his face again.

“We saved him,” she whispers, and though a human man wouldn’t be able to hear her against the storm, Alucard can, and he smiles dreamily. His body goes slack, and Sypha has a terrified moment where all she can hear is nothing.

But there it is, against her fingers, beating slow and quiet: his pulse. She opens her robes as best she can to tuck him in with her and cuddles up, resting her head over his head, and wishes they had one more warm body to keep them safe tonight.

 

 

 

Dreamily, Sypha comes to something like wakefulness to hear the storm has grown quiet outside.

She flexes her fingers, finds a hip, and cozies up close. He’s warm and smells of outside, smells crisp and clean and cold on his clothes. There’s a hint of something like sun-heat on grasses, though, and she buries her nose in the nape of his neck and inhales, exhales, presses a little licking kiss to the nape of the neck she’s found.

The body under her hands shifts, ribs moving in a sleepy waking-exhalation. She smiles in the dark, reaches over to tickle at his chin, gratifyingly scratchy after so long without a shave, and listens with cheer as he rumbles a crotchety protest at being woken up.

 

 

 

Sypha snaps her eyes open. Alucard looks back at her, and between them is a lump that bleeds heat.

Hope and frustration blur in her in equal measures, but she looks anyway.

Trevor

a bird, her mind says numbly

 sits primly between them, perched on their waists now.

“God,” Sypha cries out, tears welling up. She covers her face to hide from the sight of Trevor as he is now. “God, I dreamt of him!”

Alucard closes his eyes, and she sees that he looks just as pained. “I did as well.”

“What will we do?” Sypha whispers through her hands, feeling Alucard gather her up wearily and stroke her head.

“I don’t know,” he sighs. “I don’t suppose you have any ideas,” and this he directs to Trevor, who pitches his head this way and that. Their hollow is warm from the heat he’s putting off. Sypha doesn’t doubt that they would have died, tonight, without his presence in here with them. It’s still a slice in the ribs to look at that beautiful bird-body when she can still feel the scruff of his face on the pads of her fingers.

Trevor flicks them one more look, then stands up on their bodies and breaks through the snow sealing their den in, letting a shock of white light stab into their previous total darkness.

“Well,” Alucard gasps, reeling, clutching at his face. Sypha pretends not to see a single tear of pain roll down his face but cups his cheek anyway. “At least he’s still an asshole.”

Sypha can’t help it- she laughs.

 

 

 

They clamber out into the forest to find a beautiful sparkling wonderland in front of them. There are animal tracks here and there, giving Sypha some Thoughts About Breakfast, and snow leisurely dripping from bending tree limbs. The forest is lively around them, chattering with animals and occasionally thundering when a particularly large limb drops its snow-weight.

“It is lovely,” Alucard reflects.

“Easy to hunt like this,” Sypha cheers, using the large furrows of their fallen giant tree-friend to climb up to its top. From here, she should be able to see what-

Sypha gasps.

Alucard is tired enough, bruised and hungry and beaten, that he isn’t there instantly, but he certainly makes haste to climb up after her.

“What is it?!”

Sypha turns to him as Trevor alights on her shoulder, effectively blocking his view. Alucard raises an eyebrow at him.

“Still sore about the asshole comment?”

“Come look,” she says, and gestures. Alucard paces around and stops at her side. His eyes look like they’re about to pop out of their skull.

“How-?”

Sitting quietly in a nest made of finely woven pine needles is a single curly feather. The edges turn up oddly, rising and falling in undulations that don’t make sense on Trevor’s body. The feather clearly isn’t his, though- it burns green into purple, has an iridescent shimmer where Trevor is luminous, eats light and throws it back a thousandfold where Trevor amplifies what slender ray of sun touches him.

“Perhaps the previous firebird,” Sypha suggests, reaching out with shaking fingers to pick the feather up.

“Ah, perhaps it abandoned the nest when the tree fell,” Alucard suggests. “Baba Yaga did say that hatching eggs on grounded objects wouldn’t work out.” Despite his steady words, he’s blossomed with happiness, and he extends a hand to take the feather from Sypha.

“Hold it up to the sun,” she whispers. He does- it shoots through like church glass, sending out opalescent scatterings of color that feel sumptuous, comforting.

Alucard opens his coat and peels down his shirt to reveal Trevor’s feather, kept over his heart. He adds the second one, tucks everything back where it should be, and looks at her with red-rimmed eyes.

It doesn’t surprise her in the least that he bursts into tears; what surprises her is that Trevor joins in, rising into the air to sing a song she’s never heard before and never will again. Sypha rushes down and takes Alucard into her arms, kisses the crown of his head, and tries her best to soothe him.

“What a base coward I am,” he gasps against her breast, where she’s drawn him.

“A little,” she agrees, and laughs at the jolt he gives. “But brave where it counts, and growing braver. I couldn’t have done anything against that monster without you.”

“Nor I you,” he says. “You know this.”

Their eyes fall to Trevor, who is still flying and singing. The song is so bursting with light and heat that she half-expects the snow to melt and the trees to burst into bloom. Sypha sighs.

“Not without him, too, though I suppose he doesn’t care right now.”

“I was paralyzed,” Alucard tells her, “by my own fears. It is easy to lose sight of perspective when seven years is nothing but a slog of time, not paid for in the coin of life.”

Sypha releases him from her arms, helps him stand.

“But you made me remember,” and Alucard bows his head to her, humble, still wet at the corners of his eyes, “that this land has already been paid for in blood, and I cannot let that debt sit idle, no matter how great the odds. My mother, and Trevor… we must continue.”

“He isn’t dead,” Sypha tells him firmly, squeezing his hand. It’s harder to read him now, with his power so diminished. She has to rely on his words, his actions, his motions. This must be what Trevor has to work with, she knows, but to Sypha it feels strange, clumsy without the added lightness of her hidden senses. “And we will bring him back to us, together. Have faith in me, and my strength. And Trevor, too- he’s fighting as well, in his own way. He guides us.”

“Yes,” Alucard says, hesitantly, and then, brightening, tells the bird wheeling and singing around them: “You did promise to allow me to play doctor with you,” which makes Sypha sputter.

“What?” Alucard asks, wheeling around with a furrowed brow.

“It just seems- obscene,” Sypha picks out, touching her fingertips to each other in a row. “To tell that to a bird.”

“I didn’t say ‘veterinarian,’” Alucard sniffs.

“That is absolutely not what I meant and you know it.”

They head off like that into the bright winterscape, bickering good-naturedly about whether or not it’s improper to make sexual innuendos at a living symbol of life and vitality.

Chapter Text


 

 

“It’s the final day,” Sypha says, chewing on a bit of overcooked rabbit haunch. Alucard is crunching down the rest of the animal as a wolf, hell if she’ll ask how that works. If Trevor were here, she knows he’d be laughing himself sick at the idea that their pretty little vampire couldn’t bear to be seen with grease on his chin like a mere mortal. He’s not, though, and it feels mean-spirited to make fun of Alucard when they’re both dead on their feet. As they are now, it would be taken as an actual jab rather than a friendly ruffle of the feathers.

Speaking of feathers…

Trevor hangs upside-down from a nearby tree, grooming himself fastidiously. If anything could prove to her that Trevor isn’t in residence at the moment, it’s that: she’s never so much as seen him shave if he didn’t have to. The only thing he’s ever been nitpicky about is how clean his weapons are, though she also distinctly recalls a spirited argument about how “high-maintenance” bladed weapons are, so there’s that too.

Alucard licks his chops, lifts his paws to wash his ruff, rubs his beautiful golden-tipped furred face into the snow, and shakes himself off. That done, he fades into view as a man once more, not an ounce of grease on him. Sypha internally debates letting him know that his jacket has a stubborn oily smear from the knitting monster last night on the back, over his rump; she gnaws on the dry, stringy flesh as she weighs the benefits against the drawbacks.

“It is,” he agrees, and Sypha is still so busy thinking about that stain that it takes her a moment to catch up to what he’s talking about. The sun slides down through the branches in sweet orange-red illumination- it’s early morning. Sypha doesn’t doubt that the forest was so quiet the other day because every animal from doe to flea had gone to ground in fear of the brewing witchstorm.

“Do you think we’ll make it?”

“We cannot hold any doubt in our hearts,” he says, but he looks weary.

“Why are you holding them there, by the way?”

Alucard blinks sleepily at her, looking somewhat cut adrift. Sypha gets down the final bite of meat, then sets to work cleaning her fingers, working each delicious morsel of grease off with her tongue. Rabbits are a desperate man’s feast at the best of times, but when the need arrives, hunger has always added itself handily as the best spice of all.

“Oh, the feathers,” Alucard realizes, a hand flying to his breast. “I… it seems most secure. I can feel them, and there is little motion there when my coat is done up.”

Sypha raises her eyebrows at him. He looks back at her stubbornly, expression almost as impenetrably fierce as Trevor’s.

The bird in question spreads his wings and sets to work on them. It’s like watching an inverted sunrise, watching the firebird spread himself out. Sypha wishes she could feel anything but blind optimism when she looks at him- perhaps fear, longing, upset for the man she hopes is still in there- but the firebird’s power is undoubtable, even when she’d welcome a niggle of concern.

She turns Baba Yaga’s words over in her mind again, over and over like a stone- ‘He will become a man once more, in body, then in mind, and you will have your boy back again.’ She feels like she’s turned those words over so much these past few days, run her mind over them so obsessively, that any rough edges have been smoothed and any jagged spots have been worn away. Sypha knows that witches are particular about phrasing, has clutched onto a secret fear since the start of their errands that she’s missed something vital. But she doesn’t dare ask, not when Alucard is struggling just as hard next to her, not when his heart is still reeling from the shock of losing so many loved humans to inferno. This is how she protects him: by turning the words over and over in solitude, pressing for weaknesses, finding thousands of terrible ways it could all go wrong- and then casting them away into the wind. Worries will bring them no strength. They’ve made their bargain and have to live by the terms, whatever they may mean for them.

If she were with her tribe, she would be chanting or calling or singing a thousand different prayers, invocations for health and protection and cheer, and the rituals would offer comfort. But she’s alone, with just Alucard and Trevor. Perhaps, if she’s honest, at this point they are her tribe. She had been considering going with some other caravans for a while, but love for her grandfather had kept her at his side for many years past when most young Speakers would strike out to explore.

Now she has a group more strange and diverse than any Speaker caravan could ever be, and she knows, the way the oceans know the moon, that her future is tied up with them long past the simple invocation of a prophecy. They are violent and messy in equal turns, loyal and odd-headed at inconvenient times, and remote, and tired, all these things and thousands of others, and Sypha loves them so much it feels like it will creep up her throat and choke her at times.

“You’re worried,” Sypha tells Alucard, arching her brow. “Does the placement of the feathers offer any reassurance?”

Alucard turns to look at the bird hanging in the morning sun, the way the edge of his beak is glowing in the light, the way his talons are starting to lighten at the tips like crystal. His trailing tail is growing longer, the edges hotter red and the eyespots whiter, and along his red neck little white ticks are emerging, giving his swan-like throat the look of a fine jacquard woven in silk.

“More than looking at him right now does,” he mumbles, and shoulders his way forward, further into the forest. “He seems to be maturing as a firebird.”

“I do wonder,” Sypha says, because this stone she cannot wear down with her mind, “if the timeframe is less a matter of cruelty and more a matter of…” She trails off. Trevor flutters into motion above them, launching himself into the sky and vanishing into the distance.

“Practicality,” Alucard finishes for her, standing in the shadow of a large fir and sighing at a heap of snow that Trevor knocked off in front of him. “I, too, wonder if by the end of tomorrow even she will simply be… unable to undo it, whatever she’s laid on him.”

“She said she would keep me for longer, though,” Sypha muses, coming up at Alucard’s side and linking her arm with his. Alucard gives her a startled look, then smiles, a softness coming over his features that he hasn’t had the chance to show in several days. “I wonder if she sets the time of bondage when she makes the initial transformation, and then the days of growing-in, of sorts, correspond to how long you’ll be a bird. Firebird, I mean.”

They match their strides easily, bellies sated and minds working. It feels good to tease at a puzzle they could, theoretically, figure out. So much of their world lately has been facing off against forces and structures Sypha doesn’t know; unravelling a minor mystery feels safe when so much lately has been terribly dire.

They walk on like that in the early sun, chatting and going in conversational circles, but pleasant ones.

 

 

 

As the evening stretches closer, their conversation has gone to ground. The unsettling distance of their goal looms above them, too far to reach with their own power at this point. Perhaps Sypha could have tried to feed Trevor again tonight, if only they hadn’t had that grueling battle with Baba Yaga’s monster.

There is no point in dwelling in bitterness, Sypha reminds herself as she washes her hands in the snow a little distance from Alucard. She’s gone off a short bit away to handle her toilet. The distant memory of that magical bathing tub in their little hut sweeps through Sypha like a forgotten summer wind; the idea of sitting in a warm house with Alucard and Trevor and herself, safe, happy, tastes bitter on her tongue right now.

She feels horrible for thinking of it, but if Trevor shows up right now, burning pure confidence, she can’t bear to look on him. Sometimes, she knows, you need to feel the bad things. Sometimes you need to grope in the dark shadows of your heart and get caught on your own cobwebs and snag your finger on a splintered board on the floor where you seldom reach. Sometimes you need to spill your bucket of woe to scrub out a clean house. Sometimes you need to spill some heart’s blood to re-christen the damned place.

Sypha shuts her eyes against the forest, allowing herself to sink into that silent misery for a moment.

They are so close. Alucard is clutching two feathers to his heart, one from Trevor and one from the previous firebird. She doesn’t know, not exactly, how he’ll react if they do fail in this, but she guesses it won’t be good. Honestly, she doesn’t know what she’ll do either. The prophecy says that they’ll save the country, but it doesn’t say when. Can she handle the consequences of failure here? The weight of a singlehuman life is heavy, heavy, heavy, and Sypha isn’t sure what bearing that enormous burden, multiplied across a nation, will do to her, let alone Trevor or Alucard.

So: what to do?

Perhaps the older bird is still around? It must be, Sypha knows, because it made a nest and then the nest failed. Good. So perhaps another feather is about? A second feather laying abandoned? Of course, Sypha knows that that’s entirely too convenient, entirely too empty of detail to even be considered a plan, but…

Silence.

The hairs on the back of her neck raise up. Without shifting her feet, which would only make snow crunch under her, Sypha twists to look all about. The forest looks normal. No press of clouds loom in the distance, which, frankly, she finds to be a relief of the highest caliber. The sun is setting, spearing out rays of orange through the boughs of the densely-packed evergreens around them in this endless forest of Baba Yaga’s. The sky above the trees is a wave of green on purple on pink on green again, crashing down and through itself like waves on a shore. It is, she has to admit, an especially beautiful sunset. She’s never seen one so richly colored, and with that in mind Sypha spares a few moments to drink it in. Curiously, or perhaps sensibly, Alucard has never been one for sunsets, and so she thinks little of standing by herself to watch it all.

Because of that, because of how she’s standing and where and perhaps even why, she sees this:

A shape, muddled and bedraggled, dragging itself with two little stick-like arms as it goes through the snow in the distance. It’s framed in the sunset, so while she can’t make any details out, she can see that the creature is heaving, its body moving up and down as if it’s taking in desperate breaths. It crawls along the ground desperately, and sympathy moves her. Perhaps she can heal it, or call Alucard and he can use his sword to give it a merciful…

But nature moves more swiftly than man, and a hawk, larger than the struggling animal, swoops down with talons out to snatch the poor creature up.

Sypha covers her mouth, gasps softly in dismay- and then clenches her fingers over her mouth, as if she’s trying to hold the sound in.

In an instant the small, desperate thing has lashed out and grabbed at the bird. A first movement makes it look like the animal is simply trying to protect itself, but a quick jerk and scream from the bird rules that out: the thing has ripped the bird’s wing off, is using one of its little forelimbs to shove it into its mouth, which seems to be a mere depression between the two limbs. The light is still all wrong to make out any details past shapes and movements, but Sypha sees it give itself a little shake, swallowing the wing feathers and all in one flex of its body, then fall on the screaming, struggling, bleeding bird on the ground. It forces the struggling bird into its mouth with vigor, clamping down on it and drawing it in like a snake would, moving in slow, pulling undulations. The bird twitches and attempts resistance bravely, but there’s no fighting the animal: in it goes. A last feather sticks out of the creature until, with one more gulping press of its body down and back, even that is sucked down.

Sypha, frozen with disquiet and disgust, watches further: the animal gives itself a little shake, jaunty and carefree, and saunters off again deeper into the woods, trotting alertly by balancing its protruding body on those two slender limbs. It gives off the satisfied air of a terrier drenched in rat blood.

Sypha backs away very, very slowly, then runs.

 

 

 

Alucard wants to go investigate the spot, because of course he does. Sypha protests, but he’s got it stuck in his head and so off they go. To his irritation, all they find are stray marks in the snow, and blood, and a normal hawk’s feather.

“I had hoped for some tracks,” Alucard explains, scouring the area with narrowed eyes. “But whatever it is, it doesn’t leave much in the way of prints. It must be very light.”

“I don’t know about that,” Sypha says, keeping her eyes peeled in case the thing has heard them and plans on coming back. “It ate an entire bird, and those leave tracks.” She indicates the snow where the wings have churned it up, the marks where the bird tried to struggle away from its attacker.

“True,” Alucard says, and they stand there in stymied silence for a bit, Alucard scanning the ground, Sypha scanning the treeline. “Do you remember seeing another monster of Baba Yaga’s, when we were there?”

“No,” Sypha says, slowly, trying not to laugh at Alucard. “Just chickens everywhere.”

“Oh, yes. Those infernal things.” He sighs. Sypha puts a hand to her mouth, can’t quite stop the faint titter that escapes. He finally straightens, brushing his hands off, and turns to look at her. “What?”

“Did you notice anything at all while we were in the house?”

“Of course I did,” Alucard replies, radiating indignant hurt pride like a cat whose tail fluff has been stepped on.

“Really,” Sypha responds, tone dripping acidic amusement, “because you certainly seemed to only have eyes for-“

“He was in a cage, and he looked a sorry sight!” Alucard insists.

“Weren’t you kissing him in it?”

“How long were you there?” Alucard grumbles, but he shoves his hands in his pockets and, at a prod of Sypha’s elbow, starts to walk back from whence they came.

“He gets a look,” Sypha explains, “when he’s kissed, you see…”

“Ah, well, you are right on that…”

If their half-joking conversation is a little stilted, it’s only because they’re both unnerved by the concept of a mysterious, efficient bird-eating monster jolting about the forest while Trevor is out doing whatever it is firebirds do. But, Sypha reflects as they haphazardly get into a bickering match about the definition of bondage versus imprisonment, there is truly only so much horror and weariness a body can take before the mind gives way and the heart crumbles.

Maybe she should spend more time looking at Trevor the next time he shows up after all.

 

 

 

The sun sets, and Sypha watches the cool sweet slide of blue and black and shimmering silver flecks cover the sky. She’s never seen such beautiful sunsets and sunrises, and she has the feeling that she never will again. There’s something about this place, these endless dense forests laden with sweeping cliffs and frosted-over springs, that feels like the edge of the world and the start. She half-expects, with every enormous tree they walk around, to come to a place where the earth simply stops and they can watch the sun sail off into the distance, bobbing in empty space like a ship on the waves.

