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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.

Chapter Text

Ever since she’d moved back to Wallachia Lisa had been a regular customer at Church Avenue Secondhand Bookstore. So far it had escaped the fate of all independent bookstores in the age of the internet, and she’d managed to find some of her favorite books among the stacks of worn paperbacks.

But it still carried the occasional new release. Lisa was forcibly reminded of this when her aunt shoved a copy of New Moon under her nose.

“Have you heard they’re making movies?” Clara asked with a smirk. Lisa made a face, already knowing what was coming. “We’re going to see them—don’t look at me like that, we can hate watch! It’ll be fun!”

From the corner of her eye Lisa saw a woman deep in the romance section give them a dirty look. “Fun is subjective,” said Lisa. She picked up another book, realized it was for Pern, and hastily put it back. She’d been down that road as a teenager and had a feeling it wouldn’t hold up near as well now.

Clara rolled her eyes and returned New Moon to its shelf. “Honestly, Lisa. Who raised you?”

With a snort, Lisa kicked at her ankle.

She’d been three when her mother died and fourteen when her father followed. After a circuit of distant relatives passed her around, Lisa had been shipped to Wallachia to live with her Aunt Clara—barely an adult herself, not at all prepared to deal with a kid in mourning who barely spoke her language. Clara had more or less risen to the occasion, but it had been a weird few years before Lisa went to university. They were both more comfortable now that Clara could be her cool older friend instead of her guardian.

“You should come appreciate the eye candy at least. Edward and Rosalie have got to be hot, right?” Clara prodded.

“Eh, I’m more of an Emmet kind of girl. Or—” Lisa cut herself off.

Clara raised an eyebrow. “You were going to say Charlie, weren’t you.”

Look, Lisa couldn’t help if she had a type. She certainly didn’t have to discuss it. “Jasper,” she lied. “Edward’s got to look nonthreatening for all the teenage girls. Vampires should be intimidating, you know? You shouldn’t be able to knock them over with a pail of water.”

“Noted,” said a familiar voice behind her. Lisa froze and stared at the bookshelf, too horrified to turn around.

Clara had no such compunctions. “Do I know you?” she asked, voice steady, but Lisa saw her eyes get very wide.

Lisa cleared her throat and turned. Dracula was separated from them by a bookshelf, but that wasn’t an issue as he stood head and shoulders above it. His face had the odd blurry quality that she remembered from their first meeting, but Lisa squinted and concentrated until he looked back to his usual demonic self. “Clara, this is Dr—this is Vlad,” she said. Clara turned to look at her with an expression of what the fuck in her eyes. Dracula looked down his nose at them both, but Lisa thought she could see the beginnings of a smile under his goatee. “Vlad, this is my Aunt Clara.”

It had only been a couple of days since she had left the castle in a huff, and they hadn’t spoken since. She still kind of wanted to get back to their argument—but that wouldn’t really work here.

“The one with the shots?” Dracula asked, and Lisa felt herself begin to unwind.

“Jesus, what do you tell people about me?” Clara muttered.

“Just the truth,” Lisa said, patting her arm, and Clara groaned. “I’m surprised to see you out of the house.”

“Recently someone told me I need to get out more,” said Dracula, straight-faced.

Lisa raised an eyebrow. “She sounds bossy.”

“She has her moments,” he said, and Lisa had to duck her head to hide her grin. Clara’s what the fuck stare intensified. “I already had business in town tonight and thought I’d look around. This bookshop is new.”

“They celebrated their fortieth anniversary last week,” said Clara.

Dracula raised an eyebrow. “Did they?”

Alright, this was getting into dangerous territory. No one had outright said the rest of the world had to be in the dark about vampires, but this was still a talk Lisa didn’t want to have. “So!” she clapped her hands together. “What kind of books are you in the market for? Not to brag, but I know my way around a bookstore.”

God, she sounded so fake. Why had she felt better equipped to go fishing for shrapnel in a dhampir’s guts?

“Do you have any recommendations?” Dracula asked.

Clara looked between them, frowned, and checked her watch. “It’s almost eight. We should probably head over to help with setup.”

