Vlad awoke to the warm brush of Lisa’s lips at his ear and a wandering hand combing through his hair. Blinking back weariness, he tilted his head just enough to be able to catch her sparkling blue eyes. “What is it, my love?” he asked, squinting up at the window. “It cannot be much past noon yet.” Lightning quick, he reached up to catch the hand in his hair and dropped a kiss on her palm.
Smiling at the tickle of his lips against her skin, Lisa tucked her fingers under his chin and focused his gaze more directly on the window. “It snowed last night,” she exclaimed with girl-like glee, barely able to contain her delight.
That was unexpected. “Are we not too far south for that?” Vlad asked, brow furrowed as he shifted to sit up against the headboard
“Old man.” She slipped her hand under the blankets, tracing the curvature of his abdomen, fingers dancing across cool skin to map the muscles beneath. “You moved the castle yesterday, remember? We’re just a shade west of the Carpathians—the altitude is perfect for winter weather.”
“Ah yes.” Frowning, Vlad sat up in earnest, eschewing the many blankets Lisa always insisted on keeping piled on their bed. “I noticed nothing earlier in the night, though,” he mused, eyes narrowing as he peered out at the grey clouds and thick white carpet of snow that blanketed the castle and surrounding landscape.
Lisa snickered. “We were both rather otherwise occupied, darling,” she pointed out archly, one eyebrow quirking toward her hairline. “I only noticed myself when I rose about an hour ago.”
“And then you just decided to watch me sleep?” he teased, running his hands through her hair and pressing a kiss to her brow.
“Yes,” she gave him a cheeky grin.
Humming, he gripped her shoulders and tugged her against him, sprawling back out against the bed with Lisa flat against his chest.
“Vlad!” Laughing, she struggled to right herself, arms flailing as he cocooned her inside the discarded blankets and anchored him against him.
Using his otherworldly strength, he flipped them with uncanny ease, rolling to pin her beneath him, arms braced on either side of her head, hips pressing against hers as they held her blanket-clad body in place. “What?” he replied teasingly, his innocent tone belying how his current position kept her pinioned, immobile and entirely at his mercy. “It’s cold, grey, wet…daytime. All perfectly valid excuses to stay inside together.”
Springs creaked in the mattress as Lisa wriggled in place, futilely attempting to free herself from his imprisoning embrace. Sighing heavily, she conceded defeat and leaned forward to mouth the underside of his jaw, cold nose brushing his equally cool neck as she moved. “So that’s your plan?” she taunted, lips tickling his throat. “The great and terrible Dracula wants to hide from the snow by staying inside and….snuggling?” Her eyes danced with ill-concealed mirth.
“Hardly,” he scoffed, “I want to lay abed with my beloved wife and ignore the foot and a half of crystalized water that has recently accumulated on my doorstep.” His eyes darkened and he lowered his head to mouth her breast, only barely concealed by her thin cotton nightshirt. “And, perhaps, move on to other avenues of recreation as well.”
“Mmm,” she demurred, fidgeting in place as she struggled to deter him and ignore the rush of desire that his touch incited. Cackling triumphantly, she yanked her arms free of their warm prison and wrapped them around his shoulders, pressing her nose to his. “That would still be considered snuggling,” she told him, pressing a kiss to the tip of his nose, lips traveling leisurely down to hover at the corner of his mouth. “And, while it does sound delightful to laze about in bed with you this fine winter day, there is one glaringly enormous flaw in this grand scheme of yours.
“Oh?” He nibbled at her neck, following the line of her collarbone. “Do enlighten me.”
Lisa squirmed out from beneath his arms, sitting up and peering down at him with a knowing smile, head cocked as she kept her ears trained on the door and the hallway beyond. “Aaaaand, now,” she murmured.
As if summoned by her words, the bedroom door swung open with a loud bang, flying back to smack into the stone wall behind it. A blur of pale skin and blonde hair zoomed into the room, fifty pounds of six-year-old depositing itself into the middle of their bed.