Alucard laughs when she suggests it.

“You know the earth is round,” he says in that cautious, amused tone of his he uses when he’s uncertain if somebody does know. The last time she heard that tone from him was when he was talking about bandage sterilization. She’d asked him, annoyed, if he remembered seeing any putrefying wounds on any Speakers he’d met. When he confessed that she was the first Speaker he had met directly, they had spent the rest of the day comparing notes on healing and sickbed procedures.

“Speakers aren’t idiots,” Sypha scolds, shaking a finger at him. “We’re travelers. We use the stars. Of course we know the earth is round.”

“My apologies,” Alucard sighs, and he sounds so relieved that Sypha forgives him after all. He holds her hand as he helps her onto a log that stretches over an industriously tinkling stream laden with complex plates of ice, all leading down to the exposed water.

“But isn’t that a fairy tale, too? From the-“ Sypha colors, but Alucard doesn’t seem to pick up on the pause. She’d been about to use a reasonably impolite term for the… ah, rooted folk. It’s easy to forget, with Alucard, that he is one after all. He’s just different enough from them to lower her guard on things like that. “You know, much further north. About a place east of the stars and west of the moon?”

“I admit ignorance,” Alucard replies levelly, helping Sypha back down again too once they’ve finished crossing. His hand lingers on her waist as he looks about them.

“There’s a witch there too,” Sypha tells him, flexing her memory. She had come in to the inn where the story was being told near the end, or else she would have been able to recite the tale for them then and there in whole. Speakers took to recalling stories like fish to water; memorizing a simple fairy tale was nothing when you were used to recalling complex lineages of the various Speaker tribes, the histories, the prayers and the laws and- for her- the incantations. “One who enslaves a handsome young prince, I think.”

“Really,” says Alucard, a smile quirking on his lips.

“She turned him into an animal of some kind, I think,” Sypha continues, and sighs.

“Do you remember how he was saved from this fate?” Alucard asks, tone tight.

“No,” Sypha admits, meekly.

“Well,” Alucard says, spreading his hands out. “Well.”

“But we know how to save him,” Sypha reminds Alucard, smoothing her fingers over his breast, where she knows the feathers are. Alucard is still too worn out, still too gravely worn down, to be much more than the faintest shimmer of heat on her magical senses. But where the feathers are on him blazes, burns wildly bright like he’s caged two twin suns against his skin. “You’re sure that doesn’t hurt you, to keep them there?”

“Not at all,” Alucard tells her, eyes scanning the woods around them with sudden vigor. “I feel as if they are keeping my mind sharp on the task. Did you see that?”

Sypha wheels around, her heart thundering suddenly. Is it the eating creature, come to try its luck against them now while they stand weakened and dimmed?

“You know your eyes are better than mine in the dark,” she says, finding his hand and clutching it. Sypha reaches out with her senses, a feeling not unlike listening particularly hard in absolute darkness, and locates what must be Trevor, burning wild far and far away. The distance reassures her- if the snatching creature is here, then he’ll be safe. Perhaps it would be unable to harm Trevor, or unable to do much more than stuff him into its gullet and trot back to its witch-mistress, but the idea of yet another imprisonment being forced on Trevor makes Sypha hurt, makes her palms tingle with fury.

And… there is always the chance that the risk of them succeeding has spurred Baba Yaga to move to potential violence against her sacred enemy. Indeed, in a certain way, having a lamed firebird might be even more useful to a witch: no need to go scouring the forest for his dropped feathers when she could simply keep him grounded at her side. Fear clutches at her sides, clenches around her throat. No. She will never allow-

“Sypha,” Alucard says, striding forward, eyes fixed on a point she cannot determine. “I saw-“ He whips his head back to look at her, then back to the same spot in the trees.

“What?” She breathes out, trying to keep her temper in check. If it’s the creature, she will roast it on the spot and damn the consequences of pushing herself so hard.

“It’s him,” Alucard says, and takes off running.

“What? Who?!” Sypha flicks out what she can of her power as she dashes after him, trying to understand. Alucard forgets, sometimes, that his vision, his senses aren’t the same as theirs; Trevor has always taken these slips in stride, seeming to simply accept it the way he does Sypha’s sense of magic, but now, here, trying to catch up to a creature at least half of the night, all she can feel is irritation.

Sypha thinks she can see the barest flicker of Alucard’s cloak in the moonlight, but then she’s tumbling down and hitting the ground. She cries out, tries to catch herself, and ends up splaying her hands forward to pitch down like an overeager puppy.

Crouching there on the ground, she bites her lip. Whatever it is, she seethes, standing up and brushing herself off, ignoring the sting of rawness from one palm, had better be damn good.

“Sypha,” Alucard says, and if he’s hard to see in the dark or if he’s used his vampiric magic to simply appear before her she can’t tell. Either way, she looks at him, fury simmering, ready to bite into him- “I saw Trevor.” He pulls her stinging hand up, looks at it in the dark, looks at her face. His expression radiates urgency.

Confusion transmutes her anger into stubbornness.

“He’s not that way,” she insists. Alucard reaches out like he’s going to shake her. Instead, he pulls back and clutches two-handed at his breast, where she can feel the unending burn of those feathers like the sun never set.

“I saw him,” he insists, chest rising and falling in a quicker pace than she’s used to seeing from him simply from some running. He seems- riled up.

“I can feel where he is,” Sypha insists, “and I may be worn thin, but I’m not as tired as you are. Trust me, Alucard. He is,” she waves her hands, “somewhere there.”

No,” Alucard insists, eyes blazing. “I saw him as a man in front of me, running like a deer through the woods.”

Her protests die in her throat as that sinks in.

“Why-?” She asks, but then she resists, again, breath coming short from the dash: “It is simply a trick, some kind of ploy. We are so close-“

“Close enough but with no idea of where to go!” Alucard insists, eyes flashing in that peculiar way that only his do in the dark: like the glint of a fish’s scales, like the glow of an animal’s eyes in the firelight. There’s nothing human in the way the night illuminates his eyes, as if they’ve been lit up from inside by a pale lantern that knows no warmth. “I have placed my faith in you, repeatedly. Now- please.” He turns around again, breath raising a little puff of steam as he does. He’s excited, she realizes. He’s driven. He’s found something to light him up again. “Trust me and let me guide us. Please, Sypha.”

“Of course,” Sypha says, partially because he’s right- they don’t have any leads, not really, and they only have this one night to find their solution before the coming morning. In a sense, they have nothing to lose from her indulging him in this.

The full truth of the matter, though, is that she is just as ruled by passion as Alucard is, and she has no heart to deny him when he asks so plainly, when he looks so desperate for her support. She would give him the moon and the sun if she could, but he never asks anything so dire. Simply trust, and love, and care.

Who is she to deny him that?

“Then come- quickly!”

“I can’t,” she says, shrugging, still working to catch her breath. “Not like you can. Go ahead and I’ll follow.”

Alucard paces furiously on the spot, urgency lighting him up from the inside as if he’s been struck by lightning.

“Don’t lose him,” Sypha urges, clenching her bleeding hand on her robes in an effort to dampen the smell. If he becomes concerned about her, he may lose the trail.

“Ride on my back,” Alucard says apropos of nothing, and does what he does when he changes his shape- a fuzzing of the space he occupies, a shift, and then he’s before her again, beautiful and serious-eyed and glistening gold in the moonlight. He seems larger than before, which is interesting. Is it a conscious choice for him, how large or small he is in his other shapes?

Still… Protests rise in her throat. What if she is too heavy? What if this makes him too slow? What if this is too hard on him? What if, what if, what if? But he dances on the spot, tail sweeping flat, and gives an urgent whine from the back of his throat.

“All right,” she breathes, and that’s how she ends up hurtling through the forest on wolfback like a maiden in a fairytale, as if she wasn’t already caught in a cacophony of stories walking on two legs and bringing with them a stacking clatter of misery.

This one, at least, is fun. Perhaps it’s the merit of balancing on four legs instead.

 

 

 

Sypha is so caught up in the excitement of riding this way, the wind on her face a glistening blade of ice and the fur under her hands warm with animal enthusiasm, that she almost forgets what they’re chasing.

To be honest, she does assume it to be some kind of trick, or some evil illusion sent by Baba Yaga to lure them into a snare. She is ready to defend Alucard as best she can, spent and weary as she is. She is ready to fight to the death for any chance for success- for the innocents of the land at their feet, for her people as they try to do what good they can, for Alucard, for Trevor.

When they turn a corner and she grits her teeth, clenching her hands on Alucard’s flexing, bounding body, she absolutely does not expect to actually see Trevor-as-a-man running in front of them.

The surprise of it almost makes her lose her balance, and she feels Alucard falter. He slows a bit to allow her to regain her seat, and in that span Trevor dips out of sight again. Alucard pumps his legs frantically, panting, and they come close enough to just see him again.

There’s something strange about Trevor- he looks like a nighttime reflection of himself on water, lit up in odd places like he’s gone hazy as a ghost, like he’s got moonlight dripping from his bones. He runs faster than he should be able to, each stride spanning ten of Alucard’s long bounds; she can feel the wolf struggling, straining to catch up or at least stay evenly-paced with the moonlit reflection of the man.

“Trevor!” Sypha calls out, but he doesn’t hear her, or at least, he gives no indication that he does.

They race through the night like that, Alucard following Trevor unceasingly, Sypha calling out to him as if this time, this time, this time he will hear and stop, and turn, and come to them after all.

The scenery starts to change, moving from the deep, ancient forests they’ve been in the past few days to younger trees. The atmosphere, too, changes: the oppressive darkness of the witch-forest eases and fades, replaced only by the quiet vitality of winter lands.

They dash through trees and over rocks and splash through streams, and on Trevor runs. Alucard is panting now, heaving great breaths that take shape in the air and swim after them like bubbles after a fish. Moisture has collected on his snout, is forming a streamlined muzzle of ice on his wolf-whiskers. The temperature drops and the snow deepens, leaving Alucard bounding through chest-deep drifts, but on goes that ghostly image of Trevor, his clothing swaying with motion, his cloak ghosting over the ground but never touching it. No footprints fall, no breath steams.

They dash up along a rising ridge of rocks- likely to avoid the delay of the snow, Sypha figures. The crash of a turbulent river far below them makes Sypha shudder; she has no desire to hurtle off an unseen edge. But Alucard keeps his footing and his speed, eyes on their mutual quarry. His body is warm as a furnace under her, his panting loud now.

“Trevor,” Sypha calls again, her throat raw from the wind and the cold and the shouting. It comes out as nothing more than a wordless cry, is caught up by the wind and tossed about, away.

Alucard rounds a corner. Sypha feels his body stiffen, and so she braces herself: he slides to an abrupt stop and drops his head to pant, flanks moving up and down desperately. His paws work at his face, breaking off the ice collected there in huge jagged slices. She slides off of him and clutches herself, trying to keep warm. Disappointment fills her: they’ve come so far, but the moonlit vision of Trevor has gone on without them. Alucard drops to his side in the snow, breathing desperately. Then he’s a man again, his power jittering along her nerves as he makes the transition abruptly, the shift bleeding frustration; like somebody slamming a cupboard, the change feels jarring.

“Just when I think,” Alucard pants out, body heaving as he sucks in air, “that I can see an end to my despair,” and he gags as if he’ll retch, which sends Sypha flying to his side, smoothing his hair back, “there comes another further horizon for me to take in.”

“How dashingly melodramatic,” comes a wry voice from somewhere off to the side. “But your prey is coming to your side now that you’ve stopped chasing him like you’re out to kill.”

Sypha holds up her arms for Trevor, who wings down into them eagerly. Alucard has shot to his feet next to her and is scanning about furiously, looking for whoever it is that’s spoken. He has thrown himself, even shaky-legged and dizzy with weakness, between the source and his companions.

It feels strange to hear another voice after so long caught in Baba Yaga’s snare. It seems like it’s been a long time since she heard a normal voice, the kind of voice you’d hear on the street as it bartered away some spare hares for a few bolts of cloth.

Trevor springs into the sky again with a stern shriek, circling over Alucard.

“Noisy chit,” chides that suspiciously normal voice, and Sypha realizes it’s coming from a cliffside.

“This place,” Alucard says with absolute gravitas, “is terribly familiar.”

Sypha looks around, paces back and forth, and places it with a horrible shudder: the place where Trevor’s memory ended. But the snow is melted near the fateful cliffside, as if spring has come and settled down just there.

“Is it? Do me a favor and erase it from your memory anyway. Come down here, you eyas.”

Alucard traces Trevor’s abrupt descent and trades an uncertain look with Sypha. She comes up to his side and together they walk up to peer to where Trevor has vanished. As they approach, the air warms considerably. By the time they come to the very edge, the temperature is positively summery.

There’s a nest balanced on a tree, one growing sideways out of the cliffside. The nest is, like the abandoned one they found this morning, made of finely-woven pine needles. Looking at it, Sypha feels as if even a hundred years of practice couldn’t approach the tidy perfection that the nest embodies. It has a feel to it like fine embroidery, like delicate handmade lace, like the sorts of things Sypha has never taken to too well.

Sitting in the nest, running a mahogany beak over Trevor’s yellow-gold crest, is another firebird.

Where Trevor looks like flame spun into the shape of a hawk, this one looks like the night sky distilled down and frosted into the form of an owl. It has sparkling wingtips that look like stars in the sky, and a breast of purest navy-black, and wings striped in gradient lines of purple and red, the colors of the night in a winter storm. Its beak is hooked like Trevor’s, but its claws are short and tidy where his are wickedly curved.

“Oh,” Sypha gasps, because this creature is beautiful, gemlike, resplendent and sharp-edged as an arrow. Silver feathers rise up all along its brow, making it look like it has some kind of bristling coronet atop its head. Its eyes aren’t the animal-feral of Trevor’s; no, not this one. This firebird’s eyes are aware and keen and focused. Where Trevor is flowing and curving, so like the way he moves, this firebird is abrupt and efficient, its lines trim and almost geometric. It’s also enormous, so large that it makes the impressively-sized Trevor look positively wee.

“Hello,” Alucard says, nodding a greeting.

“Hm,” says the firebird, and lifts a wing to tuck Trevor under. As it does, Sypha can see a flinty glint of steel-gray checks on the underside of the wing, and-

A feather.

But then the wing comes down and Trevor is hidden from sight, aside from the absurd train of his tail, which seems to grow longer with each passing day. The sight of that sunrise-red blast of a tail bursting out from this stern-lined firebird is so absurd that it teases a chuckle out of Sypha.

“I didn’t realize a firebird could speak,” Alucard says, politely.

“Surprise,” says the bird, and lifts its wing to check on Trevor- or, perhaps, the egg next to him. Sypha might have expected a firebird egg to be more opulent, but it looks rather plain, simply like a larger chicken egg. Still- an interesting data point. Is this bird the one that laid the egg? Or is the bird that left the feather they picked up that did that?

“I don’t mean to offend,” Alucard tries again, “but is there any way we can entreat your aid?”

The firebird remains silent, but it leaves its wing up so that Trevor can peek out at them. Sypha stretches out a hand, but remembers too late that she has very little fire to give right now- certainly not enough to entice him to her. Bitterness makes her curl her fingers into a loose fist, but the heat the firebird puts off is pleasant enough that she ends up putting her other hand out too. She will take her pleasures where she can get them.

“We have been assigned a task, you see,” Alucard tells this magical bird, this phantasm of beauty. “If we bring Baba Yaga three firebird feathers, she will give up on using our- our- friend there-“ he nods to Trevor, “for seven years, and restore him to us.”

“Troublesome,” replies the bird. “Good luck with that.” And it fluffs itself and closes its enormous eyes.

“Please,” Alucard says, his voice rising, “we need him to save this country.”

“I have very little interest in that,” says the bird, its feather rising and falling in a self-possessed ruffle.

“There is a prophecy,” Sypha says, and that makes the bird open its eyes at least. “A Speaker prophecy.” It looks at her more closely, eyes scanning over her disheveled robes. She senses disdain from the bird but forges on anyway: “In order to defeat Dracula and save Wallachia,” but the bird makes a dismissive noise and shuts its eyes again.

Silence falls. Sypha wrings her hands and looks at Alucard pleadingly. He glances back, looking apprehensive. She understands his caution: this is their only chance, their last chance.

“We love him, too,” Alucard says softly, melancholy infusing his words. “But perhaps love is simply not enough, in this world.”

The firebird shifts and checks under its wing again, beak working as it tidies another invisible imperfection on Trevor’s body. Its glistening silver feather-crown lifts up a bit, and the silver ticks on those sapphire-sea wings shimmer from an unknown light source.

“We only need one more feather,” Sypha pleads. “Without it, we’ll-“

“I need this feather myself,” snaps the firebird. “My mate has gone and hasn’t come back. Without this feather, when I go to hunt our egg will grow cold, and then it will fail and die. Not even the witch wants that, so what does that make you?”

Sypha’s heart leaps.

“And if we found your mate and brought them back to you?”

Alucard glances at her askance.

“Then you could have it!” Blazes the bird, licks of shimmering light rising from its body like an extremely localized aurora borealis. At first Sypha thinks it’s angry, but when it stands in its nest with long, long, stork-like legs and chatters its beak, wings fanning out, she thinks that perhaps instead, it’s… happy? Trevor looks up at her, sidles up closer to the little egg before he’s promptly sat on again. Sypha can swear she hears a surprised shriek. “Bring her back and I can hunt for the both of us, and you can have my feather.”

Alucard tips his head suddenly, an expression of dawning understanding spreading across his features. Sypha has a suspicion herself, but she wants to meet this third, final firebird before she voices any such thoughts.

“Do you know where we might find your mate?” Alucard asks.

“No,” scoffs the firebird, closing its eyes again. “Or I could find her myself.”

“Fair,” Sypha concedes. But her hands shake with anticipation, and she hides them in the folds of her cloak. “Stay here, and we will bring her back to you.”

“Keep Trevor safe,” Alucard requests, and the firebird opens its eyes to survey him seriously.

“Please,” Sypha adds.

“Hurry,” the bird tells them, and says no more.

 

 

 

“He wasn’t there,” Sypha says by way of explanation, which isn’t really a good one even to her ears. She doesn’t blame Alucard for looking irritated as they stride through the forest urgently. “I mean, when you were chasing Trevor, I thought I felt him from another point, but what if-“

“Ah,” he says, and smiles. “Perhaps it was in fact a more mature bird, sending off a stronger signal, that simply drowned him out?”

“Yes,” Sypha says, rather than, ‘oh, I hadn’t even gotten that far.’ She still has her pride, just as much as Alucard does. “I can still feel it when I look for it.” In fact, they’re rather far from it, but she doesn’t dare ask for another wolf-ride. She’s just barely warmed up with the unwitting help of the mature firebird.

“Could you tell that the nesting one was there?” Alucard asks, putting a hand to his chin.

“No,” she acknowledges. “So I hope I’m not wrong. But perhaps…. Perhaps the bird is purposefully hiding the nest? The egg is vulnerable, after all.”

“That makes sense,” Alucard acknowledges. “My father did something similar when my mother was pregnant.”

Sypha giggles. “I imagine he must have been in quite a tizzy when your mother first announced her news.”

Alucard coughs. “I have heard, from a few sources…” But he falls silent.

“Come on,” Sypha prods, smiling. “You can’t hold out on something like that.”

