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To: Drac
On my way.


From: Drac
Will you be here this evening?

To: Drac
yea work ran late sys
that means see you soon 

From: Drac
I am aware.


To: Drac
is weird that I have ur #
big ol vamp w a blakbrey. its newer than mime

From: Drac
Are you alright?

To: Drac
ya! :^)
>:-{> thas you

From: Drac
You’re drinking, aren’t you.

To: Drac
oh noo……….you fonud my secrer
do u lile computers did you invent tehm

From: Drac
The science never interested me, but I do find them useful now.

To: Drac
do you have mysoace ill add u

From: Drac
No.

To: Drac
neopets ?

From: Drac
I mainly use computers for data storage and research.

To: Drac
do u like modern music?ill bring cds mon for u to listen

From: Drac
I also know how to use Napster.

To: Drac
V K A D
MR THE IMPLAYER!!
YOU WOUNLDT DOWNLOAD A CAR

From: Mr The Impaler
Why would I need a car?

To: Mr The Impaler
sut up u get it

From: Mr The Impaler
>:-{)>

To: Mr The Impaler
gonna priate so much nsync for u <3

From: Mr The Impaler
I know you’re joking, and yet.

To: Mr The Impaler
try 2 stop me big guy

From: Mr The Impaler
I’ve no idea how.

To: Mr The Impaler
etll me what ur wearing

From: Mr The Impaler
Why?

To: Mr The Impaler
also ioke dont worry bout it
aunts gettin shots bye!


Three weeks since Lisa had let Dracula bite her, and it had almost stopped feeling surreal. After work she would grab dinner, either from a drive-through or her house, and head back to the castle, where she’d usually raid his library and try not to stare too hard while Dracula worked on his current project. He seemed to be more interested in enchantments than science at the moment. For a few days Lisa tried to get him to teach her magic, but then he explained healing magic was basically impossible and any other area of study would take decades to master. She was already spending enough of her life in school, thanks.

Still, she liked learning about supernatural creatures and their history. (Someday she'd get around to actual research projects--right now she was too busy with her boss's to come up with her own.) Dracula wasn’t the most forthcoming, especially when it came to the rules that he had to live by now, the ones he still seemed to resent. As far as Lisa could tell, modern life was threatening enough to vampires that some of the hunter families could tell old vampires—even Dracula—to stop killing people. And he actually did it. Lisa figured his pride was still smarting.

But he seemed to like having her around, even when he stopped answering her questions. So she was a little surprised when she hiked up the hill and found bloody fingerprints smeared on the edge of the stone doors, as if from someone trying to push them open. Lisa glanced down and realized she was standing in more of the dark liquid. It puddled around her sneakers, leaving streaks up the rubber.

Her heart seemed to freeze in her chest. Someone was hurt, maybe Dracula or maybe someone else. For all she knew, he’d done this.

Only one way to find out.

She shoved at the doors, took a step through the still-widening gap, and bumped directly into Dracula. Instinctively she grabbed at him to steady herself, and then realized she was grabbing his legs. They were very...firm. Lisa blushed and let go.

He glared down at her from the shadows of the house. “Did you not see my message?”

“Is that blood?” Lisa asked, just to make sure. It still smelled coppery. She hadn’t checked her phone since she left the car; when she pulled it out of her pocket the words DON’T COME HERE TONIGHT popped up on the screen, sent just a minute before. “What’s going on?” Oh, God, please don’t be killing people, she thought. What was she even supposed to do if he had murdered someone? Call the police? Talk to him about his feelings? Stake him herself?

“You ordered me a snack,” said a man’s voice from behind Dracula. It seemed to be going for a drawl but to Lisa’s ears he was oddly breathy, almost whining. “Thanks, Uncle Drac.”

Dracula grimaced and half turned. “Do not call me that.”

Lisa took advantage of the change in position to peer past him. The speaker was pale with a mane of bushy red hair and fangs jutting severely out over his lower lip. He seemed closer to Lisa’s age than Dracula’s, late twenties maybe, though who knew how old he really was. The shredded remains of a black T-shirt hung over his bandaged torso. Lisa frowned at the sight. Why would a vampire need bandages?