“It snowed!” Adrien said excitedly, molten eyes dancing. He paid no attention to their relative states of undress, having long since become immune to catching his parents half naked—it was remarkable how often he managed to stumble across them in such a large castle. Bouncing in place, he turned beseeching eyes to first his mother, then his father. “Can we go outside? Please please please please pleeeeease?”
Groaning, Vlad flipped onto his back, pinching the bridge of his nose and closing his eyes. “This is when he’s your son,” he murmured to Lisa, who merely hid a smile behind her hand and shook her head, overcome by giggles. While Vlad laid glaring, she tucked her mouth into a less obvious grin, trying to contain herself.
“That’s up to your father, dear,” she told her son, finally regaining at least a mild semblance of control and schooling her features into an expression of only minor interest.
“Oh, so now it’s my call, is it?” the vampire in question asked wryly, a smile tugging at his lips despite himself. He sat upright, powerful shoulders flexing as he stretched. “Why on earth are you so intent on going outside in this mess, boy?”
Adrien threw himself at his father, wrapping his arms as far as they could reach around his broad torso. “Please, father?” he implored, eyes pleading. “I’ve been reading about snow lately and really would like to see it for real,” he implored, “Mother taught me about condensation, and pressure systems, and the freezing point of water, and—“
He paused for a breath, mouth opening to continue, and Vlad surrendered, laughing. “Alright, son,” he agreed, resting a pale hand on Adrien’s head and tousling his golden hair. “We’ll go experience the snow—after you get dressed.”
The pair of smiles that he received in reply were well worth the sacrifice of a day abed with his wife.
Clapping her hands together, Lisa slid out of bed, wrapping one of the blankets about her shoulders as a makeshift robe. “Right,” she said, tone businesslike, “let’s go get dressed, then, yes?” She scooped up her son, setting him on the stone floor and propelling him toward the door. “Go on and get out of those nightclothes and into your warmest garments.”
“But I can’t even feel the cold,” the boy argued, pouting. “Why do I have to put on so many clothes when I won’t even notice?”
Lisa snuck a sideways glance at her husband and began scooping up her own clothing from where it had been tossed to the floor the night before. “You may not notice the temperature,” she said, depositing her armful in the hamper and drawing her blanket more tightly about herself, “but regardless of whether or not you notice it your body does.” She placed a hand on his shoulder. “You’re still part human, dear. Now, get dressed or you won’t go outside at all.”
Adrien scampered, giggling, and Lisa turned to the wardrobe and began searching for her own warm garments.
“You spoil him,” Vlad commented, sliding out of bed and rising to his full height, wrapping his arms around his wife from behind.
“And you don’t?” Lisa returned, hands sliding over his where they rested against his stomach. She could feel him chuckle, the short hairs at the base of her skull rising as his breath ghosted across her skin.
Pale lips passed across her neck. “Touché,” he breathed, placing a kiss just below her ear.
Snow, cold, and daylight were lost to them as he enjoyed the sanctity of their embrace. Vlad’s hands dipped to slide beneath her shirt, nails tracing light patterns across her stomach as he rested his chin on her shoulder, tilting his head to nuzzle her neck. “Are you certain you don’t wish to remain inside instead?” He punctuated each worth with the gentle brush of his mouth against her neck, fangs scraping lightly at her jugular before moving downward.
“And disappoint our son after such a promise otherwise?” Lisa slipped from his arms and shed blanket and shirt both, casting a sly, defiant look in his direction as she reached for the sensible woolen undergarments she had retrieved from the wardrobe.
Instead of replying, Vlad sat back and allowed himself the luxury of watching her dress, gleaming red eyes blatantly tracing the gentle curve of her hip, the swell of her breasts, the press of lean muscle beneath skin. Warm light from the still-flickering candles gave her body a golden glow even as the wan light from the grey, grey skies painted an ethereal halo about her silhouette. Once again, he marveled that this magnificent creature was his wife.