“Supposedly, he fainted,” Alucard says distantly, looking up at the starred sky. “And when he came to, he wept, and demanded to know if she had simply lied to please him.”

They walk in silence for a bit. Sypha’s gaze goes to the tip of that massive scar on his chest, visible over his shirt.

“I can’t understand,” she finally says, hopping over a log. “I’m sorry. I wish I could.”

“I cannot understand myself,” Alucard tells her, sighing faintly. “I never dreamed, when I opposed him then, that he would….” He scrubs at his face. “That he would strike with such severity. I assumed that he would perhaps scream out his rage, and then we would grieve, together.”

Sypha feels sadness prickle around the edges of her heart. Her grandfather has never been anything but doting, even in the early years, even in the years where she couldn’t walk, could only drag herself laboriously because of her wrong-healed flesh. She tries to imagine coming to him in grief, expecting to comfort and be comforted in kind, and instead finding that something has changed rapidly and with little explanation, never to shift back again.

“I am sorry,” she says again, because there’s nothing else she can say.

“As am I,” Alucard says. His distant sadness makes him sound as aloof as the firebird on the cliff.

Chapter Text


 

 

As each day has slipped by, it’s grown harder and harder to come down from the air. He knows, somewhere in him, that he is a man, and a man has two legs, and two arms, and ten fingers, and hair all over, and speaks with a voice and does not drink the sunlight, does not chew the moonlight, does not take picky swallowing bites of thin starlight as it falls down laden ripe onto the earth.

He thinks he knows these things. But every sunrise when he finds the humans he thinks he must know, he finds them stranger and stranger. They are flesh and vulnerable, and speak in voices laden so heavy with emotions that he finds it hard to hear them; the voices simply sink down to the earth, take root like seeds and sprout into long dialogues that he has no ability to parse.

Still, they call a name that makes him think again in words for just a moment, just a breath, and they call that name endlessly, and so in that way he retains knowledge of man’s earthen tongue. They are grieved and weary, but they retain their courage, and that calls to him much more than the name of a man who he might have been.

 

 

 

He stays under the wing of the other firebird for a while, soaking in her heat, turning her egg for her. She tolerates him, which he is glad for; here, the sun is weak, and the humans are dimming with every day forward where he is blazing up and up, snapping about hungrily like a bonfire seeking to spread into a wildfire.

The other firebird speaks to him once, but it uses the tongue of men, which he cannot understand any more than a sunrise could. He does not understand why she uses this thing, why she uses words that stick heavily to her throat like mud. He holds his silence and his peace, and thinks of nothing but when the sun will next rise so he may drink his fill once more. Eventually he is tucked under a wing again, and here he lies, feeling the wind on his tail.

But he hears a shout, carried on the wind and muffled by feathers, and then another, and then a scream and hiss and snarl, and that draws him careening wildly into the sky again.

The nesting firebird calls to him, but he cannot hear- the man inside him is beating a drum against his breast, and this man’s tongue he needs nothing at all to understand.

 

 

 

Sypha lies still in his arms. Alucard looks between her and the crack in the fallen copse of trees desperately, teeth chattering in a mixture of cold and thwarted adrenaline. If he were a better man, he knows he could find it in him to catch a second wind. If he were a better monster, he would never have come into these dire straits in the first place. But he is neither, and both, and each pull him in different directions.

“Open your eyes,” he urges her. Sypha struggles to move, lifts her eyelids as if they weigh a thousand pounds. “We cannot stop here,” he tells her, but it’s a bit rich of him to say: he’s grounded as well, is crippled on the ground with a shattered and bloody leg and no way to restore himself, not with a morsel of rabbit in him and no blood for ages.

“I…” she says softly, like the wind sighing, and goes limp in his arms again.

Sypha,” Alucard gasps, gathering himself over her as if the physicality of his body could somehow stop what disaster is about to befall them. He looks around, senses straining, but as before, the creature is silent as velvet even to his senses. He can see little, half-blinded as he is by his own blood- he had been laid out in a single strike to the head just as they entered the clearing made by a bundle of fallen trees, and had only been able to watch in horror as Sypha was savaged by what he knows, darkly, to be unfinished business in one sense and his own handiwork in another.

In the crack between two fallen trees ahead he can see the glitter of dawn, but his body tells him the wrongness of that. So he knows what it must be: the third, the first, firebird. It is also the quarry of their current enemy, and while Sypha seems to think that this creature was sent by Baba Yaga, Alucard has a strong suspicion that this entity yields to no force but its own evil inclinations.

“TrAg…. Ic,” a ghastly voice chokes out. It sounds like a dirtied surgery rag being wrung out, carries an air of infection, of failure, of cancerous tenderness. Something drags heavily and wetly behind them, but when Alucard whips his head around, nothing is there but the broken forest circled around like a hungry wolf pack.

“Stay back,” he demands of the unseen thing, snatching his sword up again and struggling to rise to a half-crouch. His leg is twisted half around, blood tinting the snow much more swiftly than he finds comfortable. But he knows he cannot die here, not with success at hand and unendingly dire failure breathing down the nape of his neck. He knows that feeling too intimately to allow it to close its mouth on him again, but every avenue of escape he dashes down is blocked and sealed. “Surely there must be some compromise we can make.”

“nO,” chimes the voice, and it sounds like manacles, like the jingle of a horse’s bit, like saws and whips and anger. “oNLY YOU TO DIE,” and as it screams it leaps up in front of him, throwing itself eagerly on its sword as if to spite him, to mock his powerlessness.

The creature splays up around and above Alucard, forming an umbrella of sorts. There is no face to look at, only the shiny veneer of new-forming viscera over a running conduit of blood in veins too well-dissipated to damage en masse by a simple sword-thrust; he has tried, of course. Alucard looks up in sick fascination as the mouth approaches them, stretching down the mantle of the thing to fold over them, a hole lined with wriggling, grasping blood-black spines. He snarls his defiance, lifts his sword, stabs as best he can, but it feels petty, does little.

This is how they die, he supposes, but the thought still feels terribly unreal, even as the awesome crushing force of that obscenely large mouth presses around them, squeezing and working on them as if to lift them up, lift them into its body. Alucard, pressed on all sides, still clutches on to his sword and tries to jam the cutting edge against the thing so as to try and slice them loose. Air becomes dear, squeezed further out of him with every upward heave. Moisture falls on them, and he feels the muscles around them give one hard heave. The closest comparison he can think of is an inverse of the workings of a woman’s body as she readies to give birth, but he has no interest in going back into that mysterious realm, and he would bet money and blood aplenty that Sypha feels the same.

One hard press and then another, and Alucard’s consciousness starts to dim. His hand closes on Sypha’s one last time. He feels himself lifted up further, more of that ooze coating him, and then

 

 

 

The world explodes into fire.

 

 

 

Alucard lies stunned on the ground. He returns to himself urgently, sucking in air as if he’s never done it before. Something high-pitched and frantic is echoing painfully in his ears. Despite that, though, all he can think of is- where are they, where are they, where- where-

He pushes himself upright, gasping- his back and leg explode in agony, blinding him to anything but all-consuming pain. The animal part of Alucard wants to collapse down, wants to rest, to try to mend as best he can, but before that- where where ­where thrums urgently under his skin in a hummingbird heartbeat.

Under him, coughing back into consciousness, eyes glassy but opening, shielded from whatever is happening around them, is Sypha- good, good, where- he wants to lift a hand to touch her face, to check her pulse, to tend to her, but he knows that if he shifts at all right now he will fall on her and he still has to find- there is still one more-

No, he reminds himself, and finally comes back to his sanity enough to remember that Trevor is not with them. He is not here.

Then the heat touches him, and Alucard’s mind, up to now working overtime to process everything in slow motion, slows down to the pace of the world around them.

The firebird that was once Trevor is screaming, swooping and harrying their attacker endlessly. Leaping, liquid flames lift from his body, illuminating the forest as if the full force of the sun has come down to examine their mortal going-ons. Those beautiful iron-and-crystal claws are dark with the thickened, rotten blood of the monster that has so savaged Alucard and Sypha, and Alucard feels a pang of concern- will he be poisoned, laid low and similarly devoured as they almost were?

Certainly not, Alucard concludes, unable to tear his eyes away: the firebird drips magma that explodes like fireworks where their enemy strikes him, and with every sunflare strike of his claws the rubbery clotted-blood-stolen-flesh form of the devouring monster dissolves a little more.

Sypha has recovered enough that she turns her head to look, and Alucard feels her hand clutch at his arm, braced near her head protectively.

“Trevor,” she says, though he knows that if the same word weren’t on his own lips he wouldn’t have been able to understand her faint gurgle. Her face is a mask of blood, and other parts of her too, he would presume. In another circumstance it would be maddening, but currently he is even too weak to follow that scent to its source, the smell of her blood too intermingled with his own for his tired mind to separate them.

The firebird strikes again, driving his beak against the creature like a sword, lashing his tail with its endless train like a whip, and in that fashion he breaks the dark umbrella of the creature down, exposing its core, a little limp container flapping with desperately angry life.

The creature is smaller now, and it takes advantage of that to rush them under the firebird, darkness spreading out from the mouth of its container in a wanton, clenching trickle that looks like nothing so much as the fingers on a hand. Apt, Alucard muses, fumbling for his sword, for any resources he can dredge up, even for the energy to shift his stance-

Again the firebird descends, stabbing down on the creature like a heron would a fish, but with a level of vengeance Alucard has seen on no mortal animal before. Where the bird touches the earth the snow hisses and the ground crackles, and the bird itself tenses and struggles as if it has finally been injured; the thing speared on its beak cackles.

The cackle is interrupted by a scream as the firebird lashes up with its claws, striking and slicing ribbons in the little core of the thing. The monster writhes and finally tears itself off of the firebird’s beak, throwing itself flatly onto the ground and trying to rush them once more. The firebird stabs and strikes, but as close as he comes to the earth he cannot get at the thing- it has spread itself out too low, too flat, and it comes for them faster when it sees that, moaning and gurgling in petty malice. Alucard tenses once more, and Sypha, panic edging around her eyes, reaches out, fingers cocked, trying desperately to strike flame out into the world and coming up with nothing, as if she is a bad flint-

The firebird casts itself onto the ground and savages the monster, pinning it with claws that are cracking and shattering with every second it stays on the earth.

TREVOR!” Sypha screams out, and Alucard yells out wordlessly in distress as well, but to no avail.

The firebird strikes like a viper again and again, its tail rapidly dissolving where it rests on the earth, the spectacular magma-eyespots on his wings darkening and falling into soot as he stands and attacks. The monster is screaming now, but its call can’t be heard against the hawk-shrill wail of Trevor as he casts his life away to defend Sypha and Alucard.

He kicks at the monster one last time, and this time when he pecks at it his once-curved beak is jagged and shattered like a gemstone dashed violently against the ground. A bright line of molten crystal seeps from the stump that was once a beak and falls on the creature, and that final searing heat is what finishes the monster off. It gives a wail and curls rigidly up like an insect, then collapses lax into a little damp puddle.

“Trevor,” Alucard calls out, weeping, and shuts his eyes against the damage Trevor has done himself to save them.

“Come to us,” Sypha begs, and he does, calling and peeping like a chick in a darkened henhouse, struggling to drag himself along by his wings as his feathers pale and turn to ash and soot, dissolve before their very eyes. She shakily scoops him up with her one good arm, pulls him to her breast where he scrabbles to find purchase. With a stub of a beak and clenching bloody stumps where he once had talons, he can only go where he’s moved, can only cry to them and lay his once-beautiful head down on Sypha’s breast, a tattered wing flailed up to shelter Alucard’s bloodied head from the sky.

Alucard collapses half on them both, sobbing bitterly, fingers clutching at a mixture of Sypha’s blood-damp hair and Trevor’s rapidly-dissolving feathers.

“No,” he pleads, “please, not like this, not again, please,” and then blood and tears and weariness force his eyes shut, and he collapses down to sob on them both where they all lie dying; together, but still so far apart.

 

 

 

Singing calls him back.

 

 

 

It’s a woman’s voice.

 

 

 

She has no instruments, but her song is enough.

 

 

 

Pink light, smearing through amethyst pre-dawn fog, meets his eyes when he wakes. Alucard lies still for a moment, trying to remember, working through a faint sense of deja vu- and then he does, and wishes he never had. He clenches his eyes shut against the light.

Despair seethes in his belly, claws up his spine and nests at the base of his skull, whispering its useless wrath; he has not even the strength to rage, though.

Or…. He does. Why?

“Please, hurry,” begs a woman’s voice, and he hasn’t the slightest idea who that is but he still feels compelled to listen. “You haven’t much time.”

He sits up and looks around, dazed.

A woman with dark, black hair secured in complicated braids smiles uncertainly at him, perched on a fallen tree at the edge of their death-clearing, wrapped in a resplendent knitted shawl shimmering in all the colors of dawn. There is something off about her, some ineffable whiff of magic on her person that Alucard simply does not care about right now because where is--

Sypha is standing before him, clothes ragged and bloody but perfect in form, and he lunges to his feet unthinkingly, reaching out for her desperately. He pats her up and down, feels at her belly where last he had seen an unthinkably dark chasm brimming with her blood, at her arm where the thing almost bit it in two, exposing a strident line of white in the dark that had made his stomach churn. Fine. She’s fine. She’s mended. His hands fly up, and he finds that his hair is matted, filthy, but his skull is in one piece now and the skin is healed; his leg, too, is stable and healthy and bending in all the ways it should be.

“Shh,” she says, reaching up to touch his face, to smooth her small cool hands over his hair as he folds himself into her arms and wails. “There’s no time, Alucard, we have to- we have to hurry-“

“Chop chop,” says the practical, stern voice from before, and the third firebird wheels down from the sky to land next to-

“Esthe,” Alucard says unthinkingly into Sypha’s neck, where he’s pressed his face, drawing in her scent to the very bottom of his lungs. His eyes flash open, and he parts from Sypha suddenly, gasping. “And Alya-“

And there they stand on the fallen tree, Esthe with the same piercing blue eyes as Trevor, and Alya with a bow on her back. Alya fixes them both with a neutral, level stare.

“You’re lucky that she healed you.”

“Very,” Alucard says, but he starts to tremble, because Trevor-

“Even you would have died,” Alya goes on with irritation in her tone. Alucard wilts under her gaze. Even as a woman instead of a bird, she retains a sense of severity, of wisdom and judgement that shouldn’t be able to fit in a human face. “You should be composing unending songs of worship for the miracle she pressed on your failing bodies.”

“Don’t tease him,” Esthe says gently, laying a hand on her lover’s leg. “He’s obviously glad.” Alya, looking mortified, sinks down to lean in close to Esthe.

“I didn’t mean to,” she says, manner solicitous.

“Then don’t,” Esthe tells her with brutal loveliness, and Alucard feels a prickle of respect- this woman is Trevor’s sister, and when she flashes that stony facet of herself he knows it, can feel the confident authority bent with every fiber of its being towards goodness and a better world. Belmonts, he thinks rather dreamily. “Here, come and take him. You have to hurry. I cannot urge you enough- make haste.”

She draws open her arms. Alya leans over, looking down on the tattered, wrecked form of Trevor-as-a-bird with visible regret. He lies still, soot creeping up his wings. His train of a tail is gone, but his chest rises faintly. Hope blossoms in Alucard- he flicks Sypha a panicked look that she returns.

“We could keep him and mend him,” the huntress suggests, and Sypha draws up, her temper flaring. Alucard bristles as well, though he knows that they have no way of truly standing against these two women- not knowing their true forms, and not laden with the memory of a young Trevor standing at Esthe’s side, looking up at her with love and adoration shining out of his worn little face. Trevor’s love has chained them to a certain course of action as surely as if she was their very own sister, adored and once-lost.

In a way, Alucard muses, holding out his arms for Trevor beseechingly as if the motion alone will convince these women to give him to them, Esthe is his sister. Well. Sister-in-law.

Maybe. He’s unclear on the details of how humans handle these things past increasingly abstract explanations from his mother over the years. His father had always handwaved the questions away, explaining simply that humans had various definitions of joined life around the world, so what did the particulars matter?

“He will be furious if we do,” Esthe laughs before either Sypha or Alucard can protest, and, wrapping Trevor in her shawl, she leans over and delivers his limp form to Alucard’s waiting arms. “Besides, the rows between him and Baba Yaga would be….”

“Hum,” says Alya, crossing her arms.

“I want to learn more from you both,” Sypha says, coming up close to nuzzle at Trevor and offer him a tiny lick of flame. He peeps, but makes no move to take it from her. “I want to ask you everything. I want to hear it all- everything about yourselves, everything about him.” Trevor goes limp in Alucard’s arms, but stays warm, so he tamps down his panic as best he can. Sypha bites her lip, and he can see urgency rising in her. She lifts her eyes to the women in front of them, and Alucard follows her lead when they remain silent.

“I- please, we have so many questions, and he will need to know that you two are-“ He can’t imagine keeping this from him, can’t imagine that Trevor could ever forgive them for so large a trespass.

Will he,” Alya cuts in acerbically. “Will that bring him any peace, to know his sister presides over witchlands in a way of life he may well view as an imprisonment?”

Esthe winces, her features tightening, but she doesn’t protest.

Alucard looks down at Trevor, who, aside from the faint rise and fall of his breast, is still as the dead. Sypha draws herself back, doubt sliding across her face.

“It will,” he says firmly, in blood-stiffened clothing with his dying lover in his arms and his living one silent and thoughtful at his side. “You are all he has left, Esthe. Alya, you must know he admired you. Surely you are responsible for much of what he learned about living off the land. He has put those skills to good use, for himself and us as well.”

Alya tips her head, expression unreadable. When she turns to Esthe, Alucard can tell that she is about to speak up in favor of- something, some sort of-

“No,” Esthe says with total cold firmness. “No.”

“Why?” Alucard gasps out. “Do you not understand? You- you are the only person he has. Your family has been killed and your home destroyed. What would it do to him to know you are, in some fashion or another, alive and well? With a child on the way? To my mind, it would only bring him joy, no matter how far away you are, to know that you breathe the same air as he does.”

Esthe blinks slowly and with great deliberateness; Alya colors.

“Uh,” Alya responds to Esthe’s inquisitively puzzled stare, shifting and giving as close an impression to a bird fluffing and smoothing and fluffing again as a human body can. “I may- have- um.”

“How does that even work?” Asks Sypha, quietly, leaning in but keeping her eye on the couple. Alya is shrugging and gesturing wordlessly to an incredulous Esthe.

“You’re looking at two dead women who became legendary creatures of fire with the questionable aid of an immortal witch-goddess who lives in a house on two chicken legs,” Alucard asks her dryly, “and you want to know how they produced an egg?”

“Fair enough,” Sypha responds promptly, reaching into his arms to caress Trevor and cradle his drooping head back up and into the depths of the shawl.

“We,” Esthe says, pinning Alya to the spot with a firm look, “are going to discuss a few things, but. On your question-“ she spreads her arms gracefully, and as she does the sun finally rises, spilling streamers of gold into the clearing, “I will leave that to your judgement. Know this, please,” Esthe-the-woman dissolves in the light, reforming, and suddenly before them is a round bird with a fresh-peach breast and green-spring underwings, and her body all over is gold spilling into silver and black and other uncountable dawn colors, her outline bobbing and undulating like some fantastical, futuristic fashion silhouette, “know that he is not alone, even without me. Now, you are his world, and I hope that you will be better at it than I was.”