Setup? Lisa never helped with that part of the show—the most she’d ever done was post fliers. She hesitated for a moment and Clara bounced her eyebrows. Oh, Lisa realized, this was an out. “That’s fine,” she said, smiling as sincerely as she could. “You go ahead, I’ll catch up.”

Clara squeezed her arm. “Call me if you need anything,” she ordered, and ducked through the shelves.

“Setup?” asked Dracula.

Lisa waved him over and turned back to the shelves. It was mostly fantasy books with embarrassing covers. Lisa read more of those than she wanted to admit, but she wasn’t sure Dracula would appreciate them. “Her friend’s theater company is finishing up a run of Titus Andronicus tonight. You can join us if you want, it starts in about thirty minutes.”

From the corner of her eye Lisa saw him approach, casting a long shadow down the aisle. For all he seemed comfortable, more or less, in the modern world, his wardrobe was still anachronistic: he was wearing a three-piece suit with a bright red cravat. It definitely worked for him, but she was still curious about what he’d look like in normal clothes. “Perhaps,” he said. In a quieter voice he added, “Your patient is doing well. He left some hours after you did. Hopefully we will not meet again for a few decades.”

Was this where they picked up their argument? Lisa’s hands settled over Sunshine. She’d bought a new copy when it came out not too long ago; McKinley was one of her less embarrassing favorites. “Thank you for telling me,” she said after a moment, pulled the book from its shelf, and glanced up at Dracula. “I do like this one, but it’s a bit…”

“What?” He reached around her to take the book and Lisa had to fight the urge to lean back against him. He’d felt good, when he bit her. Enough that she was looking forward to the next time, and how sad was that.

“On the nose,” said Lisa.

Dracula studied the summary and flipped through the first couple of pages. “I see what you mean,” he said, and carefully reshelved the book.

“Do you even like fiction? I haven’t seen any in the library yet.” Not that she’d made much of a dent in the library, but she’d at least glanced at most of the shelves; they were meticulously organized, and nothing had stood out as fiction.

“I never developed a taste for novels. They didn’t gain popularity until well after I was human.”

Lisa glanced sidelong down the aisle, but they seemed to be alone for now. “So cell phones are okay, but not novels.” When had they even taken off? She still hadn’t managed to get a straight answer on how old he was, but apparently he predated Don Quixote at least.

“I have read some.” He picked up a paperback with MAGIC BITES written in large block letters across the top. Lisa had been meaning to read that herself, but Dracula gingerly put it back. “Just not often.”

Lisa nodded and tapped her knuckle against her mouth as she thought. Then she grabbed his hand and tried to tug him after her to the classics aisle. After a brief moment of resistance, Dracula let himself be towed. She scanned the shelves until she found what she was looking for: a battered copy of The Mysteries of Udolpho with a school library sticker on it. Then she shoved it into his hands, feeling pretty proud of herself.

Smirking, he turned it over and handed it back. “I’ve read this one.”

Lisa deflated. “Seriously?”

“I lived in England in the sixties. Of course I read it.” He shrugged while Lisa tried to figure out which sixties he meant. “I’m more surprised that you have.”

She shot him a sheepish smile. “My humanities elective was on Gothic literature.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Is that why you read Dracula?”

Lisa considered lying, but whatever—she could weather a little judgment. “Just the SparkNotes, but yeah.” She ducked around him to the A shelves and pulled out Northanger Abbey. “What about this one?” Couldn’t go wrong with Austen, right?

“Have you actually read it?”

“…Most of it? The first couple of chapters.” His smirk widened and Lisa socked him in the arm. It hurt her knuckles, and he didn’t even seem to notice. “I had honors organic chemistry that semester, okay? The only book from that class I finished was The Monk. It was awful.”

“I’ve heard. And yet you managed to read it.”

“Well yeah, it was so stupid I had to know where it was going,” said Lisa. She had a whole rant about The Monk that Clara had sat through at least five times, but stuck to the abridged version. “Lewis was so afraid of Catholics and like, women who had sex and knew things. There was a literal deal with the devil. It was wild.”