“Come,” Lisa took his hand and he started, coming back to himself with a jolt. “Time to bundle up our boy and make good on our promise.” She paused, gaze raking across his still-bare chest and soft linen pants. “And time for you to dress as well, my love. What sort of image would it project for the master of the vampires to breach the sanctity of his castle whilst undressed?”
Vlad raised his free hand to sketch a rune Lisa had long since memorized—he used it far too often, in her opinion, but who was she to argue when undressing him was so much fun? Borne by magic, his traditional red-accented black tunic and pants materialized around his form, buttons fastening themselves, gauntlets forming at his arms, and boots appearing to encase his calves and feet. “There.” His eyes flashed. “Satisfied?”
Ducking around him to reach once more into their wardrobe, Lisa shook her head. “Not quite.” Eyes narrowed, she fished around and then grinned, retrieving her arm with a great black cloak clutched in her grasp. Thicker than his traditional garment, the heavy covering lent him a fey look as she fastened it around his shoulders, the rich black fabric and the darkness of his hair a stark contrast to his pale skin and burning red eyes. “There.” She pressed a searing kiss to his lips, hands rising to twist in that thick, soft fabric to pull him down to her level. “Now you are prepared to do battle against the snow.”
“Battle against the snow?” he asked, incredulous, standing tall and steering her toward the door with a hand at her back. “Just what do you envision taking place this afternoon?”
Lisa hummed noncommittally, humor dancing in her eyes. “If I know our son,” she declared, “it will be anything but boring.” Looking beyond, her eyes shot wide open. “Adrien!” she barked, lunging forward, “what have we told you about experimenting with levitation on the upper levels of the castle?!” She rushed out the door of their room in a whirl of fabric, sprinting down the hallway to where her son was hovering in the air at the top of a winding stone stair case.
“But mother!” he protested. “I’m getting so good at it! Look!” He rose a few feet, grinning proudly. All at once, his concentration shifted, and he wavered, his grin falling to a frown. “I—“
Suddenly, Dracula was there, scooping his son into his arms and disappearing in a flash of red and black. Lisa could hear them down below in the massive entry hall as they reappeared in a clatter, and she heaved a sigh of relief and began winding her way down in a more human manner.
“What were you thinking?” Dracula raged, glaring down at his sheepish son. “You could have been killed. You are not wholly immortal, boy, no matter what you might think.”
Adrien’s lip wobbled, and he stared up at his father with his auric eyes. “I just wanted to be like you,” he said quietly, swiping an arm across his face and sniffling. “You can do anything.”
Dracula’s ferocious gaze softened considerably, and he clenched his fist against his side. “Your mother would argue that point ferociously,” he commented, “for she often finds many things that are beyond my scope.” Kneeling, he pulled Adrien into a hug, hand sweeping up and down the boy’s back in a soothing gesture. “I’m not saying don’t ever test your powers,” he said, “just to use them wisely. There are so many things in this world—in this castle, even—that can bring you harm. To survive is to be aware of them.” He wasn’t sure how the day had suddenly turned so somber, and quite frankly did not prefer the gloomy look haunting his son’s expression.
The wave of a single hand sen the massive entrance doors sliding open, emitting a blast of icy air and a pile of snow into the castle entry. “Would you care to explore, my lord?” he asked, rising and giving a slight bow of his head.
Lips curving up in a small smile, Adrien nodded, trudging over to where snow met stone and peering out into the white world beyond. He made as if to jump forward into the entrance but froze, stopping and staring up at Vlad’s dark, looming figure.
Dracula nodded, a smile in his red eyes, and Adrien sprang forward, bounding out into the winter wonderland. “This is so cool!” he exclaimed, eyes wide as he ran out of the castle entrance into the snow. Young as he was, the foot-and-a-half foot tall snowfall rose to well over his knees, engulfing his small boots and encasing his legs in a wall of white.
“I believe cold would be a more accurate descriptor,” his father corrected, stepping out behind him with a look of distaste. Eyes narrowed, he peered at the thick swath of white sprawling out before him, coating the steep staircase and the world beyond. Dracula looked between the massive stairway and his son, mouth tightening as the boy trudged onward. “Down you go, child,” he murmured, scooping up Adrien and transporting them both to the foot of the stairs.