Dracula shifted, blocking Lisa’s view again, and she heard the other vampire snicker. “Trying to protect your pet human?”

“I merely wish to spare her your company,” Dracula shot back.

Lisa bit back a grin and shoved at his arm. “Little late for that,” she said dryly. “Who are you, exactly?” Until this moment she hadn’t realized Dracula had friends. He never seemed to speak to anyone else.

Before the man could answer, Dracula did. “His name is Niklas. The son of an old acquaintance. And he should be resting.” He looked down at Lisa again; she glared back and after a moment he sighed and moved out of her way.

The blood trail continued up the great hall floor to puddle on the first stair, after which it seemed to disappear. Maybe Niklas had gotten bandaged up there? He still looked like shit; his features seemed sunken beyond normal vampire sharpness, and he lurched down the stairs more than walked. “I need a drink,” Niklas insisted. “Was already thirsty before that bitch got me. And it’s not healing right, I’m telling you.”

Lisa frowned. “What’s not healing right? Who attacked you?” She took a few more steps forward, avoiding the blood on the floor as best as she could. “Do you need a hand?”

“I could, ‘s a matter of fact,” Niklas said with a grin that seemed more like a grimace. There was something oddly affected about his mannerisms—an imitation of the menace Dracula radiated without trying. Dracula trying to be scary had only made Lisa angry, but she couldn’t manage anything more than irritation for this.

“Alright, c’mon, to the kitchen.” Lisa stepped around to his uninjured side and offering her arm.

She didn’t realize what was happening until it was already over. Her head jerked back, a cold hand pulling at her ponytail; fangs scraped a line over her neck. And then Niklas was ripped off of her. Dracula threw him across the room in a blur, too quickly for her eyes to follow. A sharp crack told her where he landed: on the floor at the foot of the stairs.

And Dracula loomed again. “What were you thinking?” he snarled.

Lisa swayed on her feet, unsure whether to take a step back. She knew what vampires could do—or she thought she did—but she’d never seen one out of control before. Lisa’s hand went to her throat and her eyes were drawn helplessly Niklas’s body on the ground. “I was trying to help him,” she said, fighting to keep her voice steady. “Since you weren’t.”

Dracula had just thrown him across the hall. Like it was nothing. She knew he was strong, but—

“If you’re going to help an injured dhampir—or full vampire, for that matter—do it from a distance.” He glided over to the body, still fuming.

“Will he be alright?”

“Yes?” said Dracula, as if the question were absurd. “He’ll be awake and groaning in a moment. I’m going to put him back to bed. I suggest you leave before he forgets himself again.”

Lisa nodded. Her heart was still beating too fast for her to come up with a coherent argument, and her face felt too warm. She could have died, and someone was hurt because of her and also because of a stupid overprotective vampire.

Dracula grabbed Niklas by the back of his neck like a kitten by the scruff and started back up the stairs; she had to power walk to keep up. “I see you are not heeding my suggestion.”

“Nope.”

Dracula looked down at her, frowning as he took in her mood. “You do realize he was about to bite you?”

You bit me and I was fine,” snapped Lisa. “Thanks for the rescue, I guess, but he was already hurt. If he were human—”

“A little bump like that isn’t enough to hurt him.” They reached the first-floor balconies and turned toward the North wing—part of the castle Lisa had never had reason to visit. “I wouldn’t do the same to you, if that’s what you’re worried about. And his bite certainly would not have had the same control as mine.” He spat the last sentence, as if that were the real issue, and his steps quickened. Niklas’s boots dragged on the carpet.

“I know you wouldn’t do that to me,” Lisa panted. She was practically jogging. “Dracula. Slow down. Vlad.” She slapped his arm again, and either that or his name got him to glance at her. Without changing his expression he slowed enough for Lisa to walk more comfortably.