There was a pause as Dracula turned that over. “You realize the Devil exists. I’ve spoken with him on a few occasions.”

Lisa blinked. “Seriously?”

He glanced at her sidelong. “You were reading my notes on the subject last week.”

“I thought it was a metaphor. For, you know, scientific discovery in the face of the Church superstition,” said Lisa.

“It was not.” Before Lisa could figure out how to unpack that he pulled The Monk from one of the top shelves. “Here we are. I’ll let you know how Satan here compares to the real thing.”

Lisa, at a loss for words for once, gave him a thumbs-up. She studiously avoided talking or thinking about religion, and the revelation that maybe she should have been giving it more credit came as an unpleasant shock.

Luckily Dracula didn’t bring it up again. They fell into a comfortable silence as he bought his book and they began the walk down to the local theater. It was still warm outside even though the sun had set, and the sidewalks were crowded with people making the most of the weather, darting between downtown’s shops and handful of bars.

Lisa started mentally mapping out the seats to figure out which he might actually fit into.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket. is that Vlad Fucking Tepes??? Clara had written. EXPLAIN.

LATER, Lisa wrote back. HES COMING 2 SHOW WITH ME.

EXPLAIN!!!

Lisa shoved the phone back in her pocket. She could feel Dracula’s eyes burning a hole in the top of her head and hoped he hadn’t been able to see the messages—it wasn’t like she was embarrassed to know him, she just hadn’t been able to think of a good way to explain it. And still hadn’t. She’d banked on him only leaving the castle once every few years; she hadn’t expected him to take her comment seriously.

“I don’t understand you,” Dracula said. His voice was quiet but still seemed to cut through the street traffic, curling under Lisa’s skin.

Lisa frowned. “Why not?” She wasn’t exactly a closed book, here.

“If you were worried about me harming you, I would understand the…concerns you expressed the other night,” he said. “But I don’t understand how you can have so much care for other people—even someone who, moments before, was trying to kill you—and not yourself.”

Biting her lip, Lisa looked down the street. She really didn’t want to have this conversation right out in the open; she wanted to look at his face, at least, and it was hard to do that and walk. “Come on.” Lisa grabbed Dracula’s hand and tugged him between two of  the shops into a little loading area—she’d used it as a makeout spot a few times in high school, and it wasn’t exactly private but it was at least out of the way.

Lisa paced the length of the little lot and only stopped when Dracula reached out and grabbed her shoulder. He was leaning over her, eyebrow raised, hunching a little so he wasn’t as ridiculously tall. “Did you pull me back here just to pace?”

“Have I told you that my parents died?” she blurted out.

He nodded, looking at her very intently, as if he knew this was significant to her but didn’t quite understand why. “Not directly, but I gathered.”

“When I was really little, my mom was in a car accident. Dad was diagnosed with cancer in middle school; he died a couple of years later.” She made herself keep eye contact, but Dracula didn’t offer her pity or sympathy, didn’t offer anything besides his calm stare. It knocked her off-balance, not having a reaction, but it was oddly grounding too. “They were both freak accidents, you know? Nothing they could have done to prevent them. Nothing reasonable, anyway. I try not to be stupid, but I’m going to die some time. So I just don’t worry about it anymore. If I want something, I go after it. If I want to help someone, I’ll help them. And I’ll worry about the consequences when they happen.”

Dracula looked as if he rather needed to sit down. “That sounds likely to get you killed someday.”

“It’s worked out pretty well so far,” she said, and grinned at him.

His hand on her shoulder drifted up to cup the back of her head. “You’re going to be a brilliant physician, I think,” he said.

Lisa had been embarrassingly into him since about five minutes after she met him, but she’d never really thought about kissing him before—something about having to work so hard to see his face had put it out of her mind. But that was maybe the most romantic thing she’d ever heard, and she had to fight the urge to climb him and his three-piece suit like a tree. “Thank you,” she choked out, and took a deep, centering breath. God, none of that could end well. She had good reasons, very solid reasons, for not trying to tangle herself any further with a vampire who also happened to be completely okay with killing people. “But…the other day, whether that was you being protective or possessive or what, don’t hurt other people on my account. Okay?”