The empty grounds rang out with Adrien’s delighted laughter. Clapping his hands, he squirmed in his father’s arms until Vlad released him, setting him gently on the ground and straightening his long coat. “Where is your mother?” Vlad asked, brows drawing together as it dawned on him that she had yet to emerge from the castle.
In answer to his query, the castle entrance opened and slammed shut, drawing their attention and emitting a slight figure with sunflower hair.
Snow shot everywhere as Lisa carved a path from the closed entry, sprinting as best she could to gain momentum before launching herself in to the air and slinging a massive steel shield—stolen from one of the suits of armor in the entrance hall—beneath her. Whooping, she raced down the steep stairway, leaning left and steering her makeshift sled diagonally across the remaining distance. She slid to a stop before father and son, sending a spray of snow shooting straight into Vlad’s incredulous face.
“What?” he spluttered, brushing a mess of frozen water out of his hair and beard.
Adrien grinned, delighted. “”I want to try!!” He reached for the shield expectantly, looking from mother to father to gauge their reactions.
“Absolutely not,” Vlad snapped. “That is far too steep for you, and you are far too precious to risk your life doing something so foolish.” Though his words were directed at Adrien, his red eyes were focused on Lisa.
She, however, refused to yield, rising and brushing off her knees with precise movements, a large smile spreading across her face. “Oh, come off it,” she snorted. “Ive been planning that since I first looked out the window earlier, and we have much steeper stairwells in the castle proper and he goes scampering up those all the time.” Eyes narrowed in challenge, she poked him in the chest. “You’re just scared, aren’t you?” Winking at Adrien, she stood on tiptoes to peer up into her husband’s stern face. “Big, bad Dracula can’t even sled down the steps of his own magical castle.”
Adrien was well-accustomed to these exchanges of his parents, and had already settled on the shield, legs crossed and his mouth turned up in a merry smile as his eyes darted back and forth between Lisa and her husband.
“Come on, dear, have some fun.” She curved her gloved hand around the back of Vlad’s neck, yanking his head down to her level and seizing his lips in a kiss. “It’s not like I’m asking you to let him do it himself,” she whispered against his mouth, playing with the ends of his hair.
“You’re incorrigible,” Vlad replied. He gripped the back of her head in both hands and returned her kiss with equal fervor, lips sliding across hers as he conveyed just how very irredeemable he found her.
“And you love it.” Knowingly, she tapped his nose and propelled him over toward his son. “Now, make his day.” She knew he would fervently deny it, but the gleam of excitement shining in her husband’s eyes as he bent to take hold of his son’s shoulder was glaringly obvious to her rather discerning stare. Hiding a smile behind one hand she stepped back and watched them both disappear in a flurry of black fabric, Vlad sending them once again to the top of the looming entry.
Snow crunched as they rematerialized at the full height of the entrance stair, solidifying in a patch of as-yet-undisturbed snow. Eyes glowing red, Vlad exuded molten heat, disintegrating the clinging snow immediately around them and and tapping a thoughtful finger against the side of the shield in his hand. “Ready lad?” he asked, setting the armor on the still-snowy ground before them and placing Adrien right at the front. Adrien nodded eagerly, and, fangs bared in a fierce grin, Dracula settled just behind them and kicked them off the incline. “Then let’s show your mother how it’s really done!”
They screamed down the slope, the snow so thick that the steps barely affected their passage. “Whooo!” Adrien’s hair whipped about his face in a golden halo, his hands clutching tight to the shield’s strap as he gave another loud whoop. “This is great!”
Behind him, Dracula knelt close to his back, arms wrapped snugly around his shoulders, holding him tightly to his chest as they rocketed onto flatter ground. At a nod from Vlad and a transfer of energy, a thickly-packed mound of white sprang up before them, and they rocketed up the makeshift ramp and into the dreary sky, leaving Lisa and the ground behind to grow steadily smaller as they shot heavenward.