And then she’s off, winging away in little hummingbird darts and adjustments. When sunbeams touch her she sends off scatterings of wildly careening prismatic light, as if she’s made of crystal, as if she’s a living opal. Alya raises her crest to them, crouches down and takes off in one powerful reach of her wings.

“Be good,” she calls, and, “I’ll bring you the feather,” and they’re gone.

 

 

 

As they prepare to leave to find Baba Yaga, Sypha holds out her arms for Trevor. Alucard obligingly gives the wilting bird over, and as he shifts his stance he feels something soft under his heel.

“Help me,” she gasps when Trevor starts to spill from her arms, more liquid than animal at this point. Alucard snatches him up, thinks for a moment, then uses Esthe’s shawl to secure him to Sypha as if he were a babe in a sling, looping that long, slender neck in a graceful curve so that his head is snuggled in her hood. It hurts to see that shattered beak, and Alucard wishes he knew more about firebirds, wishes he knew why healing them from the brink of death was easy for Esthe but Trevor remained untouched by her skills. He has no doubt that if she could, she would have mended him. Perhaps it would have fixed him in this form? Alya seemed to hint at something like that.

“Good thinking,” Sypha says of his sling construction, clearly better-focused on the task ahead of them than he is, and then: “Hurry!”

Off she goes.

Alucard grinds his heel down and hears something crunch. He casts his gaze downward to see his glove, the one he’d lost in that rippling pool of not-blood, and a little spill of broken crystals coming from the opening where he used to put his hand.

Spite surges through him, and he puts a hand on his sword sheathe.

“Alucard?”

“I’m coming,” he reassures when Sypha pauses in the golden sunshot of the dawn to look back at him.

“We have to hurry,” she insists. Alucard twists his heel down once more before he’s dashing off after her. “I don’t know how any of this will go. Do you think she’ll have to mend him? Or is it just a- a- a veneer that she can pull off, and the injuries will come off too?” She sounds frantic with worry. Her pace eats at the distance between them and the witch with ferocity.

“I don’t know,” Alucard tells her seriously, striding along in the rosy light of the fresh dawn. She’s going so fast that he has to work to catch up, even with his longer legs. “All we can do is hope.”

Sypha looks at him, biting her lip. She looks a fright. She’s covered in dried blood from head to toe, her robes and cloak in tatters where she was mauled by the creature. Her curls hang matted with blood and whatever fluid dripped on her while they were busy being eaten. Cinders and ash have smeared on her, making her look as if she’s just walked from a burning building, and the nights of exhaustion and depletion and no sleep have smeared dark circles under her eyes, have drained her skin of color, have made her stare vacant and unfocused. He wants nothing more than to spend endless days tending to her, cultivating her back to health and watching her blossom back into her strength. The thrill of the thought that he may indeed get that chance brings a bounce to his step.

Hope burns in him. He had thought- genuinely, truly, with absolute knowing- that they would die. Instead, here they are, their trials completed and, hopefully, a long-awaited reward awaiting them. How long has it been since they heard Trevor’s voice? Since they saw him in front of him, not as some moonlit ghostly shape, but as a man with heat and form and weight? Longing seizes him, replaces the tired tremble in his limbs with urgency. Not all of it, he will admit to himself, is the pure-minded sort.

“Sypha,” Alucard breathes, tugging at her sleeve to slow her for a second. “We have done it.” He kisses her, and it feels like flying-

until she bites his lip.

“Not yet,” she tells him firmly. “We can celebrate once we’re free of this place, with Trevor.”

Alucard touches his fingers to his lip, blinking at her. She tries mightily to frown, but after a moment a smile rises on her face like the sun through clouds. Sypha dashes off again through the woods, her hands behind her to support Trevor in the shawl-sling.

Well. Perhaps he won’t need to spend as much time nursing her back to health as he’d thought. Trevor, though… hm. Hmm. Hmmmmmm.

One thing at a time, he chides himself. Trevor must be recovered safely first.

“HURRY UP!” Sypha yells, and Alucard shakes himself from his daze to chase after her urgently.

Chapter Text


 

 

They make it back by the time the sun has just slipped past the horizon, spreading its wings to reach up into the heavens. Alucard skulks in the shadows when he can. It hasn’t been a bright, luminous day like this in so long that Sypha can’t even feel sorry for him; she tips her face up even as she half-runs, half-walks, and she feels Trevor in his broken bird-body shift, making a noise like the edges of eggshells against each other as he does, and turn himself to soak in more light.

“He’s looking a little better,” Alucard says optimistically as they round the bend and come in sight of Baba Yaga’s ghoulish yard, the fence posts still a cavalcade of colors, the skulls on top still grinning. The faint sounds of chickens float out to meet them, and then as Alucard pushes the heavy gate open, there’s the pond again (ugh), and the steps up, like the stone cascade up to a great mansion, and there’s the little house, sitting squat and pleased with itself.

It looks like an old, naked dog, Sypha thinks meanly, and then gives an irritated sigh and corrects herself: it looks like a feral dog, one missing an ear and with a gap-toothed grin, but the kind of dog that might come up to you and lick you gently if you fed it for a while first.

“Baba Yaga!” Alucard calls out, tone firm. Sypha cradles Trevor, croons to him, and he shifts with another brittle-eggshell grind and settles his mashed stump of a beak against her cheek.

They had expected- anything, really. They had expected some further barrier, some kind of final check to keep them from their goal.

Nothing had come from the woods, and nothing from the skies, and nothing nasty was waiting in the yard. The only barrier now could be Baba Yaga herself, and she had tied herself to them with a contract, a promise.

‘He will become a man once more, in body, then in mind, and you will have your boy back again.’

Sypha doesn’t doubt that there’s some hidden nastiness in there- Speakers use words, though not written ones, and she’s no stranger to building in traps to her own spelled promises when she has cause. But she can’t feel out any angle that won’t soften with wear- even if he comes back limp and dazed, his mind will recover eventually. There are semantics at play, monster-formatted clauses and addendums in there that she can tell would mean something if she had been tutored in these ways, but all of it is mere contract-picking at the end of the day. Alucard had been raised with those rules and understandings, and he hasn’t raised any concerns.

Though (she bites her lip and looks about the yard, shooing off chickens here and there when they come too close), she has remained mum on her concerns. Perhaps he has too.

Her musings are cut into by the abrupt appearance of Baba Yaga. She seethes out of her house like water from an overfull jar, seeming to pour out and around her doorway with no visible open-close of the door itself. Sypha thinks about puzzling that over, then shakes herself out of it: no need. They are almost free, and Trevor is almost back to them. Almost home to their arms.

“Ech, what’s this?” She pops an eye out of her face again and holds it out, adjusting it this way and that. She’s got a tangle of long, limp arms and gnarled, jagged vines in one hand, and a needle and thread in the other, the one with the eye. She looks like she’s been caught mending.

“You set terms, and we have satisfied them. We request that you finalize our agreement.” Alucard looks very handsome and important standing there in the sun, even if he is wincing against the brightness. He looks exactly like what he claims to be- the favored son of the lord of the lands. Sypha can feel the weakness fluttering through him, though, can feel how his presence is a mere whisper compared to what he was when he first made their agreement with Baba Yaga. She knows the witch can feel it too, and gathers herself closer to him, ready to spring to his defense if she needs to.

There’s a splash of water from the pond, now behind them, and a nervous clutch of chickens rockets away from its direction, racing for the relative safety of Baba Yaga’s skirts. She tuts and stretches her way down the stairs, yawning, her nose dripping almost into her mouth like a dollop of pudding.

“Did you,” she snorts, wiping her mouth with the back of one claw-nailed hand. “I’d like to inspect these wares, see the truth of the matter for myself.”

Sypha makes a nervous shift- will she simply take them for herself, leave them with nothing!?- but Alucard stills her with a firm gesture.

“You’re thinking of men,” Baba Yaga jeers, her mouth twisting into a funny, cruel wave of amusement as she looks at Sypha with that one plucked eye held out. The thread from the needle waves gently in the morning breeze. “We monsters have more honor than your flesh-kin, you fast-burning Speaker, you blossoming girl.”

Sypha grits her teeth, holding on to her temper. They’re too close to success for her to mess it up for them now. Trevor is trembling finely, his feathers slowly dissolving further and further into smeary ash. While Alucard hadn’t been wrong in saying that he looked a little better, the truth of it is that with his body so close to hers, she can feel how badly his grounding had damaged him. He may hold his head up a little further, but the action makes his belly clench and his mangled, shattered-glass leg stumps move as if about to struggle for purchase. So far they haven’t, though, and she’s glad of it. As they are, she has the feeling they would cut her to ribbons.

Alucard undoes his jacket, reaches into his shirt- and brings out the feathers.

The sun hits them, all bundled together in his fingers. The resulting flare of light- shimmering and mirrored and luminous- is so intense that Sypha gives a little cry and covers her eyes, and Alucard hisses in surprise. The light doesn’t dim, remains steady and growing. Alucard must be in agony, based on his ragged gasps, and sympathy sears through Sypha, though she can’t take her face out from her arms to help him, not with that forceful light trying its best to physically creak her eyelids open. Only Baba Yaga remains silent.

“I will cover them,” she says, her tone odd. There’s a noise like a cloak landing on a bench and then the burning, all-consuming flare of light is dimmed.

Alucard gives a shuddering sigh and puts a hand to his face. Sypha rushes to him and draws up a dribble, a morsel of strength to heal him- but he waves her away gently, steps forward and opens his eyes. His sclera are red, his pupils so narrowed that he looks to barely have sight at all. What he does look, though, is furious.

“A modicum of decency-“ He hisses, teeth bared, irises red to match his sclera.

Baba Yaga reaches out under the cloth she’s draped over his hand and fiddles with it, ending in a neat little bundle that she takes from him. As she pulls it away, Sypha sees burns streaking his hand, the one on his thumb so severe that she’s certain she sees a flash of bone before he hides it in his other hand.

“My apologies,” Baba Yaga says, and her sincerity makes Alucard straighten up, still half-squinting and tears sparking out of his damaged eyes like falling stars. “I didn’t realize. I had no idea that you had truly succeeded. An old woman is more suspicious than a doe in winter, seems like.”

Sypha looks at her quizzically. Baba Yaga looks back levelly, slowly slotting her eye back onto her face like some kind of grotesque monocle. As she does, Sypha realizes with a jolt that Baba Yaga’s eyes, normally cloudy, have cleared in the light to be as transparent as the finest glass, and like that she can see the black spots in the center, small circles of darkness that roll and rattle inside as her eyes turn, as her head moves, as her steps bring her up to tower over Alucard and Sypha.

“So here is my prize, and from three separate birds, even.” Baba Yaga chortles and gives the bag a little shake and cocks her head, listening to some unhearable sound with evident pleasure. “I am pleased. Ah, ah, you’ve done an old woman such a service. Ooooh, are you sure you don’t want to stand at my side, little lordling? The things I could teach you, and your Speaker firespit too…”

“We have come for our agreed-upon boon,” Alucard insists firmly, blinking. His eyes are starting to mend, but only a little. If Sypha didn’t know him, didn’t love him, she’d be terrified- he looks like a nightmare incarnate like this, weary and blood-eyed and bone-raw at the hands.

“Oh, my,” says Baba Yaga, seeming to notice Trevor’s state for the first time. She plucks off both of her eyes and holds them out to Sypha, coming far too close for comfort. “You really rode him hard, didn’t you?”

Sypha flushes and opens her mouth to spit fire at the old witch, but Baba Yaga interrupts her with a screech:

“WHAT DID YOU DO!?”

Trevor is too weary to startle, but neither Sypha nor Alucard are.

“I- we didn’t-“ Alucard looks flustered. Sypha is not.

“He did it to himself! But he never would have if you hadn’t decided to turn him into a bird,” she growls, hands clenching tightly into fists. “And so it’s your fault he’s like this at all! How dare you!”

Baba Yaga tweaks her hands, tilting them up. If Sypha was so inclined, she could choose to interpret that as some sort of disembodied expression of concern. She still finds herself: not.

“Give him here, give him here, ahhh, ahhh, he’ll rot away before we can finish, achhhhh,” Baba Yaga fusses, hands fluttering. Sypha raises her hands to protect Trevor, but he lifts his head and willingly slides into the grip of the old witch before she can process it. “Come in, let them in, ucht!” As she talks she’s been shuffling up the stairs and into her house, somehow slipping in between the door and its frame like before, like she’s a spilled tankard of ale seeping through the cracks of an old inn table.

Alucard and Sypha exchange concerned looks, then slowly climb the stairs and stare up at the impossibly tall front door.

It feels rather as if the door is regarding them in a similarly sullen fashion, but after a beat it creaks open just a hair, just enough so that Alucard has to squeeze in and Sypha, relieved of the heaviness of Trevor, can slip in after him.

Inside, chickens are on every surface, as before. The sight still makes Sypha’s heart clench- every one of them is a person, somebody who hoped Baba Yaga might aid them with some woe in their life serious enough to lead them to trade themselves to a witch. It isn’t fair. Sypha bites her lip, strides silently through the chickens at Alucard’s heels, and resents the entirety of Baba Yaga’s existence. It isn’t fair.

“So, so,” groans Baba Yaga, heaving an enormous iron pot up onto the hook over the hearth one-handed. Sypha recognizes it as very similar to the one Trevor was originally forced into, and the sight sends a jittering flash of horror through her. She jerks her mind away from the image, reminds herself she never saw him go in, and she intends to keep it that way. This pot is round, anyway, not that strange egg shape that had looked so unbalanced. “So my fearsome lovely enemy casts himself on the ground. Ach, what a heart on the boy, can you believe it? Burn again, my sweetest hated friend, burn bright.”

She lifts her other hand, which contains Trevor-as-a-bird, and slips him into the pot like a chicken being prepared for succulence.

“Baba Yaga,” Alucard calls out, striding forward across the floor to come to where she’s levering herself into her chair with a groan, grabbing up a fire poker to stoke her hearth. Here the disturbing dimensions of the house come into play, because with each step they take the house seems to shift, making it seem like miles to reach Baba Yaga, then mere toe-tips, and then they’re standing in front of her chair as normally as if they hadn’t just breached every human perception of space known. Sypha feels herself reeling, reaches out to Alucard’s sleeve for steadiness. He trembles under her touch. “You gambled with us, as you said, and the dice have come up in our favor. You have accepted the feathers, have you not?”

“You’ve spent too much time with your father,” Baba Yaga groans, covering her face even as her other hand prods at the fire, and Alucard stiffens. Sypha looks between the two of them, then at the hearth where, presumably, Trevor is being mended again.

“I beg your-“

“We have gone through so much,” Sypha cuts in, tired of being silent, tired of finding herself over her head and entirely ready to swim up and up and up so that she’s right where she should be once more. “We drew our strength out like fine thread to feed to Trevor, until he was satisfied and we were left empty.”

“Bold things, you are,” Baba Yaga says with a broad wink, and Alucard abruptly looks horrified. A cluster of chickens near the front door snickers.

“We fought your monster and won, at great cost,” Sypha ticks off a second finger on her hand, both annoyed and concerned that she might be pushing her luck.

“Oh, poor Hebert,” sighs Baba Yaga, but she looks pleased anyway, so Sypha continues,

“Then we fought another of your monsters, and we claimed our prizes of victory each time. I want-“

“Wait,” Baba Yaga says, holding up three fingers. “What was that last bit?”

“Your second monster,” Sypha snaps out. Belatedly, she realizes she has no concrete way to refer to the thing and whips around to face Alucard entreatingly. He narrows his eyes at Baba Yaga.

“The thing living in a glove,” he spits out. “It killed us both, almost. To send so severe a challenge after your initial trials was a hard strike indeed, bordering on the edges of an unjust challenge.” Sypha goes back, for a moment, to the instant she woke up, choking and coughing up stale blood to the sound of a song so lush it might as well have filled her belly as much as her ears. Still, Alucard had left out Esthe purposefully, so she holds her peace- by her estimate, they did die. They just… got better.

“Mmmm,” says Baba Yaga, her nose gesticulating this way and that like a lost dog searching the wind. “I only sent Herbert.”

The fire is roaring at this point. The chickens have all oriented themselves to watch the new drama. Sypha and Alucard stare up defiantly at Baba Yaga, who seems puzzled more than anything.

“Then,” Alucard suggests dryly, “perhaps you have some borders to attended to before the day is done.”

“You didn’t kill the thing?” Baba Yaga asks, turning to look at the pot. It’s turning cherry red, and she gives a little sigh and grabs it with the fire poker, pulling it out of the hearth as easily as Sypha would lift one of the chickens. She dangles it in the air as she continues to talk with them, swaying it back and forth like a mother soothing a babe might. The image is somewhat ruined by the fact that the pot is easily as large as some sheds Sypha has taken shelter in.

“We tried,” Sypha explains, “Well, I think we did?” She hadn’t doubted that the thing was dead until now. Something about Baba Yaga asking if she was sure they killed a monster brings out a level of apprehension in even the boldest souls, it seems.

“I doubt it will stay down for long,” Alucard responds dourly. “It was burned badly, but there were enough crystals in the glove that it may well be recovering out in the woods now.”

“Troublesome,” Baba Yaga says. “Very troublesome,” and she sounds serious indeed. Her broad mouth clenches up into a little pucker as she stares at them with those glass-ball eyes of hers.

Alucard reaches out and finds Sypha’s hand with his. The contact feels good- a reminder that they’re in this together, and are about to get out of it together too.

“Your boy,” Baba Yaga says, carefully, drawing up the bundle she tied the feathers in out from under one of her unending aprons. She bounces it on her lap with the jiggle of a leg. Sypha frowns- legs? Knee? Apron, in an angle that seems like it juts out of a wrinkled- ugh. She’s too tired- she can’t keep herself from getting snared on the magic wrapping the witch up like a shawl. Like this, she’s barely able to peel herself out of that nightmare-gash of a vision. Whether it’s the truth, like the warped dimensions in the house, or a lie, like-

Like-

Sypha’s mind picks around the idea carefully as she realizes that Baba Yaga has no truck in illusions or falsehoods. She’s been honest, hasn’t she? She’s been straightforward, shockingly so for a witch and a major monster, a goddess of sorts as Trevor had put it once. So, then, the images around her… unreal, but real? There, not, at the same time? Multiple layers all peeling up and folding down over her at any given time, and an unending, unceasing flex of-

“What about him,” asks Alucard, tone hard, and it jolts Sypha out of the magical madness she was teetering on the edge of. Oh. Oh. She’ll not look again, not now, not when the only strength left in her is her bones. Oh. Lesser women have snapped themselves in half by that snare, she knows, and shuts her eyes to recollect herself.

Sypha takes a step sideways and folds into Alucard, clutching at his arm. He gives her a puzzled sideways look but doesn’t break from how, where, he’s standing- facing Baba Yaga alertly, like a wolf at the mouth of the den.

“He is so,” Baba Yaga gestures with a flutter of fingers, “very, “ she gestures again, and now her skirts are filling and falling and rising too, “and I can’t imagine, no, not the way the lands are now, finding another like him for such a long time.”

“You made an oath,” Alucard cuts in, tone harsh, at the same time that Sypha cries out,

“How dare you!”