He grimaced and looked away from her, and Lisa relaxed away from the intensity of his gaze. “I…will make an effort.”

“It’s a start,” said Lisa dryly.

“But you should understand something about me, as well.” His fingers flexed, ever so slightly. “Death is my nature. My first impulse is to hunt, to feed. I enjoy those things. I cannot change that about myself. Neither can you. And neither do I wish to.”

Her mouth was dry. Lisa licked her lips. “Good to know,” she said, voice coming out rough. “Gotta keep those expectations low, I guess.” She should move away; his predator’s eyes pinned her in place. “Do you want me to be afraid of you?”

For a long moment he considered, eyes flickering briefly away. This is the part where you get away from him. But she didn’t. She wanted to grab his goatee and make him face her again. “No,” he told her finally.

She didn’t know what she meant to ask next until she asked it. “Do you want to hurt me?”

Another heavy silence, this one waving about fifty red flags. His fingers slid into her hair and pulled just enough to sting. Lisa sucked in a sharp breath through her teeth. “Yes.” His voice was no longer sheepish; this time it was a flat challenge. “But I…do not want you to be hurt.”

Do you want to kill me? she almost asked, but thought it would get her about the same answer. Carefully she pulled away from his hand. Something dark flickered across his face, but he let her go. “Okay,” she said. Her legs felt shaky. “Okay.”

Well. She’d wanted to know. How long until he bit her again? Four, five weeks? She clenched her fists to keep from touching her neck.

Lisa licked her lips again and wished she had something to drink. “So, um. The theater’s this way,” she said, and tried to drag herself back into reality.

Only this was her reality now, wasn’t it? Regular life by day, weird maybe-sexy, maybe-murderous interludes with a vampire by night. Somehow she still got them to the theater without tripping over her own feet.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Titus,” Dracula said as they were filing in to their seats. “I admit I never expected that one to survive the years.”

Lisa tilted her head. “Not your thing?”

He gave her a fangy grin. “I’ve an appreciation for revenge tragedies. But it’s a bit…excessive, even for those familiar with the genre. Have you seen it?”

“Nah, I just know there’s a bunch of gore and that one yo mama line.”

As if on cue Clara leaned over the back of the seat next to Lisa. “Villain, I have done they mother,” she intoned, and climbed over the seat. Lisa had to lean back to avoid getting kicked in the process.

“Lovely,” said Dracula.

Lisa poked him in the arm. “Don’t act like you’re too good for that line. Don’t lie to me like that.”

He pressed a hand to his chest in mock affront. “Have I ever lied to you?”

Okay, that was fair. Lisa tried to think of a reply but could only manage an awkward smile.

“Glad you could make it,” Clara said, half-draping her arm across the back of Lisa’s chair. Her eyes on Dracula were wary and Lisa could see the moment Dracula turned back to her because he responded in kind—all traces of good humor fading away to austere aloofness.

The lights began to dim before he could reply, and Lisa relaxed a little. The production wasn’t that great—for one thing, the Goths were dressed like very modern Goths, as in they appeared to have raided Hot Topic. Which did detract from the gravitas somewhat. And Lisa had never really clicked with Shakespeare, anyway. The actors seemed fine; she didn’t know anything about theater, but it was easy to kick back in her chair and appreciate the spectacle.

And there was definitely spectacle. She figured out pretty quickly what Dracula was talking about, with all the gore. She thought she heard him chuckle at a couple of the deaths.

When intermission rolled around she got up to stretch her legs and was unsurprised when Clara got up to join her, pulling her just outside the flow of traffic from the theater doors. “I didn’t know you knew him,” Clara said.

This could be a normal, non-awkward conversation, right? Theoretically. There was definitely a plausible explanation for why Lisa was fine hanging out with the ultra-rich recluse. “Yep!”

How do you know him?” Clara asked, looking at Lisa like she was very dense.

“You know how I was tearing my hair out for a while looking for med school scholarships?”

