The professor had this theory about vampires – he had a hundred theories, actually, but there's one that Alfred had come to hope was true: when being turned into a creature of the night, so Abronsius thought, a person's character is transformed and all they were and felt and thought dies together with their mortal soul. The vampire is nothing like the living person they once were, but a whole new being. That's the theory.
But he's the same person he used to be. Just the same dull, loyal Alfred. Always a little too polite, a little too fearful, a little too cautious. And she's still the same Sarah. Still vibrating with life even when she has none and brimming with energy. Still driven by an overwhelming, all-consuming thirst for freedom that not even her thirst for blood can match.
"There's so much to explore out there. A whole world, just waiting for me. I can't stay in this castle forever and rot!" she tells him, packing up her belongings.
"But we have all the time in the world," Alfred argues. "There's no need to rush."
He tries to make her see that it's not so bad here, for the time being. He hopes that she'll realise that there might be something worth staying for. That he's worth staying for. But her need to go is impossible to fight, just like when she fled from the inn to the castle, and it was all Alfred could do to blindly chase after her.
And so, she goes.
The castle seems different now, smaller and duller and less frightening. Alfred is not sure if it's because he has no mission to focus on anymore, or if it's because he's one of them now.
Herbert seems to have lost all interest in him now that he's not human anymore. Alfred is at once relieved by this and put off. Still, he supposes saying something like 'you only wanted me for my blood' would give the wrong impression, so he doesn't say anything.
The Count, at least, is the same as ever. If Sarah's departure had any sort of impact on him - if he's disappointed by her decision to leave them or if he's perhaps pleased by her desire to go out and spread their curse - he never lets on. He continues to treat Alfred with amused nonchalance, like Alfred's a curious little pet, cute but useless.
Alfred would protest, but he suspects Krolock's assessment of him isn't entirely wrong.
"Back when we were still human - Sarah and I, I mean - you once told me that my soul was already yours. What did you mean by that?"
Alfred isn't sure how he found the courage to seek the Count out and ask this question. Perhaps he's only bored. But he's having nightmares again - except maybe they're not nightmares, just odd dreams, a bit like the one he had the night before they set out to stake the Count and his son. Only this time, there's no Sarah in the dream. Just him and Krolock, locked in a strange kind of struggle.
He doesn't know what the dreams mean, but he's sure the Count could tell him if Alfred asked. Not that he's going to. Instead, he asks about that oddly possessive statement Krolock made what seemed like an eternity ago.
Krolock smiles in return, his fangs showing. "I was right, though, wasn't I? You are here after all."
"Because Sarah bit me, not because of you."
When he says the words, a little too fast and a bit too defiantly, he immediately wants to take them back, fearing that he's angered the Count. If anything, though, Krolock's smile widens.
"And yet," he points out, "you didn’t follow lovely Sarah when she left, but chose to stay here. With me."
Alfred opens his mouth to protest at the last part of Krolock's assumption. Krolock made it sound as if Alfred stayed for him, but that's not true at all.
That same dream again. Krolock's teeth in his neck, his hands strong and unyielding on his body, his larger form covering Alfred's.
He wakes up, drenched in sweat, while hunger and arousal leave his mouth dry and aching.
He reaches under the covers and touches himself, shamefully and awkwardly, trying to think about Sarah and failing. He even tries, unsuccessfully, to think about Herbert, because Herbert, for all he used to scare him when Alfred was human, is essentially harmless. When compared to the Count, at least. But that's where Alfred's thoughts wander, unbidden, as he imagines what it would be like to surrender himself to Krolock, body, mind and soul.
Krolock looks at him like he knows, like those dark piercing eyes can stare right into Alfred's mind and read his deepest, darkest desires.
Alfred remembers that there are researchers who believe that's true: that vampires are indeed able to get into others' heads, perhaps even manipulate their minds. But no matter how hard he tries, Alfred doesn't seem to be able to read anyone's thoughts. Not that this surprises him, seeing how he can barely make sense of his own mind.
"Can you read my mind?" he blurts out one evening at what passes for dinner (some old farmer from the village whose blood is about 20% alcohol).
"I'm sure I could, but I hardly need to, do I? You're an open book."
Krolock raises an eyebrow at Alfred, who would blush in return if he had the blood to spare. But what little he has is currently pooling elsewhere.
Krolock laughs. Alfred pouts. Krolock tells him he's pretty – "positively delicious" are his exact words, in fact – when he's sulking.