“We’re flying!” Adrien shrieked gleefully. He turned his head up to and gave his father a joyful look, heedless of the tears leaking from the corner of his eyes at the fierce bite of the cold wind against his face. “We’re flying!”
White fangs flashed in a blinding grin. “If you think this is flying, son, just watch.” He shifted his grip on Adrien as a fell wind blew from the west, catching the underside of his cloak and sending it whipping into the air. Balancing on the shield, he sprang into the sky, Adrien clutched to his chest. Together, they hovered high above the ground, the world sprawling out beneath them in a gleaming white horizon.
Adrien’s eyes glowed golden as he stared over his father’s shoulders at the ground below. “I can see mother from here!” he chirped, pointing one chubby finger and waving with the other hand. “Look, Mother, I’m flying!!”
Vlad winced slightly as his sensitive hearing was assaulted by the exuberance of youth. Slowly, he drifted closer to the ground, his great, batlike cloak flaring behind him like wings. “One day you will be able to do this as well,” he told Adrien, smoothing a hand over his blond locks—hair so very much like Lisa’s. He saw so much of his wife in his son—more so than himself, for which he was forever grateful. She showed in the boy’s eyes, as well, for all their different colors, her infallible spirit and capacity for love reflected back out of those uncanny metallic irises. He would do anything for them, these two beings who had so become his world. Unconsciously, his arms tightened around Adrien, cradling him close as the fluttered down toward the ground.
Something hard and wet smacked into the back of Vlad’s head with a dull thud, violently yanking him from his thoughts. Multiple projectiles followed the first, each hitting its target with an icy thwack. Adrien giggled, his view over his father’s shoulder affording him the opportunity to watch Lisa launch her carefully compiled collection of projectiles at his father.
As yet another snowball caught him in the arm, Vlad decided that he’d had enough. Lowering his head to his son’s ear, he bared his teeth in a ferocious smile. “Want to show her how it is truly done, son?” he asked, guiding them around the corner of the stairs to alight in the castle’s shadow and duck behind the masonry.
“Yeah!” Small hands scooped up a mound of snow, packing it into a pile and offering it up to Dracula. They knelt together in the snow, Dracula and Adrien quickly amassing an arsenal of ammunition as they anticipated Lisa’s arrival. Father and son sat, heads half-cocked, as they listened for her approach. “She should be coming soon, shouldn’t she father?” Adrien asked, bouncing with impatience as he tried to peer over stone three times his height.
“I know you’re over here,” Lisa called teasingly in response, her voice floating over the stairway to their waiting ears. “Do you plan to cower like little girls all day?”
Her son scowled, affronted, face falling into a pout. “She called us girls!” He huffed and crossed his arms. “I am NOT a girl!”
Solemnly, Vlad hoisted the youth onto his shoulders. “No, you are not,” he agreed. “Let us remind her of that.” At Adrien’s nod, Vlad gestured, their frozen ammunition rising into the air to hover at Vlad’s shoulder. Lips curved into a smile, he expanded his senses, hearing and scent on high alert as he scanned their surroundings for Lisa’s heat signature.
Nothing—the world was a white wasteland, no sign of his mischievous wife to be seen.
Where had she—
Even with enhanced reflexes, Vlad was not fast enough to turn in time and the incoming projectile caught him in the back of the neck once more. “Damn,” he swore. “Adrien, fire!”
The boy pelted missile after missile, as many missing their mark as they landed. “You’re sneaky, Mom,” he accused, face screwed up in concentration as he hurled projectiles at his mother.
Lisa gave a little bow, a mass of snow sliding from her hair to plop onto the ground. “Sneaky is my middle name,” she conceded, diving forward between Vlad’s widened stance and lobbing a massive load of snow upward into her husband’s shocked face. He spluttered, spitting snow out of his mouth and in retaliation combined their entire reserve of snowballs into a hovering, horizontal wall of white and sent it cascading down on her torso
“Oh!” Lisa’s cornflower eyes widened as she was engulfed in a pile of powdery white, all but her legs from where they lay between Vlad’s completely obscured by snow.