“I know I did,” the witch snaps at both of them, and draws the pot on its poker close and drops it into her lap. Steam hisses from her flesh and the smell of cooking meat fills the space, making Sypha and Alucard draw back together as one. Sypha’s stomach churns, but she has nothing to throw up. Her body is so wrung-out by now that all she can muster is some gags and coughs. Alucard covers his mouth, expression turned pained. Sypha doesn’t want to know- will never ask- if it’s from hunger or revulsion. Some things are best left unsaid, unasked, unknown.

Baba Yaga gives no indication of pain, only strokes at the hot iron surface with her claw-like nails, whispering low, droning words to it that Sypha can’t quite make out. She lifts her head to continue: “But here I offer you a choice, and maybe a better one.”

“We refuse,” Alucard says, quite sternly now.

“Absolutely not,” Sypha tells her, not because she thinks Baba Yaga is listening to her but because she has to say it, has to cut off whatever evil offer is about to come out into the air between them like a sodden family secret long-restrained.

“If you let me keep this bird,” Baba Yaga continues, her nails still scoring at the pot, “you will be free in your living country for the six and one years I want him for, and free after to find him again and have him in your hands.” She pauses, gazing at the pot covetously, licking her lips with a tongue that looks blue as the dusk sky.

Sypha raises a skeptical eyebrow. Alucard seems similarly dubious.

“Those…. Aren’t very good terms,” Sypha points out, but as she does she hesitates. ‘In your living country’? What does that mean?

“My father will lay waste to the land’s people, Baba Yaga,” Alucard says, regret and grief clear in his tone, ringing out like a bell through the night. “We have told you before. There is a prophecy, and past that duty and mercy, so we must-“

“I will go and handle your father, now,” Baba Yaga cuts in impatiently. “And then six and one years on you will all have your happy little reunion, and do whatever it is you foolish young people do all day.” The chickens, mostly silent until now, all make kissing noises. The cacophony is disorienting, revolting.

Alucard looks staggered. Sypha clutches at his arm, about to hiss: no, no, no,

but

but

but

“The prophecy states,” Alucard starts, and again he’s cut off, because Baba Yaga is countering, making a chopping motion with one enormous spade-clawed hand:

“Yes, yes, of course, your prophecy says you three saved the country. And if old Baba Yaga steps in and your daddy and she have a big fight, eh. You know how the human stories go. You three are the big heroes, so good, yes, congratulations, eh!”

Alucard, brow furrowed, tries once more: “You are powerful, but my father-“

“With the feathers, especially from your handsome boy, even old Baba Yaga can stand against your handsome young papa, you infant,” she finishes with a hiss. Sypha can only conclude that she is insulted by the question, even if she seems to think it reasonable enough to give it an answer. Alucard makes no argument about her insult to him. It would simply be ridiculous to try, given the contrast between crone and youth.

“So, let me ask: Dracula can make no stand against the sun itself. CAN HE?!” She roars the last question, and Alucard looks startled, shell-shocked, as he whispers out,

“No.”

Sypha swallows. Alucard stares into space. The chickens, behind them, around them, gossip in hushed whispers.

“I kill Dracula for you, and I get my bird for his years, and you get your boy for the rest of them.” Baba Yaga leans back in her enormous chair, looking satisfied with herself.

The enormity of the choice before them is staggering.

It feels evil, reeks foul and seeping. They would essentially be sacrificing Trevor for the sake of-

For Wallachia, and all her innocents.

For Alucard.

For Sypha.

They would be offering him up without his permission, with no way to consult him, no way to confirm his thoughts and feelings on it.

That last thought is what sticks in Sypha’s throat most as she works over the offer. She has the sinking feeling that he would say yes. She has the very, very bad feeling that if they did ask him, if he were here before them in his right mind, he would offer himself from the top of his head down in to the very last sliver of his marrow, as long as it would mean that the country would suffer no more, as long as they would be safe, as long as everything could move on around him.

Without him.

Sypha covers her face with her hands, struck dumb by the enormous cruelty of it all. She feels Alucard draw her to him, can feel in him the tense urgency racing through his body like she felt the bone-shuddering shakes of Trevor-as-a-bird. He lowers his mouth to her ear, mouths, ‘What should we do?’

Sypha tries to say anything- tries to muster selflessness, tries to muster mercilessness, tries to muster practicality. But all she can stoke is the mage-fire in her, and all she can churn up is her love, choking and blinding, for these two fragile men in her care. All she can see is Trevor leaning over her sock, darning it so carefully where he finished his quickly, and all she can feel is his sigh as he lies next to her happy and lazy with pleasure. All she can think of is his expression as he pores over the memory-bestiary, the solemn way his eyes check this detail and trace that line. It hasn’t been long at all, but already she feels like it’s been forever since she heard his voice, since she’s seen his stride, since he’s kissed her and smiled at her and laughed with her.

And what will he say if they call him back, reject the offer? Should they hide it from him? Can they? Can they look him in the eye if he falls to a monster, if he loses a limb, if he is poisoned or maimed or hurt or driven to madness? Can they look at every injury inflicted on him from now forward, every painful wound on him, and know that they pushed him to this path because they couldn’t bear to part with him for seven years? Can they look at every peasant settlement razed and know that the lives they spent were paid for by Trevor’s presence at their side as they take in the suffering? Can Trevor look at the deaths of the people as coin well-spent to save them a few years of grief?

What is the value of a life unknown? What is the value of the uncounted strangers compared to Trevor’s burning soul? What is his value when he’s already promised himself in payment for this nation of innocents profaned by ignorance?

Sypha raises her fingers to her mouth, gaze sliding to Alucard. He looks just as lost as she is, just as taken-aback by the offer.

Of course he would be, Sypha realizes, and almost tears out her hair in horror at the thought: it means he would no longer have to commit patricide. He wouldn’t have to face his father, driven mad and wild off some dark ledge into an unceasing abyssal descent. He wouldn’t have to struggle in bloody combat to murder the man who raised him. He wouldn’t have to murder the man who, by all accounts, cared for him and tended to him and grew him like- like- like a precious, loved child. Alucard would be spared the unending grief of having to watch his father die and know that he was the one who had made it so.

The thought is clearly not lost on Alucard- he meets Sypha’s eyes with guilt spilling from his own and wrenches away suddenly, shoulders clenching up. He faces away from both Baba Yaga, who is watching them both in silence with a quirked uptick to her mouth, and Sypha herself.

“I cannot,” he says, and puts his hands to his temples and shuts his eyes. “I am- I am too close to this.” He tenses, face closing off as if he’s left his body behind somehow, as if he’s roaming in his own internal world, trying to center himself. The message is clear: this is Sypha’s choice to make.

Studying Alucard in front of her, closed-off and suddenly remote, certainty rises in her like a tide under the moon. It’s that force- unyielding progression, unseen depths, and above it all, the bone-set chill of dead winter - that steadies her. There is only one correct choice, only one choice that Trevor himself could say yes to. She is not just fire, though it comes more naturally to her. She is ice too, the force that cracks the rock when nothing else can, the power that finds a path when everything else has fallen to death and stillness. That terrible chill rises in her, drowning out her burning heart, choking down the painfully writhing ember her heart has become, leaving only one decision, and one way to feel about it.

She draws close to Alucard and smiles at him gently, grief simmering in her bones but held level by the icy crackle of certainty.

“Sypha?” He asks, distress clear in his eyes, still bloody red from the damage the joined feathers did to him in a mere second. She strokes his face, and he leans down so she can kiss him. She does, feels the faintest prickle of fangs against her lips. He’s so on edge that he can’t keep himself in check, not fully. She can only imagine the torment he must feel.

They part, Alucard standing behind her, his positioning making it clear that he’s willing to abide by whatever choice she’s made. He looks a nervous wreck for it, though. Baba Yaga rests her hands on the pot in her lap possessively, tapping her nails against the metal loudly. Her eyes roll partially down her face, droop almost off her cheeks. The effect is of some kind of lizard inspecting particularly evasive prey.

Sypha takes a breath. One last chance. She glances at Alucard, who stares back at her with furrowed brows. Baba Yaga leans in.

“Well?”

 

 

 

There’s a line of light in front of him.

It takes him a long time, an eternity, to understand that it’s a crack of light coming in, not some strange, localized beam. He watches the crack widen, sees something pale and luminous peer in. With that extra light comes the distant understanding that he’s in some kind of enclosure, some kind of container.

He lies still, concern still a distant intellectual understanding, as the crack grows into a circle of light and something gnarled and tangled and bumpy comes at him.

“Come now, come, come,” says a voice, old and wretched but kind enough for now, and he lies still and allows himself to be caught up in the tangle of fingers and nails and drawn out of where he awoke.

He’s deposited on something soft. The light doesn’t hurt his eyes as he adjusts- on the contrary, he squints into the stubbled darkness, uncertain of what’s wrong with his vision. Everything is… un-bright? Not-lit?

Dark, he remembers, hazily. Everything is dark. There’s no illumination from the sun, no reflected grace from the moon, no wavering sparkle from the stars. He tries to voice his confusion but just makes an ugly creaking noise, which only confuses him more. He can’t understand what’s happened. He can’t understand why it’s happened. All he knows is that nothing is right, from his eyesight to his voice to his mind.

“Shh,” says the thing above him, and his brain itches with knowing: Baba Yaga. There’s that strange way of thinking again, shapes formed into lines formed into quick beats, and it makes him want to bury his head away from whatever wrongness has crept into him. “Bed down, lost boy. Rest.”

Even his body is wrong. Everything is wrong. Everything is wrong.

The creature in front of him drops something heavy on him, and through it he can feel the force of Baba Yaga’s hand on him, spreading out wide like a tree branch to fold and bend him in unwelcome ways, until he’s flat on his side and prone on the earth.

Panic fills him, but no pain comes from the contact. He lies there in the new darkness, reeling as he feels something thudding in his chest- a heart, a heart, his heart. A limb, and a chest, and everything is still wrong. He doesn’t remember this. He doesn’t know why she’s done this to him. He can’t struggle because he’s confused by what shape he is. All he can do is lie still and try to understand, fail.

In that darkness under the thing dropped on him, he discovers he can close his eyes and does.

 

 

 

When Trevor wakes up next, he’s hazily, distantly aware that his shape is that of a man, in the way that one might be aware that mice are tucked in nests under the earth.

Baba Yaga picks him up and dresses him, tutting at his complacency, chiding when he flares and startles and trips over his feet, unused to them. They aren’t what he remembers. He’s not sure what he remembers.

“Easy,” she says, kindly, and picks him up, letting him wobble between her clenched clawing hands until he gets the hang of standing up on these legs he has. The cage of her hands around him vanishes, and he tries to move forward- and promptly falls, bashing his elbows on the floor.

He misses his wings. He misses the sky. He misses the sun.

Baba Yaga starts to hum, picking him up off the ground, and he finds that he knows the song, likes it. He tries to join in and finds that that, at least, he can still do- he can still sing, if in a different way than before.

Well. That’s something.

 

 

 

Trevor doesn’t feel fully sure of himself, not yet, but he’s back in one piece enough that when he asks to go out, Baba Yaga gestures to the door.

“You’ve paid your debt,” she says cryptically, her enormous moon-eyes rolling up and down her nose as she inspects a heap of knitting, red and lumpy, in her lap. The soon-to-be monster undulates but is still caught on her needles, so it can’t do much more. Trevor watches it carefully, turning his head this way and that- but then he realizes that his eyes don’t work like that, that doing that isn’t helping. He frowns. That, too, is strange-feeling.

Baba Yaga chuckles, gestures a bony hand.

Trevor can feel the warmth of the sun before he can see it- he has enough heat still living in his bones for that. Relief fills him- if he can get to the sun, he’ll be able to right himself. He’ll be able to fix whatever wrongness has been forced into his being.

He follows the long stripe of light unsteadily, eyes straining in the dark, mind trying to catch up. All around him, half-cooked souls linger, giving him a wide berth. He doesn’t mind- the things feel cold to his fading senses, make odd noises that sound like birds but reverberate with the guttural earthy tones of men.

His voice, too, Trevor reminds himself. His voice is sinking down onto the earth as well.

Trying his best to shove the uncertainty away, he forges on, one foot in front of the other, until he’s at the threshold of Baba Yaga’s door. This he knows, this he remembers: Baba Yaga, and her house, and the chicken-legs and her yard filled with the proof of her prowess in hunting, men and women half-charred on the outside and all-raw on the inside scattered everywhere around.

Trevor casts one last look back and finds that Baba Yaga is watching him. He can’t understand her expression, can’t reach out with his sun-fire to feel what currents she’s putting off. He feels doubly-blind, caught between two things of which he is neither, and the thought is so disorienting that he almost falls backwards out the door.

“Goodbye,” he hears Baba Yaga say softly, “my beloved enemy.”

He clumsily pulls himself free of the threshold and watches the door click shut.

Tipping his face up to the sun, he opens his mouth to drink deeply, to fill his aching belly, to re-spark the ever-dwindling fire along his bones- but all he finds is air.

Puzzled, he tries again, and again, and again, but each time all he comes up with is- nothing.

He calls out in frustration, and at least that noise seems close enough to satisfy.

 

 

 

Between rests, Trevor manages to get his legs under him, then his feet, and then he starts to remember how to run a body like this.

Legs and hips and belly and shoulders, and then arms and forearms and then even hands, and aren’t those curious!

He picks up a chicken because he can, peers at it intensely.

“Put me down,” it-once-a-he demands, but instead of doing that he fumbles it around and eventually manages to maneuver it under his arm. How strange, he thinks, how satisfying it is to carry something like this. “Help,” the chicken says mildly, struggling but not much.

Trevor carries it around to practice walking, then puts it down to practice using his fascinating hands. The chicken, despite its initial protests, follows him around as he walks about touching and manipulating things. Trevor starts to get more confident in his explorations, until he realizes with shock that there are colors.

This sparks a whole new round of investigation, and by the time he’s come back to his trailing chicken baggage, he can’t help but cry out in amazement: the bird is green, with little flecks of orange, and has a big black ring around one eye. The colors fascinate him. He can barely turn his eyes away, but eventually he does and realizes that all the chickens are different colors too, and the sky is another color, and the earth and the snow and the house and even he is an amazing blend of colors: red and white and brown and flesh-pink.

“Hell,” he says, and discovers that he can talk on the earth in straight marching lines like any other man could.

Oh. He’s a man after all, isn’t he?

 

 

 

“Well, shit,” says Trevor, and puts his head in his hands. He still feels floaty and only half-settled, but a few hours in the chicken yard had done him good. Now, as the sun sets, he’s ready to leave Baba Yaga’s hut behind. The skulls are starting to illuminate with strange lights, and the bone fenceposts are being washed in brilliant colors. The chickens have marched in to Baba Yaga’s hut in a slow stream, orderly for chickens, less so for men.

He moves his hand up to make some sort of gesture to the last chicken in the yard- the green one he’d picked up and used to practice having hands on. He freezes there, though- not enough knowledge has come back to him to tell him what to do with his hand, with his fingers. Words will have to do.

“Uh…. Good luck with the…. Baba Yaga?” Trevor tries.

“Ugh,” says the chicken, and turning its back on him marches inside.

Trevor pulls a face and tries to resist feeling amazed at the mobility he has there- but fuck it, having a face is amazing, and so he allows himself to feel that tickle of enjoyment as he turns to the woods and starts walking. The sounds around him are overwhelming. He can hear animal life in the dark, the crunch of snow underfoot, the way his body makes noises like bd-dt, bd-dt if he listens closely to the blood running through him. It’s incredible.

He’s a man, and he has boots, and pants, and a cloak, and some metal things in his cloak. His name is Trevor, and he knows he’s looking for something out here- something important.

“Hello,” he calls out loudly, pausing to do it.

The forest falls quiet around him.

Trevor feels a prickle of instinct come to him- keep moving, don’t make so much noise, walk silently when you can and quietly if you can’t.

Oh, yes. He had forgotten: men are eaten just like other animals.

 

 

 

No matter how long he walks in the forest, led by the pale wash of the moonlight, he can’t seem to remember what he’s looking for. Trevor tries to think, tries to let the idea come to him, but no matter what his approach, the knowledge hovers enticingly out of reach, like a golden beam of light egging him into a chase.

He keeps walking, bolstered by a new remembering: men freeze, too, in the dark and the cold.

He isn’t certain how fond he is of this whole deal after all.

 

 

 

Weariness is tugging on him by the time the moon is starting to slide out of view. Trevor wants to lie down, but enough of his knowledge has come back to him by now to keep him away from that. Additionally, he still feels enough natural revulsion to the earth to prevent him from even wanting a little rest: he walks on.

As he goes, he thinks. He knows he has throwing knives in his cloak, and a short sword, but he feels like he’s missing something. His hand flies to the spot on his waist where he knows it should be, whatever it is, but like remembering what he’s looking for, the identity of the missing weapon eludes him.

He’d feel frustrated, but the experience as a whole is so new and overwhelming that he can’t even feel that. It feels as if he’s never been this shape, though he can feel that that’s wrong. Still, he must have been away from this body for a long time, to forget everything so easily. Or perhaps it wasn’t terribly important?

Well, no, he amends. Whatever he’s looking for feels important. His missing weapon, too- that feels important. And he has…. A thing, he feels. A thing to do. A mighty, terrible, all-consuming thing to do.

Men come in groups, Trevor reasons as he walks. And men do things in groups, too, even mighty and terrible and all-consuming things. Hell, especially those. So he should have a group, shouldn’t he?

He pauses where he stands, looking out into the forest around him.

He hears a sound from behind him- long off and away, from where he’d come. Hm. Perhaps that’s his group, following his footsteps?

But not all men are in the same groups, he remembers, and a burning building, screaming, pain stab through him, salting his memories with the drench of bone-shuddering terror. No. Not all men are in the same groups, and from what he can remember of himself, he’s in a very small group indeed, and hated, feared, wanted dead otherwise.

“Right,” he breathes, using the words to tether himself back down to the ground. “Right, okay, so…. I’m being followed.”

Fuck. What has he done? What has he done to make himself so hated? But- there’s another sound, the crunch of uneven, trotting footsteps, and Trevor feels that memory-anxiety race through him.

Oh: men fear.

“I’m beginning to think,” Trevor grumbles, but quietly, and he sets off at the best light run that he can manage on cold legs, “that I should have just stayed in the damned pot.”

 

 

 

Whatever it is, or whoever it is, doesn’t give up. It also doesn’t call out for him, which he thinks he’s pretty sure a friendly soul would. He… thinks.

His breath is starting to come sharp, a pull developing under his skin but over his bones: a stitch in his side. Another less-than-satisfying revelation on the nature of men.

Trevor’s footing has gotten better; he no longer feels uncertain as he moves. He darts over a tree fallen across a stream and slips, but catches himself and keeps going, and that, more than anything, reassures him that he knows this body, knows how to use it if he can only remember.

But he doesn’t know if he’ll have time to remember everything, because the thing following him sounds like it’s gaining, and his body feels like it’s growing heavier and heavier.

Trevor gropes under his cloak, finds his short sword and hopes that it will be enough against whatever is coming his way. He decides to turn and face it before he’s totally spent, so with that in mind he assesses each turn, each corner and every hill. As he’s passing through a small clearing, he plants a foot and wheels around sharply, bringing the blade to bear on whatever is coming after him. The space is brightly illuminated by the moon, the snow sending sparkling reflections out even in the darkness. He’d missed it in the run, but the sounds of the forest around him have gone silent, likely as a result of the chase. This is the best place he’s seen to make a stand.