Her heart still pounded in her throat—from the near miss or Dracula or the running, she wasn’t sure. Lisa traced the raised bumps where fangs had scratched her skin. It didn’t feel like he’d actually drawn blood. She hadn’t known how much vampires could actually control the urge to bite—most of Dracula’s texts on the subjects had been written by either hunters or fetishists, and she hadn’t managed to ask the man himself about vampire psychology. The way he was talking now, it didn’t seem like there had been much voluntary about it.

“He could have killed me?” she asked finally.

Would have,” Dracula said, scowling. “Perhaps not intentionally, but all the same.”

The surface of the puncture wounds Dracula had left a few weeks before had healed, but they still ached when Lisa pressed on them. She did, grounding herself, and took a deep breath to try to calm her racing heartbeat. Something about the pain reassured her. “I’m glad you stopped him, at least,” Lisa said, and he nodded.

A door down the hall was already open. The lights were off but Dracula didn’t seem to notice as he walked in and dumped Niklas on the bed. Lisa had to fumble for a switch herself. Niklas made a small noise of protest at the sudden brightness, face contorting, but otherwise didn’t move or speak. “I want to take a look at his injuries,” Lisa said.

Dracula hesitated for only a moment. “Let me look at yours, first,” he said.

“I’m barely scratched.” But she tightened her ponytail and pulled her hair over her opposite shoulder as Dracula knelt beside her. He pushed up on the point of her jaw; she craned her head, giving him better access. And—because Lisa’s body was stupid—her mouth went dry. She tried to stare straight ahead. Her eyes kept falling to him anyway.

“There doesn’t seem to be much damage,” he said, thumb finding her pulse. “You aren’t bleeding.”

“I told you.” She looked down her nose at him and tried to seem imperious. It was much easier at this angle.

“You did.”

His thumb shifted, finding the sore spot where the punctures from his fangs had been. “And now you’re trying to distract me from my patient.” She almost wished she had glasses so she could look over the rims at him.

Dracula raised an eyebrow. “I’ve no idea what you mean.”

She wasn’t sure if he was joking or not. “It’s your hair. Positively luscious.” she said, pushing some of it behind his ear. It really was very soft. “You’ve got to tell me what conditioner you use—after Niklas is patched up, of course.”

The corner of his mouth pulled up. “Of course,” he said, mimicking her tone, and stood. “Give me a moment. Don’t touch him until I return.”

Lisa had no desire to be bitten again today, so she pulled an overstuffed antique chair up to the bed while Dracula darted out of the room. In less than a minute he returned with bandages, gloves, and a tray full of silver tools. “Have you done anything like this before?” Dracula asked.

“Not with anything alive,” said Lisa.

“Technically, he isn’t.” In a voice that was meant to be reassuring he added, “Remember that you can’t actually harm him. As long as he doesn’t turn to dust immediately, he will recover.”

“Thanks,” Lisa said dryly. Of course he wouldn’t care. Of course he just saw it in terms of permanent damage done. She smirked anyway. Then she pulled on the gloves. “Will he need anything? Anesthesia?” He hadn’t moved, at least, since they’d entered the room.

“He would metabolize it too quickly to do any good,” said Dracula, and gestured to the bandages. “Would you like to do the honors?”

She carefully pulled up the surgical tape around the edge of Niklas’s bandages. And had to hold her breath to keep from gagging. Her first thought was a gunshot wound, but there were no neat little bullet holes here; instead it was like something had exploded against his abdomen, tearing into his guts. No wonder he’d lost control around her. How had he even been able to walk earlier?

“He should have healed more by now,” Dracula said, surprise lilting his voice.

Something glinted in the red wreckage, and Lisa grabbed a pair of forceps off the tray. “What did this?” she muttered to both of them.

“He did say something about a hunter when he arrived—Lisa, what are you—”

As soon as she touched Niklas with the forceps he lunged off the bed, fangs extended. Lisa kept her hands steady, and just as quickly Dracula slammed Niklas back down with a hand on his face. Lisa grabbed the shrapnel with her forceps and held it up to the light. “Aha.