“…Yeah.”

“I asked him for one. And it turned out he’s actually a pretty interesting guy, so we started talking.” Lisa shrugged, trying to look as un-suspicious as possible. “Not a lot of people talk to him? So I guess I made an impression.”

Clara blinked at her for a moment, glanced around, and rubbed her temples. “Lisa, if this is a sugar daddy situation, I—might high five you? But also be very concerned.”

“Why is that the first thing you go to?” Lisa muttered.

“Because you look like you, and he apparently is cool with giving you a few hundred thousand dollars,” Clara said flatly.

“It’s really, really not like that.” Lisa crossed her arms and leaned back against the cinderblock wall. Totally different bodily fluids. “I don’t even know if he’s into…” She frowned and gestured vaguely. He’d done some things that could be construed as flirting, but she wasn’t sure how much she was reading into things. What felt like sexual tension to her might have just been murder tension to him.

“Women?”

“Romance, sex, whatever.”

Clara snorted. “He’s not that old.”

Lisa had to bite down on her first reply. “It’s not about age. I’ve never heard him talk about a relationship friendlier than old acquaintance.

“So what does that make you?”

Frowning, Lisa stared down at the floor. “I don’t know,” she admitted, and shook her head, trying to drag them out of the conversational pit. “But I have to go to the bathroom, so…”

“Ugh, fine,” Clara said.

When she filed back into her seat Dracula gave her an odd look. “What?” Lisa asked.

He shook his head, the lights began to dim, and Lisa remembered vampire hearing. Jesus Fucking Christ.

The second half of the play passed much more quickly than the first, and by the time everyone died at the end Lisa had no idea what was happening except that it was all probably pretty sad.

“How many gallons of fake blood do you think they had to buy for this?” Lisa asked.

“For those injuries? Not enough,” Dracula murmured back.

Once the play ended Clara had to go help take everything down and clean up, leaving Lisa with a hug and Dracula with a not-completely-insincere “Thanks for coming!”

Lisa was prepared to call it a weird night and head home, get some rest and get her head on straight. But as they walked through the doors into the crisp night air Dracula said, “I have something for you.”

She blinked up at him. He looked a little…awkward? Embarrassed? “Oh?” Lisa asked faintly. “What is it?”

He glanced at the crowd milling outside the doors. “Not here,” he said, and began to steer her away from the crowd with a hand between her shoulder blades.

Lisa wasn’t sure if she didn’t like where this was going, or if she really liked where this was going. But he just led her slightly out of the way of traffic, near a little coffee place that had already shut down for the night. Then he fished a box out of his coat pocket and handed it to her. It was black, unlabeled, and velvety, small enough to fit in the palm of her hand. It felt…expensive. She glanced up warily, but he only raised an eyebrow, expectant. So Lisa opened the lid.

The pendant was small, a circle of gleaming iridescent stone—opal, maybe—set in gold on a thin chain. Lisa’s heartbeat picked up. This wasn’t something you did for a curiosity, or an acquaintance, or even a friend. It wasn’t, as far as she had thought, something Dracula did at all.

Before she could overthink too much, Dracula said, “It’s enchanted. If someone tries to cast a spell upon you directly—to alter your memories, for instance—it will end the spell and alert you to the attempt.”

It took her a moment to make the connection. Lisa’s mouth fell open a little and then a smile spread across her face. This was actually sweet. “I—thank you,” she said, at a loss for words. When she said that it hadn’t even been a real concern, but…

He held out a hand. “May I?”

So Lisa turned and let him fasten the necklace on her. “Thanks,” she managed again.

“You needn’t keep thanking me.” He sounded almost embarrassed about it. Maybe vampires weren’t supposed to do this kind of thing—or maybe it was him.

“I don’t know what else to say.” Lisa eyed him. What she wanted to do was kiss him, but one kind gesture didn’t mean it would stop being a bad idea. And a hug seemed…logistically difficult.