Gritting his teeth, Trevor crouches down slightly, ready to spring on whatever bursts through the trees after him.

No springing is required, though: the thing that slips out of the shadows after him is a little creature, one with two dragging legs and a black body that he can’t see clearly. It catches the light oddly, reflects nothing back as if it’s some kind of empty space rather than a dark-colored creature.

“Huh,” Trevor says, straightening up to look the thing over. It seems to be heaving with exhaustion, and sympathy races through him: so is he. “What are you?”

The little thing limps closer, each slender front limb struggling to drag its main body through the snow.

Trevor takes a step in, blade held loosely in one hand, and when the creature shies back he does too.

“Easy,” he says, “easy. I won’t hurt you.”

But he doesn’t have any memories for this thing, and that more than anything sets him on edge. Is this what he’s been looking for? Is this something he knows? It seems unlikely. Trevor circles the thing cautiously, but all it does is wheel to face him tiredly, body still heaving as if in a pant.

“What sort of thing are you, anyway?” He asks. The animal hunkers down, the motion bashful somehow. Funny- he can’t see a head, or anything like. Animals have heads, don’t they? In the very limited spread of animals he can remember right now, yes, every single one has a head. No head usually equals trouble.

Right. Sword still up. And yet it had been limping, dragging itself when it came into the clearing…

“Are you… all right?” Trevor scratches his head with his spare hand. The thing wavers a little, looking for all the world like it’s on the verge of collapse. Trevor still holds himself back, though, his instincts yelling at him even past the haze of his memory loss. If it was so feeble, it couldn’t have chased him, could it? “What do you want from me, anyway?”

The monster remains silent but stretches out a slender forelimb to him.

Trevor sighs and comes a little closer. A single touch can’t hurt. It clearly wants something from him, and as he is now, anything that seems to want him, specifically, can’t be too bad. It must know him somehow.

“Sorry if I know you,” he tells it, crouching down where he’s reasonably sure is in front of it. “I’m a bit, eh…. Spotty right now. You know how it is- come out of a pot and suddenly you’re dashing around in the forest at night without a care in the world. I have no idea what’s going on, not really.”

The thing lifts itself up, and while he still can’t get any idea of where its head might be, Trevor gets the sense that it’s looking at him.

“Come on,” Trevor says, emboldened by its mild response to his proximity, and reaches for it. “We can travel together and try to figure out-“

It surges forward and grabs him, suddenly much larger, much stronger, than he’d expected. Trevor shouts in surprise, lashing out with his sword, but the thing jerks him toward it and suddenly he’s pitching forward, falling down towards the blackness at the core of the thing’s body, grabbed at what feels like a dozen points by small, pinching limbs that have sprung from the creature.

“Well shit,” Trevor comments.

Chapter Text


 

 

Trevor gets his angle just right, fighting his arm up against the splayed little insect-jointed legs, and strikes.

The thing recoils and screams, pulling back from him, and he strikes again. Each blow raises sparks, spits of heat that make the thing shrivel. More than that, though, it also brings him a feeling of knowledge, of completeness.

This he knows. Getting himself free from a hold, scrambling and catching himself and turning and striking with his blade at the open maw of a monster as it rushes for him: all of that and more is in his blood, and he grimaces with satisfaction as he works.

The thing rounds on him again, a little shriveled morsel of monsterdom, and Trevor flips his blade in his hand, catching it by the handle. The monster rushes him again and he sweeps his blade out, catching the skittering legs as they jut out in snatching malice towards him. It shrinks back, growing now, but he advances on it, circling, keeping his eyes on it. The monster presses itself down and then springs at him, clearly intending to latch on to his face. He hits it midair with the pommel of his weapon and strikes it down to the ground, following with a plunge of his sparking blade into the main body.

“And here I came offering my hand in friendship,” he comments, jumping back again as more legs sprout and the growl fades into a whine. “What’s the world coming to when two travelers can’t even come together over a good old-fashioned brawl?” The monster lunges at him, shrieking when he lunges back and swipes his blade out at it.

There’s a moment where they- well, he doesn’t know where the thing’s eyes might be, but if it has them he definitely gets the sense that they’re fixed on him. His breath steams out, sweat rising from his body despite the chill. Trevor bares his teeth and jumps forward. The monster shrieks, spilling over itself backwards, and rushes back the way it came, scrambling desperately at the earth as it spills a little lingering trail of liquid he supposes must be its form of blood.

Oh, wow. That feels- great. That feels fucking amazing. He was fucking born to do that, fight and struggle and win.

“Go on and fuck off, then!” He yells out after the monster, still keyed up, still wound tight.

Eagerness nips at his heels, along with the faint knowledge that he should finish the kill. If the thing is wounded, no sense in letting it loose to recover its strength and come after him at an inopportune moment. Plus, it’s left him a handy little trail to follow.

“I’m a lucky sort of guy,” Trevor comments humbly and modestly to the forest around him, and sets off at a steady jog after sheathing his sword.

He’s glad he did, because the trail of flat, light-absorbing black follows their footsteps for a while before abruptly veering off.

That’s trouble, he thinks, and increases his pace a little.

The night is silent- all around him the world has gone silent, leaving him to listen only to his body and his breath. It feels steadying, a healthy pull earthward from where his rushing blood had been trying to lead him.

He experiments and tests and works as he moves, until he remembers how to run silently through the woods, until he’s dashing at the pace he knows is the right one for him. His body is his own, and with every second of action he’s feeling more and more at ease in it. Fuck wandering around restfully- he wants more, and he’ll hunt it down if he has to.

The glow from the moon-reflecting snow is enough to let him see shadows, shapes. So when he sees something blobby and dark ahead in the blood trail amongst a suddenly heavy trail, he slows and brings out a throwing knife, sending it out to announce his arrival.

But the shape doesn’t move, doesn’t even flinch as the knife lands in its center. As he advances Trevor realizes the light as it hits the thing is all wrong: it shines and undulates, curled prone as it is in a wide loop.

It’s a thing, he realizes, slowing to a walk and coming closer. Trevor keeps a wary eye on the forest around him, the trees with their ghostly negative silhouettes, the ice-soaked branches above with their clattering song as the wind sweeps through. The air is sharp and hard as he sucks it into his lungs, his body giving it softness as he pushes it out again in a shimmering cloud that floats up and away.

Trevor reaches out with considerably more caution than he had initially, hand finding the iced-rigid form of a whip. As he draws it up, he feels a tight surge of excitement in him, like the rush from the fight before but with an edge of familiarity that makes it sweet.

“Hello, you beautiful thing,” he whispers, winding the whip up tenderly in his hands to chase the ice off of the supple leather. As he reels up the last bit he realizes there’s a blot of blood, glistening and red, frozen under it. After a moment Trevor snatches up the throwing knife he used too, turning his head this way and that. He listens.

Narrowing his eyes, he straightens. Securing the whip to his belt in a single sure movement, Trevor lopes off, following the heavier trail and the thin line of abyssal black that traces it.

 

 

 

He moves more slowly now, more quietly- the thing has prey, or is hunting it, and he intends to surprise it. The whip shimmies eagerly on his hip, or maybe it just feels like it- either way, Trevor is tense with excitement, jittering to leap into the hunt again.

This is a part of the hunt too, though, he admonishes himself: tracking. Keep your nose down and your ears up, he reminds himself, in the voice of a man he thinks was his father.

It’s good advice. He hears the commotion before he sees it, a little crack of fire and the shriek of steel meeting something hard.

Instinct nudges him off the path, circling again. Trevor creeps closer and sees nothing, nothing, nothing- ah, there- he adjusts his path and comes closer again, listening for the monster’s breathy, moaning little growl. He can hear humans, too, which gives him pause. Isn’t he hated, disliked? Wouldn’t he be risking himself for strangers that may seek to harm him like the monster did?

But no amount of caution can keep him from the hunt. And, besides- there’s no telling. Maybe these people are friendly after all. Either way, they don’t deserve to die.

He stalks closer again, following the commotion easily now. Unconsciously he’s unfurled the whip, and Trevor looks about to get an idea of how to break into the fight, how to catch his quarry and satisfy the instincts prickling up and down his spine, the ones calling for blood and sweat and ferocity above all else. They’re fighting over a stream, on a fallen tree, the woman behind the man sending out anemic licks of flame and trembling with the effort, the man using an improbably long sword with obvious lassitude that screams weakness. They’re both bloodied, dirty, staggering with tiredness. The monster is ducking close and lunging, testing, testing, like a wolf at a staggering deer.

They look like prey even to Trevor’s eyes.

Trevor creeps closer still, staying low, holding his cape up behind him so that it doesn’t brush on the snow or catch on a branch. He circles around to the side again, tempted to see how close he can push it.

But the man cries out, and for good reason: the monster has grabbed his sword arm, which abruptly shines wetly in the dark. The monster has caught him, is starting to tear into his flesh.

Trevor yells in fury and strikes without thinking.

The whip feels like an extension of himself more even than the sword had. It feels like a limb, or, more than that, it feels like a sense- and so he’s unsurprised when it, like his sword earlier, illuminates in wild flames as it touches the monster.

“Come get it,” he snarls, watching the monster rolling frantically as it tries to put the flames out. The man drops down limply, and as Trevor rushes forward to put himself between the monster and the people, he catches their eyes.

Time seems to slow. He can feel himself moving mid-stride, can feel his leg as he extends it to bound forward in another step. He can’t look away, though- not from the woman’s dazed blue eyes, not from the man’s hazy golden ones. Her eyes widen slowly, slightly, as she takes him in.

They’re smeared from head to toe in dirt, in mud, in blood. Their clothes are tattered and sliced and stiff with more dirt and blood yet. The woman’s curls hang about her face, grease-sodden and seeded with tatters of leaves and other strange things best left on the ground. The man, fallen in a swoon, has deep black circles around his eyes and a badly-tangled mane of gold littered with sticks and leaves of his own. They don’t look like anybody that anybody would want to save, not even anybody that anybody would want to admit knowing. But him? Know them? Hell. He knows them.

He loves these people.

“FUCK OFF,” Trevor roars, and snaps his whip forward in a burning line against the monster.

Hell. Hell. Forget them- he knows who he is.

The monster screams at him, stretches up and out of Alucard’s stupid fucking glove like a worm made of iron (he fucking told him, goddamnit!) and suddenly he’s looking at a light-eating outline of his old nemesis Chester the Fucking Happy Pony. He looks like a child’s drawing, all lines but no filling, and Trevor realizes with a little thrill that he can see through it, can only see the stark outlines of good ol’ Chester. The lines spark and sizzle in little flares of gold-black, like some fucked-up version of blood running through a body comprised of veins only.

“You have been,” the thing rattles out, shaking with what Trevor decides arrogantly is rage, “an incredible, unknowable menace.”

“Well, in that case, let me introduce myself,” he offers. “I’m Trevor fucking Belmont, and for the record I never liked horses anyway, you asshole!”

They fight.

It’s great.

Trevor finds it’s almost too easy like this. He’s fresh and strong again, not weighed down by injury or uncertainty or the sucking weakness of the cold. Chester the Asshole Murder Horse doesn’t stand a goddamned chance against him or his (suddenly burning, investigate that later) whip. Every strike takes out a line like an eraser would work on a drawing, and so the fight takes on the element of a game- remove a leg there to make him stagger, take away an eye to make him blind on one side. Trevor hits his flank in a key spot and watches the whole rear of the outline melt away and scatter, dropping to the ground in a splay of blood.

“I yield,” it tries, the star-cracking spark of its front hands clenching desperately at the earth, grinding up little pillars of soil as its tone turns wheedling. “Please, spare me. Have mercy. Let us parley. I can offer you whatever you wish. Money, wisdom, men, women, all of it-“

“Fuck no,” Trevor replies, and, taking quick aim, strikes with all his strength.

Chester’s entire outline goes up in flames as quickly as a dry hay pile, and his shriek, the shrill siren of a horse caught in a barn-fire, pierces the night air. He flails and writhes, rolls and bucks, but nothing can stop the fire eating him up, so he lies in the snow and screams. Trevor might reflect on the burning of his own home, but polluting the memory of his sisters’ death with this thing’s doesn’t feel like anything the monster deserves.

“Rest in peace, you consummate asshole,” Trevor spits out.

The outline continues to burn, falling in on itself like a collapsing building. Trevor strikes once more for good measure, and is rewarded when his whip catches on something. He jerks it back, reaching out automatically to catch whatever he’s snatched from the cosmic darkness between this evil thing’s bones.

It’s…. a golden horn, cracked down the middle and almost split in two, coated with a red resin in the core. It’s light as a bird’s feather, spiraled up smoothly to a tip that the split has destroyed the conclusion of. Trevor shrugs at it, frowns, and jams it into a pocket for later consideration.

“Ah,” says Chester Who Never Did a Goddamned Good Thing in His Life, “ah…. I am….. undone….”

And then, with a flame-washed outline of an eye rolling, the world’s worst unicorn is dead.

“You don’t deserve a noble death, you goddamned abomination,” Trevor spits at the little pile of ash left behind. He leaps on it and kicks it apart, dissolves the shape in the snow so firmly that it’s as if nothing was ever there before him.

Vampire Killer, still in his hand, casts firelight over the scene he turns back to:

Sypha is half-dead with weariness, looking at Trevor like a drowning woman would look to heaven. Alucard lies swooned over backwards in her arms, his wounds still sluggishly bleeding.

“You idiots,” Trevor scolds as he strides toward them, looping up his whip heedless of the flames, “what the hell did you do to yourselves?”

 

 

 

Here’s how they go: Alucard on his back, heavy but lighter than Trevor feels like he should be, Sypha supported at his side, staggering but mostly upright.

“… and I realized it was a whip, though I didn’t know our resident vampire Jesus has the market cornered on overbearing phallic symbols, so hopefully he’ll forgive me…”

She’s silent as they walk, but she tucked her face into his cloak early on, didn’t remove herself. She leaves the path-steering to him. It’s a level of passiveness he isn’t used to, not from her.

“… so that’s how my evening went,” Trevor tells her, talking mostly to fill the space around them. She hasn’t said a peep, has just looked at him wearily. Her hands are cold and her skin is grey, and Alucard on his back looks worse. He’s worried. Of course he’s worried. But he killed fucking Chester the Murder Asshole for these fools, and like hell will some silence daunt him in the face of that.

Trevor is wracking his mind to figure out how to build or locate a shelter for two grievously injured, tired, starving people in the middle of a witch’s forest when they abruptly break from the trees.

The sky is starting to lighten, lending a certain poetic justice to the appearance of that damned village they’d stumbled into in the first place. They’d left in dawn, and here they are again, crawling in over the threshold at dawn.

He doesn’t know how they got there, or why, and to be honest, the physics of it all hurt his head, but he sends a silent thought of thanks to Baba Yaga and drags his fools to the house they thought they’d left behind forever.

Kicking the door in just the right spot pops it open, and Trevor guides Sypha in before he turns and slams the door shut behind them. Alucard hasn’t really grown any heavier as they walked, but he hasn’t grown any lighter either.

“Can you get a fire started?” Trevor asks, but regrets it when Sypha looks up at him hopelessly, tears brimming in her eyes. “Okay, well, never mind. Just… sit down, and I’ll get it.” Woah.

Ah. There’s his old friend the straw mattress, right where they left it. He steers his oddly mute Sypha down onto the bench, crouches and levers Alucard’s limp form off onto the mattress, and stands up straight.

“You want to lie down too?” Trevor asks Sypha, patting his pockets in search of a flint. He doesn’t expect an answer but watches her anyway, just to look at her. She looks back unsteadily, blinking and swaying as if she’s either very drunk or very tired. “Well, just warn me if you’re about to pass out.” He thinks. “Or puke.”

Nothing comes to hand in terms of a fire starter, so he starts rummaging around the cabinets. The house is cold and dark for now, but a good hearthfire and the blankets from upstairs bundled on both of them should be good enough to start. Hopefully whatever’s plaguing Sypha will clear off as her strength returns, and with her guidance he can probably bring Alucard the Sleeping Princess back to them too.

It’s hard to be too worried when they’re here with him, when he slayed a monster for them, when he’s got strength to protect and the will to help. He’s got the fucking prophecy to hold up, and so do they. But it’s hard not to worry, too. He tells himself that nothing so minor as a little blood loss will hold Alucard down, not for long. (Should he use-?) Trevor reminds himself that though Sypha looks mad with weariness, he’s been there a few times himself. All he knows he can do is encourage her to feel safe enough to finally put her head down.

So instead of fretting at them, he sets to work making the hearth blossom with heat. The house turns up nothing in the way of help, but after a moment’s thought Trevor draws out one of his throwing knives and tosses it into the little pile of kindling he’s put together. Sure enough, sparks fly as it hits, and from there everything is easy: tend the young fire, pile smaller pieces on, build up. Trevor doesn’t bother to contemplate the fact that his little pile of fire-food looks like a nest, because hell no.

 Eventually he gets a needy little fire going, and after some more time it breaks its shell open and hatches into a hungry animal indeed. Trevor tosses a few logs on, setting back on his heels to watch it and sigh at the satisfaction of radiant heat.

“I think we have some food,” Trevor tells Sypha, who has stopped trembling at least and is now simply swaying, blinking in long dripping sweeps of her lashes. He sweeps up the stairs with his blade out, checks the bathing room, their little bedroom, the hallway: everything is as they left it, without even the faintest veneer of dust. There are no unwelcome guests anywhere about, which leaves Trevor settled in a way he hasn’t felt in a while. He fetches the quilts and tucks them under an arm; they’re even folded the way Alucard did when they left, the corners tucked in like he was an old woman minding a favored grandchild.

As he gets ready to rattle down the stairs and check on the others, something makes him pause.

Perhaps it’s something about how his hand touches the wall, or perhaps it’s some angle of his looking that pricks his memory. Whatever it is, it startles Trevor, because he realizes he knows this stairwell after all. It’s the servant stairs down to the kitchen, isn’t it? He thinks, for a moment, of his mother and sweet rolls, and then that song she would always sing, over and over when he was younger and less as he got old enough to not need soothing, and finally not at all when Esthe died.

The memory brings up a lump in his throat, but to his surprised relief, it doesn’t make him shy like a wild animal any longer. He can think about that cliffside scraping up into the sky with grief, can think about his father raging at the forest with mingled pity and anger. But it doesn’t make him hurt. It doesn’t make him blacken and wither and try to drown that memory out of his head.

Trevor makes his way down the stairs carefully, curious if they’re proportional to his adult form or his remembered childhood one. The thought flies from his head violently when he arrives at the bottom of the stairs, because the door has swung open and a woman is coming over the threshold.

He steps up with his hand on his knife, placing himself between Sypha, Alucard, and her.

She startles at his aggressive approach and gasps when he draws his blade, holding it out to make his intentions clear. Her arms are filled with a single oddly-shaped paper parcel.

“Who sent you?”

“Baba Yaga asked me,” says the woman, looking down at the blade but then suddenly lifting her head to look up at him. “And I decided to indulge her, for a prize of my own.”

Really,” Trevor says skeptically, looking the woman over. She’s wearing a pink shawl over her hair, has bundled it all over her face presumably to protect her from the cold.

“Yes,” she says, and shifts the package meaningfully. “I don’t lend her my strength willingly for much less. Can you take this? It’s very heavy.” Her delicate, fine-boned hands are white at the knuckles. It does look heavy.