Ow,” said Niklas.

Lisa pulled a face. She had hoped he would at least stay passed out. “Sorry,” she said. “But we’re getting you taken care of. What is this, blessed silver?”

Maybe she was showing off a little. Lisa hadn’t slogged through all those texts in ancient Romanian for nothing.

Dracula took the shard. Smoke rose from his skin as the metal burned it black, but he didn’t seem to mind. Maybe high pain tolerance was a vampire thing. “It seems so.”

Niklas’s fingers flexed open and closed on the bedspread like a cat expanding its claws. Talons, she noted, did not carry over to half-vampires. Or at least this half-vampire. “Sounds about right.”

Lisa chewed on her lip. She didn’t know where to put her free hand—she didn’t want to go digging in her patient, but putting a bloody glove on the bedspread or her jeans seemed gross. It ended up hovering awkwardly by her side as she squinted at the mass of red for other pieces of silver shrapnel. “Who did this to you?”

“Met up with an old friend for a bite, this hunter came around the corner all get away from him, monster, and threw this glass thing at me. Fast little fucker, too. Don’t know what was in there but it’s felt like being disemboweled by a fucking cheese grater ever since—oh fuck,” he added, as Lisa pulled out another piece of shrapnel.

“And you didn’t mention this earlier why?” Dracula snapped.

“I told you something was wrong!”

They devolved into squabbling. Lisa tried to tune it out at first, but couldn’t quite manage. After a minute she interrupted to ask, “Are half-vampires always half human?”

If she’d learned anything about Dracula it was that he always enjoyed teaching moments. “Not always, but often. Humans have the advantage of numbers. Though I’m surprised Godbrand ever had a half-human child. He always thought of humans as livestock.”

“If Father ever had half-goat children running around, he didn’t tell me,” Niklas said drowsily, making himself and Lisa both snort.

“What happened to him?” Lisa asked.

It wasn’t exactly idle conversation, she realized too late, but neither her patient or her vampire seemed to mind. “Hunters,” said Niklas, and winced. “Watch the pancreas or—whatever the fuck you just poked.”

“Still the small intestine,” said Dracula.

“Whatever.”

“Sorry,” said Lisa. “About your dad, I mean.” Her father had died too, but that had been cancer, not—murder? Had it been murder? Seemed like with vampires it was a lot more likely to be self-defense. Not that hunters were bound by anything like due process, from what she’d read.

Niklas just shrugged. A frown tugged at Lisa’s mouth, not just from concentration.

She knew something different had to be going on in vampire—or half-vampire—heads. Lower empathy or fewer social attachments or something. It had to be, right, for them to attack so easily? She just wished she knew what it was.

But she wasn’t going to find out now, so she just looked up at Dracula where he eyed the both of them warily. Ready to defend his—whatever Lisa was to him. “What else can be half-vampire?” she prompted.

So Dracula started talking about the different hybrids he’d seen over the years, including one about a half-vampire mermaid Lisa wasn’t sure she believed. The more silver she pulled out, the more Niklas started to heal, and more than once she found herself frozen and watching as half-vampire healing stitched him back together. It wasn’t instantaneous but it wasn’t exactly slow either—it was like watching a time-lapse of the healing process. Finally she pulled out the last shard and a sheet of thin, raw-looking skin closed over the last of the wound. “There we go,” she said finally. “How’s your head?”

“Fine, no thanks to him,” said Niklas, shooting Dracula a dirty look, and then his eyes flicked appraisingly over Lisa. “Could use some blood though, if you—”

“No,” Dracula snapped before Lisa got the gist.

She frowned—she kind of wanted to offer Niklas a drink just for that—but he’d already tried to rip her throat out. She could forgive that considering the circumstances, but she wasn’t going to be stupid about it. “I just donated,” she told him. “Dracula, do you have any blood on hand?”

“Ah, come on,” Niklas whined, yellow eyes on her in a way that made Lisa’s skin itch. His bite certainly would not have had the same control as mine.