Dracula bent down, bracketing her in a way that never looked quite human. “Perhaps,” he started. His eyes roved her and landed on her mouth. And she realized she hadn’t been misreading things at all. Or, at least, she definitely wasn’t now. They stood there frozen for a moment, Lisa’s heart pounding too loud in her ears.

Then she took a step back. “It’s getting late,” she said. “I should head home. But I’m glad to see you, um, out and about.” She nearly grimaced at how banal it was, but—she needed to do something, put some distance between them. “I’ll see you in a couple days?”

Dracula drew himself back up to his full height a little stiffly. “You shall,” he said. It sounded like an order.

Chapter Text

From: Vlad
I’ve a visitor who wants to speak to you.

To: Vlad
why/who

From: Vlad
The Belmont matriarch. She knows you’ve been visiting my castle often and wants to ensure you aren’t under my thrall.

To: Vlad
should i be worried

From: Vlad
If anything is wrong, she’ll try to kill me, not you.

To: Vlad
so, yes
i’ll be there in an hour

From: Vlad
Thank you.

To: Vlad
anything else i should know?

From: Vlad
She’s a werewolf. If you lie, she’ll likely be able to tell.


Of all the hunting families mentioned in Dracula’s journals, the Belmonts had come up the most. They were the ones who first made the rules vampires—and probably other supernatural creatures—had to live by. Dracula had commented, once or twice, on several of the clan being monstrous themselves. Lisa still wasn’t sure how that worked.

Dracula obviously resented them, but Lisa was ambivalent. Vampires had been killing a hell of a lot of people, back in the day. It seemed like every other page of Dracula’s journals before 1800 or so mentioned a murder. But hunters hadn’t been the most ethical people in the world either. She’d found tales of dhampir children murdered, vampires vivisected and bolted open to keep from healing, the kind of thing that left her too nauseous to keep reading for more than a page or two.

Vampires, at least, she’d had a chance to meet in the modern day. She was interested to see what modern hunters were like.

Lisa found the Belmont woman and Dracula up in the lab, both of them studiously trying to ignore one another—the woman by examining the contents of his lab, Dracula by reading. When Lisa poked her head in the door the woman yanked her head out of the cabinet, gave her a once-over, and turned to Dracula. “This the girl?”

“I’ve got a name. And I haven’t been a girl for a few years now,” Lisa snapped. The woman blinked. From the corner of her eye Lisa saw Dracula begin to smirk. “It’s Lisa Seward, by the way. Who are you?”

The woman gave her another, more assessing once-over. “Rahela Belmont. Vlad and I go way back. Has he told you about any of that?”

Lisa cocked her head. She loved being talked down to. Highlight of her day. “Is this the part where you tell me he’s Dracula and you’re a werewolf who’s also a vampire hunter?”

If that surprised Rahela, she didn’t show it. But Dracula sounded all too pleased with himself when he told her, “I warned you.”

Lisa bit back a grin. She’d always wanted to merit a warning label.

Rahela shot him a glare. “This is the part where we have a little chat,” she said. “Vlad, do you have a normal-sized room in this place? Somewhere private?”

“Lisa, you know where the old servant’s kitchen is on the first floor?” Dracula asked. Lisa nodded. It was the one she usually used to grab snacks. “There are also kennels on the lower floors, if that would be preferable.”

“Bastard,” muttered Rahela, rolling her eyes. “Lisa? Kitchen work for you?”

Lisa gave her a thumbs up. “I just need a…”

“Here,” Dracula said. He made a sharp gesture, and a blank notebook and pen flew over to Lisa’s outstretched hands. She beamed at him. Rahela watched the exchange with a raised eyebrow, and then they set off.

Rahela radiated presence, so much that Lisa was surprised to find she was actually taller as they walked side by side. But Rahela was stocky, too, the sleeves of her T-shirt drawn tight over scarred biceps. Her hair was scruffy, brown striped with grey, chopped short and pulled into a messy braid. Lisa led her to the kitchen with its rickety furniture straight out of a period reenactment.

Rahela pulled out one of the thin wooden out from under the table and sprawled out in it, leaning the chair back on two legs. Lisa couldn’t decide if she was genuinely as sure of herself as she seemed, or if it was all an elaborate act for Lisa’s benefit. Or Dracula’s. “So I’ve got a few questions for you.”