He laughed, a deep, gleeful guffaw that rang out through the grounds.
Adrien stared up into his father’s face in shocked delight, having never heard him laugh so.
“Come, son,” Dracula directed, still chuckling, “Let us dig up your mother.” He deposited Adrien beside the pile of Lisa snow, and together they reached in and fished. Vlad’s questing hand caught a set of fingers, and he pulled, yanking Lisa upright and into his waiting arms. “Alright, my wife?” he asked, carding his hands through her frozen hair and dislodging chunks of ice.
She chortled, teeth chattering, and lightly smacked his chest. “Freezing, my love, but yes. That was a dastardly move.”
One black eyebrow curved toward his forehead. “As if you were not asking for it.”
“You were being pretty mendacious, mother,” Adrien added helpfully from her waist, tugging on her coat to help rid her of the snow clinging to her back and shoulders.
“Mendacious?” she mouthed at Vlad incredulously, and he chuckled and rolled his eyes.
“You were the one who gave him that dictionary last week when he complained of boredom,” he muttered out of the side of his mouth. He frowned, taking in her stiff posture and the shivers that had begun to wrack her body. “And now out of the cold, I believe,” he declared, scooping her into his arms. “You need to warm up.”
It was a measure of just how chilled Lisa was that she only nodded, snuggling into his torso. “Yes, I do believe that might be best,” she murmured. “Adrien, follow your father.”
The boy nodded, stifling a yawn and looking up at his parents from beneath heavy lids. “Mmkay,” he agreed. “‘M tired now anyway.”
Rolling his eyes skyward and questioning the stubbornness of mortals, Vlad shifted Lisa to one shoulder and retrieved his son with his free hand, cradling them both against his chest. “You two…” he murmured, looking between them in fond exasperation.
Adrien merely sighed happily and curled into his father’s arm, tucking his head against Dracula’s shoulder and promptly falling asleep.
Lisa remained awake, slinging an arm around her husband’s shoulder and pressing a soft kiss to his cheek. “Thank you,” she told him.
“For what?” Vlad asked, transporting them inside the castle and up to Adrien’s bedroom. Deftly, he stripped the boy of his wet garments, reclothing him in warm trousers and shirt and depositing him in his bed, not once letting go of his grip on Lisa.
“For today,” she said simply, nestling against him as he gripped her with both hands now that he had seen to his son. “You are his world, Vlad. He wants to be just like you, you know.”
“He should not,” Dracula murmured into her hair. “He is so much your son than mine—both of you are my light, my sun in a world where I thought I had none, brightening every day and pushing me to be better than I was. He is perfect as he is.”
“Mmm,” she turned her head into his neck, allowing her eyes to flutter closed. “You should tell him that more often. He needs to hear it.”
Vlad considered her words, staring down at his sleeping son with a mixture of emotions playing out across his face. His love for the boy was overwhelming, a fierce, burning passion that incited every protective instinct he possessed. Nothing would harm this child, nothing would bring him pain or despair or distress. He was so pure, so happy—and for such a being to come even in part from him—
“I love you,” he breathed, “both of you so very much.” His arms tightened around Lisa and he bore her down the hall to their room.
“I know,” she replied, “and that love makes you so much better than you claim to be.” She shimmied out of his arms and dropped lightly to the floor, snaking her arms around his chest and leaning up to peer intently into his face. “I love you too, you great bat. Now, get me out of these wet clothes, and show me how you plan to warm me up.” Her expression grew coy. “Since it seems our son is out of commission for a while, I see no problem in us retiring for a little while.”
Clothes flew everywhere as Vlad took his cue, rapidly divesting her of her freezing, sopping garments and scooping her lithe form back into his arms. “As my lady so commands,” he proclaimed, depositing her in bed and descending in a flurry of black, “so shall she receive.”
As they lost themselves in each other, outside the snow sat on, a vast winter wonderland unmarred by man or beast, a fresh, raw, new beginning punctuated by a single ray of sunlight fighting its way through the grey clouds.