“What is it?” Trevor asks warily, looking irritated at the open door leaking his precious fire-heat into the cold morning dawn outside.

“Your boon,” the woman says, “for your companions and yourself. They defeated her, and she said to tell you that Baba Yaga is no liar and no cheat.”

Trevor snorts disbelievingly but does, in fact, reach out and take the oddly-shaped parcel from the woman, depositing it carefully next to Sypha, who has finally put her head down on her arms and is asleep.

The woman’s dress is a deep purple that fades into grey lavender and then pale rose as it goes up, and as Trevor looks past her again at the open door he realizes it’s a beautiful match to the sky outside.

She pushes down her shawl from her head, revealing black curls, and as the shawl falls around her shoulders it changes colors to mirror the brilliant leaf-green shot through with turquoise creeping up along the skyline.

“Trevor,” says Esthe.

“Holy shit,” he says in response, and drops his blade.

“May I embrace you?” She asks shyly, clutching her hands before her as if in prayer. Eternally a lady no matter what the circumstances, he thinks dazedly, and stepping forward enfolds her gently in her arms, terrified to press too hard and break her like a glass ornament.

“How,” he breathes into her hair, and then inhales and smells lavender over smoke and sky, smells the crisp, popping sweet promise that comes in the air along with dawn. She smells like potential. She smells like the sky, and early sun, and heat housed in a metal frame. She smells like a lot of things, but she sure doesn’t smell human anymore, and that sets him on edge.

He pulls back and she lets him go easily, which does wonders for his nerves.

“How are you here in front of me?”

Esthe reaches up and cups his cheek, rubs her fingers along his hair. He wants to be warier but can’t.

“I’m not… like you, anymore,” she tells him, and Trevor understands in the part of him that’s still smoldering, probably always will be from now on: firebird.

“I don’t care,” Trevor tells her, gesturing at himself, not sure if she even understands what he means by that. “I- Esthe,” he chokes out, reaching forward and hugging her again, this time not letting her go. He squeezes her just to hear her huff out her breath and squeak and laugh- he remembers their father doing that when he would return from a hunt, remembers that she always loved it. “Stay with us. Please. We can- we have something do to, first, a real fu- corker of a thing, but then we can-“

“No,” says Esthe, kindly, into his ear,

“We can rebuild the manse,” Trevor tries,

“I can’t,” she tells him, wrapping her arms around him,

“And you and Alya,” he stabs out, hoping, and feels a flood of relief when she laughs and kisses his cheek, because if his sister is magically alive in front of him, why not her lover too? “We can all rebuild the house, you’ll love Sypha and Alucard, they’re so- okay, kind of crap as housemates I imagine, but nobody’s perfect, so…”

Esthe draws back. Behind her, dawn is easing into the more vivid colors that come before a full sunrise. Her dress is changing too, flooding darker at the bottom and lighter at the top. Her hair moves like smoke, like embers on the wind might. Like a ghost’s might, Trevor thinks, and doesn’t bother to chase the thought away.

“I am so proud of you,” Esthe tells him, and that makes his vision vanish under a veil of tears when nothing else has. “I love you,” she tells him, and gathers him as he sobs to her breast, heedless of how awkward their reversed heights make it now, “and I will always,” she kisses his cheek, and then his forehead, “always love you. Please be good. Please take care of yourself. Please,” she begs, tone suddenly urgent, and Trevor wipes his eyes hastily and clutches at her slender hands in his large scarred ones. “Please, chase love, and hope, and the light of dawn.”

“I promise you I will, all of it,” he tells her wildly, desperately. “Esthe- will I ever see you again?”

She shakes her head and bites her lip. Her dress is turning red at the edges and corners, her shawl bleeding into orange with the slow emergence of the tip of the sun behind them. Trevor gazes into her eyes, blue like his, exactly like his, and gives her hands a squeeze.

“I miss you. I love you, and I always will. I won’t give up. I will make the family name strong again,” he assures her, dripping an unending torrent of tears despite the strength in his voice, or maybe because of it. “Something that innocents can take shelter under once more.”

“Oh, Trevor,” Esthe sighs and shakes her head. She frees her hands to bring his face down, standing on her toes to kiss his forehead one last time, “I only want you to be happy.”

“That’s what I want,” he assures her firmly. “That will make me happy. I want us to be a shield so that-” tears well up again, blinding him before he blinks them out. “So that your suffering and mine was worth it. So that it can be strength for the people who need it.”

The smile she gives him is all he needs to know: it’s worthy. She flings herself into his arms, feet leaving the floor when he catches her and swings her, and she feels so small, so light and so slender

The first ray of sun slinks into the house, blinding him even through his tears, and then there’s nothing and nobody before him, just an open and empty doorway.

Chapter Text


 

 

He goes outside, shutting the door behind him.

At first he stares unseeingly at the horizon, but before he realizes it he’s weeping, half out of pain and half out of relief, and under it all some intense unfathomable emotion that he knows intimately but can’t give any understanding to. It’s akin to being painfully aware of the earth under your feet as it turns and you go with it, like realizing the slow march of your life before you no matter how hard you dig your heels in. But it’s knowing that around you the spring is coming, too, that small seeds layered thick under blankets of soil are doing mysterious things and rustling, rustling, shimmying and cracking. It’s knowing that they’ll climb into the sun in summer, and it’s knowing that they did that before you were born, and it’s knowing that they’ll do it long after you’re dead and in their beds of earth with them.

It’s a feeling too immense and whole for him to attach any words to, so all Trevor can do is lean back against the door. He sinks down until he’s crouched on his haunches, leaned back against the knotted and rough wood, and he weeps intensely. There’s nothing else he can do: this feeling is flooding him and all he can do is yield to it.

If asked, he couldn’t say how long he spends like that. All Trevor knows is that by the time he comes back to himself he’s not crying, just hunched there wearily. He finds his mind tracing the edges of that dark pool in him with the lakeweed flowers going down and down and down.

The image catches at this over-full emotion possessing him. Trevor sighs, closes his eyes against the day, and dreams as if he were standing in front of it, dreams of finally diving in: chasing each flower down, the next and the next and then more, he slides down into that black water and finds that it’s simply space, just time, just gaps between the next stem-chained flower. The moon is above and nothing is below, just more space, just more time, and another flower, and another stem, going down unceasingly.

But as he goes further and further, farther from the moon and deeper towards that mysterious blackness, he finds that direction is more relative than anything. The world changes abruptly, turned on its head, and when he blinks next, caught in this strange reverie, Trevor realizes that it’s less ‘up and down’ and more ‘forward and not’. Each link in the chain is dependent on the last, interconnected in odd ways and separate where it fits, and when he realizes that he understands what he’s looking at, what he’s been returning to as a source of internal strength, so forcefully that it snaps him out of his dream.

Not flowers, not vines, Trevor realizes, clutching at his head, feeling shaken by the realization. People, actions. Or, in another way: the lineage he’s rebuilding, for the Belmont name, for his family. The place he’s building for himself again in the world.

For himself.

 

 

 

He sits there for longer, and would probably stay there, weary and hollow in a satisfied way, for longer yet,

 except the door suddenly isn’t there for him to lean on.

“Ow,” he groans, blinking up at- oh hey, Alucard. “What are you doing? Go lie down again. You look like death.”

“Not enough black,” Alucard croaks out. Trevor, clambering to his feet, winces. His voice is so gravelly and destroyed that it sounds like he’s actively tearing something with every word. Trevor half expects blood to come gushing out of his mouth. He’s swaying where he stands, clutching at the door. The dark marks around his eyes are so dark as to make him look like he has twin black eyes; if he didn’t know that Alucard doesn’t carry bruises on him, he would have assumed they were.

“Is that some kind of joke? It’s not funny. Come on.” Trevor scoops Alucard up in his arms bridal-style, which seems to surprise him because he does a flailing motion that he probably expected to be more impressive based on his expression. “Glad to see you’re up.” He toes the door shut and does some shimmying to make sure it latches and locks. Hell if he wants Baba Yaga creeping around when he’s got two invalids on his hands.

Alucard sighs heavily and rests his head on Trevor’s shoulder. The fight drains from his body and he allows Trevor to set him down in front of the fire again, lets Trevor take off his big fluffy cloak and bundle it under his head like a truly absurd pillow. On go the quilts again, and it doesn’t take a genius to realize, as Trevor handles the bedding, that Alucard is putting off no heat whatsoever. He normally runs a little cold, sure, but he isn’t a jug of water. He doesn’t run room-temperature, not normally. Trevor casts a wary eye at Sypha, pooled in her dirtied robes against the table. What happened to them?

“Want your boots off?” Alucard licks his lips, cracked and bloody as they are, and takes a breath to speak- but then falls limply back against Trevor’s cloak. He’d be convinced Alucard has died then and there but for the sliver of gold following him as he crouches at his feet. “All right, well, they’re coming off.”

The boots take a while. It gives Trevor time to think. He traces his eyes over Sypha, spilled like a waterfall over the table and bench and finishing in a tangle on the ground. He looks Alucard over as he lies still and wan, dashed fallen on the ground like a dead tree. He can’t worry for them. He can’t. All he can do is wait.

“No way you could just have less eyelets and laces, eh, not for Alucard, son of Dracula, no sir,” Trevor grunts, popping off his left boot and then peeling his blood-encrusted socks off his feet. They’re normal wool socks, nothing fancy, which Trevor had never really thought about before. Here, though, with Alucard weak and docile under his hands, it seems to further underline his fragility. He’s half-vampire, sure. But he’s half-human, too, and humans need things like rest and food and warmth just as much as vampires need things like blood and the adoration of idiots who think they’re alluring.

“Sorry,” Alucard breathes out, eyes shutting completely now.

“Tch,” Trevor says, and reaches up to cradle Alucard’s left ankle in a hand. It’s a tender spot on the body, easily one of Trevor’s favorites simply because of the awkwardness of it, the weakness and the danger encapsulated in that bone-and-tendon surface-tension stretch of skin. Right now Alucard’s is sweaty and damp and pale from its extended stay in a boot, and the humanness of that slender ankle of his gives Trevor the courage to go on. Flowers down a chain, he reminds himself, and feels that ground-spinning thrill of eternity. “I’m going to get Sypha down in here with you and then I’m going to give you a meal,” he tells Alucard with faux-casualness.

Alucard makes some kind of noise with too many consonants and some extra bonus coughing packed in at the end. He rolls over to cough into his elbow, his back hunching and his shoulders flexing with every barking exhale. The morning sun beams into the house and illuminates dust motes as the coughing sends them flying. The sun catches at the crown of Alucard’s head, too, and despite the tangles and the dirt his hair lights up just like always, just like always. He always looks like he escaped from church glass.

“Don’t get too excited and die before we get there,” Trevor sighs, standing and bundling Sypha into his arms. She reeks of sweat and fear, but she doesn’t stir when he scoops her up gently and sets her next to his stupid anemic half-vampire menace. “I’m going to try to get you two’s hair in order after. Look, I’m just saying,” he pulls Sypha’s little boots off too, makes a fond face at the spots of darning he’s done for her alongside brand spanking new holes, “if you’re too gross for me, that’s degrees of too-gross past anybody who doesn’t live in a literal heap of shit. Let’s keep me at the bottom of our clean scale, all right?”

Alucard’s managed to quiet his cough. He rolls onto his back and gives Trevor a faint little half-smile that only pulls at his chapped lips and makes them bleed. Sypha moans softly in her sleep when Trevor eases away from her, clutches weakly at nothing, ends up pulling the quilt to her chest like a shield. She looks child-small without the fire of her personality lighting her up large, and he can’t resist putting out a hand to pet at her forehead and ruffle her bangs. She doesn’t even stir.

“Okay,” Trevor says, rocking back on his heels. “So here’s the question, and I’m- going to have to trust you on this,” he tells Alucard, feeling apprehensive about the idea already. “Is it smarter to give you blood from the source, or put it in a cup so you and I don’t have to have a little conversation about how much is too much?”

“Cup,” Alucard says suddenly, urgently. His eyes have flown wide open with alarm.

“Right,” Trevor agrees, and goes off to get that handled. “Stupid of me to ask, really.”

 

 

 

“Are you insane?” is the first thing Alucard asks him when he’s finished polishing off a nice hot mug of fresh Trevor.

“Look, I’ve been balls-deep in magical bullshit for the past however-long, I don’t want to hear that from you. If blood loses its efficacy from touching stoneware, I’d sure as hell like to know before I donate a bleeding cupful of the stuff.”

“It’s not magic,” Alucard insists, tipping the mug and his head this way and that, trying politely to get as much of the blood clinging to the walls as he can. Trevor, sort of grossed out but sort of fascinated, can’t tell if he should look away or what. “It’s a biological function.”

“I was a bird for a couple of days,” Trevor says flatly. “I don’t want any of your fucking lip on this right now.”

Alucard fixes him with a stare over the mug. Sypha, at his side, huffs suddenly in her sleep.

“What?”

“It was three days,” Alucard tells him, locking eyes with him, expression suddenly veering into an intensity Trevor has only seen on him once or twice before. Maybe never, for this. It verges on a look of insanity. “And three nights, and another day then.”

“Okay,” he says, confused by the severity of the reaction.

“And then however long it took you…. To not be again,” Alucard continues, sweeping his fingers into the mug and licking clean the messy smears he comes up with so un-self-consciously that Trevor quirks a brow. It comes across less as casual and more as a nervous gesture.

“How long?”

Alucard shakes his head, eyes fixed on the mug. His gaze darts to Sypha, back to his fingers. Trevor narrows his eyes.

“How long did it take?”

“I don’t remember,” Alucard bursts out, hands jittering so badly that the mug falls from them. Trevor catches it before it falls to the bed and looks at him searchingly.

“What?”

“I don’t remember,” Alucard says again, and such an intense expression of horror crosses his features that it’s Trevor’s turn to drop the mug as he seizes his juddering shoulders to keep him from shaking himself to pieces. “I don’t remember. Baba Yaga asked us something- she asked us something terrible. I don’t remember. I’m-” He lowers his head, clutching at his temples. Trevor frowns and holds on to Alucard’s shoulders- he doesn’t say anything, but he can feel the way he’s leaning. His hands are all that’s keeping him upright.

“I’m so tired,” he says, eyes falling shut again. “We had to… we had to leave you with her. I don’t remember why.”

“Just rest,” Trevor says, leaning against Alucard to press him back down against his cloak. He needs to throw more wood on the fire anyway.

“The creature,” Alucard murmurs softly. “Followed us. Harried us. We couldn’t sleep. Never. I don’t remember… I don’t remember….”

“Shut up and go to sleep,” Trevor says, but despite the harshness of his words his voice is steady and calm.

“I can’t,” Alucard says hazily, eyes working back and forth even as they flutter closed.

“I’ll watch,” Trevor says, smoothing the blankets along the edges of the straw mattress. The motion makes him think of Esthe, and after a moment of introspection he decides that he probably smooths blankets like she does, doesn’t he? Worse things to inherit, really. “Go to sleep. I’m here.”

Alucard obeys. Trevor isn’t sure how to feel about that.

 

 

 

Sypha stirs next. Trevor’s been dragging wood in and out, tending to the fire, searching for a comb or a brush, fretting about whether or not he’s going to have to give some emergency haircuts.

So when he realizes she’s staring back at him as he contemplates her snarled crown of curls, he almost jumps out of his skin.

“It hurts,” she says, and immediately starts to cry.

“Oh shit,” Trevor says, spilling to his knees and starting to feel her over for an injury. But she wraps her arms around him and cries into his collar, which makes it hard to do a full check. He continues the best he can.

“I can hear you,” she moans as he feels over her ribs, pressing gently, “I can hear you,” she heaves in desperate gasps as he feels over her legs, “where are you?” And she dissolves into desperate little hitching cries, like a hurt animal wearing the skin of a woman.

“I’m here,” Trevor tells her automatically, and then, puzzled: “What?”

But she makes no answer, and after some increasingly damp silence Trevor realizes she’s cried herself to sleep on his shoulder.

He slides her back under the covers, pulls them up to her chin, then looks at the bundle Esthe had brought.

 

 

 

If he knows anybody who could answer for what the hell has been done to Sypha and Alucard, it’s the witch whose horror-laden land they’ve been squatting on for a while now.

“Never a dull day,” Trevor sighs, and goes to untie the lattice of knots at the top of the bag and take stock. The tangled, complicated knots fall apart at his touch, which is both convenient and also irritatingly magical. Are monsters allergic to doing things the normal way? What, if Baba Yaga lets Trevor untie the damned thing with his hands will she break out in fucking hives? Who even uses magic to-

“God,” Trevor gasps, his own train of thought violently staggering to a halt.

His fingers slide over the crisply-lettered cover of his family bestiary. Unlike the one he’d found before, this one is shockingly, assertively real. A quick flip through the book confirms it- though the thing is undoubtedly imbued with layers upon layers of deep magic based on how it hums in the hand, it has none of the muzziness of the recalled bestiary. The illustrations are as lush as before, but when he dwells on them they move, the creatures flexing or shifting or attacking as the mood strikes them. There are details and notes in the bestiary for monsters he knows he never committed to memory, too.

Trevor swallows back the lump in his throat and shuts the book, setting it aside for now. The items in the bundle have been arranged like some sort of tower, and with the book off the top he looks over everything in curiosity.

There are a few wax-cloth wrapped objects bound in hemp cord, soft things that feel like clothes. Trevor sets those aside and digs some more, finding a few clinking pieces of glassware that he would wager are specially-made for some kind of medicine work, the stuff Alucard favors. There’s another pile of wax-cloth tied bundles that crinkle and smell a little- he sets those aside too. Herbs, probably for Sypha.

Trevor pulls out a box that contains little compartments filled with seeds, labelled in a heavy hand. He finds another book, this one smaller than the bestiary, and inside are complicated words and labels and diagrams that he doesn’t understand so hard that it feels like he loops back into kind of getting it. It looks like some kind of scientific bullshit, so Trevor sets that aside too and keeps digging.

There’s a pair of boots that look about his size, made of sleek black hide that swallows the light. Trevor looks those over with a grim level of certainty about their source, sets those aside too. He finds a crimson hair ribbon and two well-made boar-bristle brushes and a nice pair of wooden combs, which he finds himself more grateful for than he thinks he should be. These’ll cut down on morning bickering, that’s for sure.

He digs down further and pulls out a staff with little carved chicken-leg scales. It glimmers in gold at the corner of his eye in a shade he feels he last saw spilling out from a certain corpse. Trevor gives it a skeptical look and sets that aside too, next to the herbs. It’s long enough to stretch from table-edge to table-edge, and hell if he knows how that fit in here.

There’s a pile of yarns and some knitting needles pooled in the bottom of the bag, too, which Trevor steadfastly ignores. On top of the yarn is a note written in the same hand that labelled the seed-box:

‘Idiot children always forget the important things when they pack to go on a journey.’

“We didn’t exactly plan this shit,” Trevor says, mostly for himself. Sypha snores from the mattress.

More importantly: what the hell did they do to get this boon?

 

 

 

Time passes. They wake intermittently. Trevor coaxes some food into them, brushing out their hair little by little while they sit and stare at the fire blankly. They don’t ever seem to wake at the same time, which he feels is probably a hint of some kind.