She pulled her bloody gloves off with a loud snap. “You’ll have extra blood in the kitchen, right?” she asked, and marched through the door.

Dracula fell into place at her side. “Where are you going?” he asked after a moment, curious and amused.

Lisa’s steps stuttered. “To…the main hall? And then I figured you’d take the lead from there.”

He chuckled, a low sound in the dark hallway, and Lisa glanced back up at him. He had a nice smile. Fangy, but she liked it enough to wish looking at him didn’t hurt her neck. “It’s this way,” he said, turning her back the way they had come with a light touch on her elbow.

He always had been gentle with her. Even that first day when he’d been fucking with her, trying to scare her, he’d never used manhandling to do it. God, what a low bar. She didn’t know why it made her so relieved.

“Are you alright? I expected you to be bursting with questions by now.”

Lisa scowled at the carpet and reached up to touch the puncture wounds again. “You just threw him against the wall,” she snapped. “You didn’t need to do that to stop him. So why?”

She felt him stiffen beside her. “That’s still bothering you?”

“Of course it’s still bothering me!” Lisa ground to a halt and whirled to face him. “I didn’t know that you could—that you would—”

She couldn’t finish the sentence, even in her head. How could she have not known? Lisa may have never seen him in action, but she’d read of what he’d done, and he’d never denied being a killer. He just hadn’t threatened her.

Dracula stared down at her, bemused, almost irritated. “What exactly do you think I am?”

He took a step forward, all eight feet of him too close into her space, and Lisa’s heart kicked up a notch but she didn’t take a step back. Whatever point he was trying to make, she wouldn’t help him make it. He really was stupidly tall; Lisa thought she was used to it, but this close she was forcibly reminded that her eyes were level with his stomach. And his hips were wider across than her shoulders. She wet her lips and scowled up at him. “I know you’re a vampire. That’s no excuse.”

“You know I’ve done far worse.”

Since he had also made it clear she was his only source of fresh blood these days, Lisa also knew he wasn’t killing people anymore, so she’d tried not to think about it. “No excuse,” she insisted. “Look, I don’t know if vampire psychology is different from human or whatever, you might have something different going on up there—”

“—I am a creature of evil—”

“Oh, bullshit,” she snapped. God, she hated it when scientists tried to get cosmic. Especially of the black-and-white morality sort. “You care about me, don’t you? You could keep wiping my mind and leave me just enough memory to keep coming back here, but you don’t.” Lisa paused mid-rant to correct herself. “Well, I guess I wouldn’t know if you had done that. But if you’re evil, you’re doing a shitty job of showing it with me. So you could be better with everyone, if you wanted.”

He paused, looking her up and down, and said finally, “You don’t know me nearly as well as you believe.”

Lisa opened her mouth to argue, but—God, what was she doing? She didn’t know him, not really; a few weeks of hanging out in his house and occasional drunk texts wasn’t enough to change that. And why did she care, anyway? Their—arrangement, whatever, was working fine. He wasn’t murdering people anymore, and in a few months he would make sure she could go to school. She shouldn’t care about what was really going on in his head this much.

Dracula was already walking away. “Luckily your continued existence does not depend on my empathy,” he added.

She had to jog to keep up. “Would you have killed me when I showed up? If you could?”

He hesitated again. “No.”

“Why not?”

“Do I need a reason?” he asked peevishly. “If it doesn’t meet your standards, will you give up on our bargain? Why, if you are so frightened of me, are you still here?”

“I’m not frightened,” Lisa said, and at his raised eyebrow she shoved at his arm. “Do I look scared to you?”

“No.” His tone was dry as dust. “Never that.”

“I just want to know, Vlad.”

Lisa knew she wasn’t perfect. But she thought of herself as a generally good person. What did it say about her, if she could like someone who not only was a murderer but didn’t give a shit if he hurt people?

He pinched the bridge of his nose. “You are a scientist, are you not? Figure it out yourself. Now, if you don’t mind, your patient still requires blood.”

And with that he marched off, leaving Lisa power-walking furiously behind him.