Alfred thinks he might be losing his mind.
Apparently, vampires don't have to sleep in coffins. In fact, they don't really have to sleep at all during the day as long as they just avoid sunlight.
Sometimes, when he's tired of the dreams, Alfred spends his hours in the library. He doesn't get as excited about books as the Professor did, but it's a way to pass time. Eternity, he thinks, is going to be pretty dull.
Except then there are moments when he finds himself in Krolock's company, the Count's eyes watching his every move, like a cat waiting for the mouse to be in the right position before it strikes, and Alfred realises that Krolock is just biding his time.
Things are going to change, and soon. He isn't sure if that's a good thing or not. Maybe anything's better than the boredom. Maybe he's fooling himself in thinking that this isn't what he wanted all along. Maybe that's what Krolock tried to tell him when he said Alfred's soul was his.
When it happens at last, it's oddly anticlimactic.
Krolock enters Alfred's room like it's nothing out of the ordinary, striding in as if he owns the place (well, Alfred supposed he does, in a way - it's his castle, after all).
A frown furrows Krolock's forehead when he looks at the heavy curtains that are the only protection from the deadly rays of the sun, and there's something like disapproval in his voice when he speaks. "I don't know why you insist on resting here of all places."
"I refuse to sleep in a tomb," Alfred says, uncharacteristically forceful. There are a few things he's not willing to compromise on. This is one of them.
"You get used to it."
"Well, I don't want to."
It's the first time Alfred has done something quite like challenging the Count. It feels wrong, when every instinct of his is screaming to back down. But he doesn't. He won't. Not about this.
Krolock doesn't appear to be bothered by Alfred's display of defiance. He smiles, showing his fangs, and Alfred isn't sure why but it goes straight to his groin.
"There's more room in the bed, too," he hears himself saying, a little coyly even though his voice isn't quite steady.
Krolock's laughter is deep and throaty and echoes in the barely furnished room. He crosses the distance towards Alfred, only stopping when he's right in front of him. Up close, he seems impossibly tall and imposing, but his eyes are tired and a little sad, and Alfred's instincts waver between fear and sympathy. Krolock's hand closes around the back of his neck. His grip is gentle, but the edges of his claws are brushing the tender skin, reminding Alfred acutely that despite the fact that he's not human anymore, the power dynamic between them hasn't changed at all: Krolock is still the predator, and he's still the prey.
He should mind, but he doesn't. Not when Krolock bends his head down and claims his lips. Not when Krolock's fangs make him bleed a little. Not when he's pushed down onto the bed and stripped.
When he comes, Krolock's fangs pierce the skin on his neck. It still hurts, but it's a good kind of hurt, and Krolock's blood-stained smile doesn't scare Alfred. Maybe he should be afraid, but somehow, he doesn't think that Krolock's going to get bored of him anytime soon; not yet, not when eternity is lying ahead, vast and lonely.
"Stay?" Alfred asks, afterwards. He feels boneless and a little dizzy, whether from the force of his orgasm or from the loss of blood, he doesn't know. Beside him, Krolock is fully alert and watching him with unconcealed amusement.
At Alfred's request, Krolock's gaze shifts towards the windows again.
"They do a good job of keeping the sun out. You could always lock the door, if you're worried that someone will come in and open the curtains while we're sleeping."
The smile on Krolock's mouth is grim and sombre. "It's not other people I'm worried about."
The words sting more than Alfred would have expected. "I wouldn't do that. I couldn't bring myself to stake you when I was human, even when I had the chance, why would you think that I—"
Krolock's clawed finger against his lips silences him. "You misunderstood. I didn't mean you. The curtains are… a temptation. It would take so little to open them and watch the sun. Just the once."
It takes a moment for the full meaning of the statement to sink in, and when it finally does, it's chilling. Alfred swallows hard.
"Don't," is all he can say, feeling choked up. Don't leave me. Don't kill us both. Don't even think about it. Don't you dare take the easy way out after subjecting me to this unlife.
Maybe Krolock hears the words he didn't say, or perhaps it's just the anguish in Alfred's voice that touches him, because his expression softens. "Don't worry, young Alfred. I won't."
And perhaps Alfred is getting the hang of the mind reading thing after all, because he swears he hears, Not just yet, even though Krolock's lips aren't moving.
He nods, in reply to both the words that have been said and the words that weren't.
"All right," he says, quietly.
When he falls asleep, he dreams of the sun.