Lisa sat down, opened the notebook, and scribbled the date at the top of the page. “Excellent. I have some for you, too.”

Nonplussed, Rahela said, “Yeah, we’re going to do mine first. How long have you known Dracula?”

Lisa frowned and looped her finger around the chain of her necklace. “A little over a month, I think?” She counted backwards and said, more confidently, “Six weeks.”

“And when did you learn he was a vampire?”

“Six weeks, minus ten minutes,” Lisa said with a small smile.

Slowly Rahela nodded. “Did you have any previous knowledge of vampires, or…”

Lisa shook her head, and Rahela made a go on motion. “I start medical school next month and asked him to pay my tuition. He agreed in return for regular blood donations—”

“Wait wait wait. You just walked up to the creepy castle to…ask for a scholarship?” Rahela asked, eyes narrowed and head cocked—listening for a lie, maybe.

Lisa shrugged. “Rich people give scholarships all the time. I figured it couldn’t hurt, any more than a few hundred thousand dollars of debt would hurt.” She didn’t have to mention her original plan, right?

Rahela’s chair legs hit the floor with a thunk and she leaned heavily on the table. “And you agreed to let him feed off you?”

She shrugged again. “Some people sell plasma. Which brings me to my first question. Are there any potential side effects I should be aware of? Risk of disease, any chance I could turn?” Dracula had said no to both, and he hadn’t given her a reason to doubt him—but she didn’t like having only one source.

Rahela stared at her. “Well, there’s the risk you could die,” she said slowly, as if talking to a stubborn child.

Lisa tapped her pen impatiently against the notebook. “Mmhmm. Besides that.”

“This isn’t a medical lab. I know he’s got all that science crap, but there are no sterile needles here or a nice phlebotomist making sure they don’t draw too much blood.” At least he has snacks, Lisa thought, and had to bite the corner of her lip to keep from giggling. “When he bites you, you are being eaten alive,” Rahela finished firmly.

The urge to condescend right back warred with Lisa’s urge to make a remark about something else he could eat. Impatiently she said, “Yes, that’s why I want to make sure I can’t contract anything. Can he carry disease? Or can I be turned into a vampire from regular bites?”

Rahela blinked back at her for a moment and then sighed. “No, you probably won’t catch anything. Vamps’ body chemistry is hostile to life or something, I’m not sure, I’m not a scientist. And turning is…a multi-step process.” She narrowed her eyes. “Is that what you’re after?”

She’d thought about it—not much, just the inevitable result of learning vampires existed in the first place. At some point she might want to consider turning more seriously, but for now she knew that being unable to walk in the sun would make the rest of her medical career much more difficult. “I don’t think so.” With a laugh, she added, “Maybe a few decades from now. I’d rather not spend eternity getting carded.”

For a second Rahela’s eyes glinted yellow. “Do you actually understand what he is? What he could do to you? The only reason he stopped killing people is because he knows he’s outclassed now. But it’s only a matter of time before he slips up. These old vampires, they’re like lions in a zoo. A few years in captivity doesn’t make him tame. You’ll find out the hard way if you stick your fingers through the bars.” Her scowl intensified. “You seem smart, Lisa. Too smart not to take this seriously.”

Okay, that was enough.

“You need to take me seriously first,” she snapped. Rahela opened her mouth to speak but Lisa held up a finger. “I’m not finished. Whether you think this is a good idea or not, I’m letting him drink from me. Right now I have exactly one—very biased—source of information on vampires. Your bias goes another way. That’s good for me. I’m not a wannabe Lucy Westenra, here, so stop with the fearmongering. Tell me the actual risks if you want me to be safe so badly. When was the last time he killed someone?”

By the time she finished she was quite loud, and Rahela was giving her a reassessing stare. About damned time. “The last time that we can confirm was 1863.”