In between taking care of the invalids and taking care of the fire, Trevor reads. He starts at the cover and finds that one of his ancestors had written in-depth histories of the great weapons of the House Belmont. He scrutinizes each page and entry, watches in rapt fascination as the little illustrated monsters move in front of his eyes. Reading the bestiary again fills him with such an intense sense of wonder that it’s like being a boy once more, soaking each inch of the thing in with new eyes and boundless enthusiasm.

By the time he’s gotten to an entry on vampires that he doesn’t remember, the sun has set. Trevor has tucked himself up at the hearth, practically inside the maw of it, since Sypha and Alucard are pillowed with their faces pressed into his cloak. The look like dogs piled at the feet of a master fresh back from war. As the day has gone on he’s remembered what it is to be cold, to be stiff, to be hungry. He still hasn’t slept- he can’t, not yet. There’s still so much he has to soak in. He can feel the firebird-shaped mindstate fading from him, doesn’t mind. It’s good to be a man- more specifically, it’s good to be him.

A soft noise behind him makes Trevor lift his head and scan the room. Alucard is watching him- notable, since he’d been the last to awaken and they’d been rotating like clockwork otherwise.

“Hey,” he says softly.

“Trevor,” Alucard says, tears brimming in his eyes. “I keep dreaming of you.”

Trevor resolutely bites his tongue to keep from making the joke he wants to. It’s not nice to tease men who look like they’re about to die still, he reminds himself. Instead, he says, closing the bestiary, “You look like crap.”

“Are you real?” Alucard asks. His tone is so nice that it takes Trevor a moment to wrap his mind around that one. Alucard isn’t in the habit of shrugging off petty insults, which is what makes him so fun to insult.

“Sure,” he says, shrugging. “Of course. What else would I be?”

“An illusion,” Alucard tells him somberly, tears rolling down his face. “Borne of madness and weariness.”

“No illusions here,” Trevor asserts, giving a cocky little toss of the head as he shuffles forward on his hands and knees, shifting at the edge of the mattress to give his hands to Alucard to feel. “Though I understand that the shock of seeing a true hearty Belmont man in the flesh can feel so transcendent as to seem like one.”

“In the flesh,” Alucard repeats breathily, and his fingers brush over the pulse-point of Trevor’s wrist.

“Look, you both seem pretty convinced I’m not here,” Trevor says, trying to keep his tone as non-irritated as he can manage. “But I am here, and here to tell you: you are a heavy, heavy man, and I had to carry your ass through a fucking forest, so you should be more grateful than to doubt me.”

The fire pops behind them.

“Kiss me,” Alucard demands suddenly.

“No,” Trevor says, curling his lip. The look of utter devastation that slides across Alucard’s face makes him feel bad, but: “You smell, and you still have my blood on your teeth. I’m not exactly a daisy myself, but even I have limits on bloodstains-per-man.” He’s starting to gain some empathy for Sypha’s pickiness about his own hygiene.

“Please,” Alucard begs, insensibly. Trevor sighs.

“Go back to sleep.”

“Please,” Alucard says again, fingers cold as the floor on Trevor’s wrist. His eyes are wild at the edges, like a wolf edged in on all sides by torch-bearing men.

Trevor picks those cold fingers off his wrist and brings a hand to his mouth. Alucard sighs rapturously. It’s… unsettling, if he’s honest. He’s got no illusions around the seductive nature of a chaste back-of-the-hand kiss from a rough-hewn hunter like him. But some of that wild-edged madness in Alucard’s eyes fades, and he lies back gently enough, closing his eyes.

 

 

 

Trevor reads through the night, keeping an eye on Sypha and Alucard from his spot next to the hearth, cozied up to the fire-damaged bricks like they’re a talisman, a love-letter from Sypha to him. Sypha doesn’t seem to be waking any more, which Trevor chooses to take as a good sign. Alucard sleeps more fitfully, and periodically Trevor catches him slitting an eye around to take the room in. He looks like a cat like that, lazily surveying the room from under heavy lashes.

By the time the next dawn has arrived, Trevor can feel his body urging him to give up. He’s almost to the end of the bestiary, but when he finds himself diving face-first into the book for the third time he surrenders. Trevor does the rounds, checking the door, the windows, checking the rooms upstairs, checking the root cellar, before he finally sits down and pries off his boots and socks.

“You know,” Trevor tells the sleeping lumps that are the bodies of the people who matter most to him, “I don’t think there’s a greater pleasure in the world than taking off your fucking shoes at the end of a long, satisfying confrontation with a magical force of nature.” He massages his heel, contemplating the soft snores Sypha is emitting. Hm. Snoring is new, isn’t it? Sort of reassuring, that. Even if it is a bit annoying.

Not bothering to change out of his clothes, Trevor throws himself down at the edge of the mattress. He’s so tired. How the hell hadn’t he noticed this before? Wow. Just…. Mind-bendingly tired. He’s had a long go of it, he reminds himself, turning on his side and tucking himself under the edge of the quilt. Long day, what with the whole learning to be a man bit… the Chester thing, and then Esthe… now Sypha and Alucard’s…. illness.

Trevor shifts to the other side, looking at Sypha sleeping with an open mouth and a little line of drool escaping. Gross. Adorable, if he’s honest, but also gross. Trevor turns onto his back. Wait- is Sypha snoring, or Alucard? He lifts himself up to look them both over and snickers. Oh, he’s never letting that go. Alucard the Prettiest Vampire snores. Sypha too, but Alucard is funnier.

Oh god he’s so tired.

“God strike me blind,” Trevor grunts, sitting up. He looks around, rubs at his eyes, yawns. The room is nicely lit now in the stark cast of the fire. It looks atmospheric, but in a nice way. He’s too used to tombs and crypts, if he’s honest. Give him a nice honest hearth-fire any old day and he’ll be content.

Standing up, he paces around the room. Sypha rolls over into the spot Trevor had been in- typical- leaving Alucard snoring on his back.

Trevor crosses his arms, feeling cold and weary inside and out.

He’d assumed…. He’d assumed things would be all right. He’d assumed they would need some rest, that they’d be able to talk to him and fill him in on things. He’d assumed that, but here he is, standing alone in the quiet, worry growing more with every quiet second that ticks by. He doesn’t know how long they have before Baba Yaga comes for them again, if she will. He doesn’t know what happened to them to leave them in this state. He doesn’t know why they’ve gotten a fucking boon from a witch-goddess who’s been making their lives hell for days on end now.

Alucard gives a little snorting groan and rolls over, curling against the empty space between Sypha and himself.

He’d assumed things would be all right, but Trevor can’t fucking sleep. It feels weirdly like he’s forgotten how, hell if he knows how a body forgets how to sleep.

Sypha gives a little jolt and sits partially up. She looks like she’s sleeping still. Trevor casts an assessing eye over her hair- he’s gotten most everything of the leaves out, though there are still some dense snarls he’s not been able to finish. Compared to Alucard, though, her hair looks like she’s serving at the goddamned Royal Court.

“Trevor,” she calls out, like she’s lost him somewhere. Her eyes don’t open.

“I’m here,” he assures her. “Just like before. And the time before that. And the time before that, too.”

“Good,” she says, and flops back over again.

Trevor eyeballs the space between the two. It’s true that he usually sleeps in the middle.. Plus, he tells himself as he steps into the space, Sypha is a blanket hog. And Alucard needs somebody to warm him up, since Sypha has rolled away. He’s just a noble fool, isn’t he? So self-sacrificing. Kind and gentle, that’s him.

He crawls his way between them and slips under the blankets, maneuvering himself carefully between their bodies. There isn’t even time to pull the quilt up completely before Sypha is pressing against him, all heat and prickling, clinging fingers. Alucard rolls closer too, tucking his forehead under Trevor’s chin, fingers tickling over his ribs as he locks his arms around his waist.

Comfortable and warm, with Sypha and Alucard at either side, Trevor heaves a sigh.

“God, how much sleep you do you assholes need?”

And then he’s out too, because apparently bodies have a sense of dramatic irony.

 

 

 

When he comes to next, it’s dark out. Trevor blinks groggily at the person leaning over him.

“Mmmmgnghcn?”

Sypha leans down close enough to make him uncomfortable, their noses almost touching. She rests a hand on his chest, over the somewhat bedraggled Belmont family crest, and digs her nails in.

“Trevor,” she says, her expression grave, “say something.”

“Leave me alone, woman, I’m trying to sleep,” he growls out, and resolutely clamps his eyes shut.

She yells, which makes him snap his eyes open again, but all he can see is darkness because she’s grabbed him and is pressing his head into her breast aggressively. He contemplates just passing out again, but figures that probably isn’t wise if he has any inclination of exploring the pleasures of her bosom at a less-fraught time.

“What,” he asks, “what the hell is this?”

“You were a bird,” Sypha shouts.

“I’m aware,” Trevor mumbles back.

“We had to free you!”

“Oh, thanks,” he says, too tired to muster anything but mild appreciation.

“It was- Baba Yaga offered to keep you in exchange for… and I said no and she was so angry and so we fled, and we couldn’t stop because of that thing chasing us, we couldn’t rest, and, and,” Sypha draws herself off from where her shapely warm breasts are suffocating Trevor and reaches up to bury her fingers in her hair, her expression as wild as any maenad’s. She looks as mad as Alucard had looked earlier, but on Sypha’s clever, delicate features the wrongness of the expression comes out so clearly that it sends chills down Trevor’s spine.

“I couldn’t, I couldn’t, I betrayed you, please, forgive me Trevor, forgive me,” and then she’s crying again like before, so forcefully that he half expects her to start weeping blood. Trevor pulls her down so that she’s got her face in the crook of his neck, partially for her comfort and partially so he doesn’t have to look at that madness in her face. He can feel Alucard shift behind him, the subtle tense of his body where he’s pressed against Trevor. Oh, he’s up too, but he doesn’t want to say it. Interesting.

“Holy shit,” Trevor sighs, perfectly awake by now, “I have no fucking clue what’s going on.”

“I couldn’t,” Sypha wails, clutching at his ribs, her nails catching at his clothing, wrapping her legs around his. It feels like she’s trying to claw her way into his skin, trying to take up residence in his bones. He tries to fend her hands off but she seizes at his arms and drags at his sleeves just the same. “I couldn’t, I know you would- would have been brave, but I failed you, and you’ll never-“ her body rocks with the force of each great sob like it’s punctuation, like it’s a blow, “you’ll never forgive me,” and she dissolves into full incoherence.

“Alucard,” Trevor says coolly, “explain.”

 

 

 

By the time the whole tale is out, they’re all sitting up. Sypha is bundled against herself, unable to bring herself to look at either Alucard or Trevor. Alucard looks better for the blood in him, has lost the eerie black-eye rings and simply looks pale instead of corpse-like.

Trevor doesn’t know what the hell to make of what he hears. It’s a long story, unbelievably so given the timeframe. There are parts of it that sound less like reality and more like dream. He knows what happened to him, but no matter how he strains his mind he can’t pull any coherent memories out of that time. Just emotions and ideas, and even those are alien and foreign-feeling to his mind now.

He knows it’s true, though. Or, at least, he has enough evidence that it’s true that he figures it just makes sense. He likes hearing about Esthe and Alya, hates hearing about the brutal battles without him. The end is a real head-scratcher.

“So you said…. No?”

“How could I say yes?” Sypha tries to demand, but it comes out as a beg, a plea.

Trevor stares at her. Her robes have slipped and gone askew, and as he looks her up and down his eyes catch on the star-flicker sheen of the scars on her legs.

Sypha, caught and tormented by slavers. Sypha, being ripped away from her grandfather, her tribe, her family. Sypha, burning the slavers and herself too, and as an adult regretting none of it. Sypha who burns the bricks, Sypha who gives him space and time and patience to come to her gentle hand. Sypha who would burn the world down for the people she loves, and for everybody else too. Sypha. Sypha. Sypha.

How could she say yes? Of course she couldn’t. There was never any chance of it, he decides, eyes fixing on the mottled scarred patch of skin on her upper thigh that’s come into view as she’s started to try to straighten her clothes. She could never sell him away, no matter what he might have chosen for himself. There’s no way she could face that decision and make any other choice but to reject the trade. But she’s wracked with guilt, riddled through and through with it like a disease. She’s told him repeatedly now that she wishes she could have asked him, that she wishes she’d never been offered the choice. Her eyes roll in her face and her body shakes as she says it, each time she says it. No wonder she looks mad: she’s halfway there.

Alucard looks between the two of them grimly, trying to finger-comb out some more of the rat’s nest that his mane has become. Aside from telling parts of the story, he’s been silent.

Trevor doesn’t blame him. Faced with a choice like that, how the hell could he possibly make a rational choice? There’s no way Alucard could easily turn his back from an unexpected chance not to have to kill his once-loving father with his own hands. And, if he knows Alucard and his dynamic with Sypha, he’s tormented too by forcing the weight of the decision on her. Alucard can see as plainly as Trevor can the impossible, thorn-brutal burden the choice has laid on her soul. He always wants to protect them, is content enough to allow Sypha in particular to steer their way. But here his passivity has led Sypha into harm, and that in turn has laid down a similar burden of guilt on Alucard as well.

These people, Trevor thinks to himself, are fucking messes.

But it takes one to know one, doesn’t it?

“I would have given it a go,” Trevor tells them bluntly. “Sure. If she fails, we lose… not a lot. Or… I don’t know. Maybe she wouldn’t even have won.” He sighs, scratching at his jaw. “Then we really would have been fucked.”

“I don’t think she would have failed,” Alucard says quietly. His mouth pulls down into a frown.

“She may have,” Sypha shoots out.

“Doesn’t matter though,” Trevor breaks in before anybody can say anything they’ll regret. Sypha and Alucard whip their heads around comically to look at him. He’d laugh at them but even he knows this isn’t the time. “You made a choice, and we have to live with it. That’s that.”

“But I made the wrong choice,” Sypha asks. Her voice is so faint, so worn-thin. It’s totally unlike her. He wants to darn her soul back up to thickness.

“No,” Trevor says, “just because I would have chosen otherwise doesn’t mean you did.” He thinks for a moment, about the desire for a different ending and the pain of facing what your actions have wrought no matter the magnitude. He sees again the slope of his father’s broadly muscled shoulders as he weeps into the winter night, bloodying his fists uselessly on a tree. He thinks of Esthe standing before him with her hair moving like a ghost’s. Who is he to cast blame on Sypha, of all people, for a choice made in good faith? “You were in charge, Sypha. You made a choice for a damned good reason and that’s that.”

“But I don’t…. know that it was the right one.” She wrings her hands, glancing halfway at Alucard who studiously avoids both of his companions’ eyes. She fixes her fever-bright eyes on Trevor’s face instead. He meets her gaze levelly, trying to dim the wild panicking hurt in her by sheer lack of reaction.

Trevor shrugs. “Do you think I’ve never made choices that got good men killed? Fuck, Sypha, how the hell are you supposed to have made a perfectly rational choice when even I don’t have an answer? That’s part of leading, sweetheart.” He reaches out, letting her creep into his hold slowly, as if she’s nervous he’ll tighten his hands on her and wring the life from her. “You make terrible choices and hope that less people got hurt by them than if you’d done it the other way.”

Sypha curls into him gently, moving as steadily as a fern frond unfurling. She huffs and buries her face in his chest, and Trevor can tell she’s crying again by the warmth he feels spilling through his shirt. But her body is loose and her breathing steady, lacking in the clenching, violent tenseness of before. Good enough. Good enough.

“How about you?” he asks Alucard. “You’re pretty far away.”

Alucard looks down, tracing the distance between where Trevor and Sypha are bundled and where he is.

“I….”

Sypha gives an ugly wet noise from under Trevor’s arms.

“I thought we might have said yes.” He looks Trevor in the eye finally, finally. “I didn’t realize how opposed I was until she had already answered Baba Yaga, but I was ready to argue.”

“Huh,” Trevor says. He’s surprised, if he’s honest. If he were Alucard, he wouldn’t have thought twice about it. It would probably sound like a win-win, wouldn’t it? No patricide, a nice seven years of peace, and then after they can come fetch Trevor and show off their nice herb gardens or whatever else they had grown together. Children, maybe? (Without him, Trevor thinks, and hurts, but shoves that down because it never happened. Not only did it never happen, but he’s the only one who would have, it seems.)

“I can’t,” Alucard says, his stoic expression suddenly crumpling like cloth in the hand, “watch another person I love be sacrificed in the flames. I only wish I could have kept you safe.” And he’s weeping too, then, clutching at his face as if to hide, curling down on himself as if trying to make himself as low and small as he can. He’s not a small man by any means, but he does an admirable job anyway.

And if Sypha couldn’t possibly sell Trevor, how could Alucard ever use Trevor as a shield? How could he possibly put Trevor in front of him to absorb the blow of having to kill his father, when that very father had ingrained in him from childhood that the humans you loved were first, were in need of protection before anybody else, even your half-monster child? Alucard could no more have used Trevor in that fashion than he could have sprouted wings of his own to fly on. It was ingrained in him too deeply, now- to sacrifice and shield, to place himself as a barrier in front of humanity despite the risk to his own life and limb.

“Shit,” says Trevor, looking between his two suddenly-weeping lovers. “Come here,” he tells Alucard, who shame-facedly uncurls a bit to scoot over to him. Sypha shifts and Alucard slides in next to her, winding his arms around both of them and pressing himself close, close, body still jerking with hard bitter sobs.

“You poor bastards,” he tells them, smoothing his hands over their shoulders, their backs, whatever he can reach without letting go of either of them. “This is why you leave the monster-hunting to a Belmont.”

And maybe in another way it might be a funny thing to say, something to tease a laugh out, but his promise to Esthe and himself floats up in his mind: a shield, protection for the weak, a shelter against suffering.

“For what it’s worth,” he says, and flops back to drag them with him so they’re lying on him, pinning him down to the earth under his shoulders, under the mattress, under the stone floor, “I love you both no matter what you would have chosen.”

Alucard jolts. Sypha simply curls closer.

“You love us?” Alucard asks.

“I’m sure as hell not offering to stay a bird for seven years for anybody else,” Trevor snorts, staring up at the dark of the ceiling.

“Ah…” breathes Alucard, sounding neither happy nor sad.

“I know,” says Sypha, “that’s why it was so…..”

“Maybe I’m wrong,” Trevor says into the space between them all. “Just because I would have chosen differently doesn’t mean I’m right. I don’t think there is a right answer there.”

“No,” Alucard agrees, and with that word he links himself to Trevor again, closing the distance. He shifts and snuggles in, tucking himself into Trevor’s armpit. He’s not warm yet, but he’s not cold either now. He’s recovering.

“Still,” says Sypha, and then, “I love you too, you know. Both of you. Forgive me. Forgive me, please.”

“I wasn’t even angry,” Trevor tells her, mind starting to drift back into sleep.

“Please,” Sypha says softly. Alucard reaches out over Trevor’s chest and finds one of her hands to clasp in his.

“Didn’t you say when we first met,” Trevor yawns, “that you serve no demon and do no evil?”

“That’s true,” she agrees.

“Pretty evil choice.”

“That’s true too.”

“So what the hell are you apologizing for?”

That seems to do it, seems to get the sincerity of his absolution across when nothing else has. Sypha’s body goes soft, her chest rising and falling in a bone-deep sigh. She lies her head on Trevor’s chest, over his heart, and runs her fingers along the family crest there.

They fall asleep like that, wrung-out and wearied but better for it.