Judging from his notes that was far from the last time. Revulsion bubbled up in Lisa’s stomach, but besides that was satisfaction, too, that she knew something these hunters didn’t. She kept her face blank and swirled a circle in the air with her finger around Rahela. “And when did this…arrangement…begin?”

A grimace flickered across Rahela’s face. “June 1988.”

Well, Lisa hadn’t found anything newer than that, at least. “Give me the rundown. How did it happen? Who exactly is in charge? And what are the rules?”

With this, at least, Rahela seemed to relax. “Basically, around the turn of the century hunters started combining science and magic. Daylight guns, spells that mimicked contained nuclear explosions or tracked deaths by exsanguination, all kinds of shit. And humanity got actual institutions that can operate at scale and at a distance even without magic. Some of the more heavy-weight vampires could put up a fight—Dracula included. If it came down to a real war, he could take out a lot of the world, but we would win, and we both knew it. None of us thought a war was worth it, so we came to an agreement.

“There are a few hunting families, some sorcerers here and there. Everyone has their own specialty. Belmonts,” she tapped her collarbone, “keep an eye on vampires, especially this guy. The rules are about what you’d expect. No murder, no unwilling turnings, that kind of thing.” She glared at Lisa for a long moment, and then as if at great personal cost added, “Give me your phone.”

Lisa smiled beatifically and did. Rahela fiddled with it while Lisa scribbled down notes. “I’ll send you the whole rulebook. If you have questions, or if you need help with him, we’ll be there.”

She handed the phone back. Lisa checked but it looked as if Rahela had only sent a text to herself. “And what happens if a vampire breaks those rules? You kill them?”

“All vampires? Sometimes. This vampire? Most of the time, yeah.”

One family, secretly playing judge, jury, and executioner for a whole species, didn’t strike Lisa as particularly fair. She wondered if it was a Belmont who had attacked Niklas. “Seems a little…zealous,” Lisa said slowly.

Rahela huffed. “Look. This isn’t guilty until proven innocent. Vampires are more violent than humans, but we know they’re capable of controlling themselves. Dracula already is a mass murderer. If he wanted to, he could slaughter your whole town before we got to him, and that’s without getting an army together. So yeah, we don’t give him much slack.”

Lisa chewed on her lip. “I understand.”

“Do you.”

“I don’t agree,” Lisa said quickly, “but I understand.”

Rahela blew a breath out through her nose. “So what are you doing here, Lisa? You’re going to be a doctor, you can manage some debt. Why is it worth sticking around a killer? You know, no matter how well you get along, he’s always going to want to kill you too. That’s just what being a vampire means.”

Lisa frowned, staring first past Rahela and then at her notebook, swoops of ink stark against the white paper.

First of all, she thought, you don’t know how much med school costs. Visiting him almost every day hadn’t been part of their original agreement, though. She could have taken the money and left it at that, no need to get so tangled up with him. She curled the necklace chain more tightly around her finger. “Maybe if I’d known him when he was still killing, I would think differently,” she said slowly. “He told me himself he’s always going to want to hurt people. That bothered me, but…he can want whatever he likes as long as he doesn’t do it.”

Rahela leaned forward further, trying to get more in Lisa’s face. “And if he does start killing again?”

That one was easier. “Depends on the circumstances,” Lisa said promptly. Rahela made a frustrated noise. “I’m not you, okay? There are plenty of justified reasons a human might have for killing someone. And what counts as killing, anyway? If he kills another vampire, will you care?”

She didn’t mean it as a rhetorical question, but Rahela only scoffed. “You still didn’t answer my question.”

Lisa touched the spot on her neck where she’d been bitten. It wasn’t even sore now; she could only find it by muscle memory, though they’d fix that soon. “Absent anything else, I’d be here because this—magic, the supernatural, his science, everything—it’s a whole new world for me. If I put my mind to it, I could use this to help a lot of people. So could he. How could I walk away from that?” She leaned back in her chair. The answer was true, but it didn’t feel like enough, either.

Rahela’s eyes narrowed. “That’s it. You’re just here because of your love of discovery.”

“Yep.”

“Nope.”

Lisa huffed and crossed her arms more tightly. She was just going to have to say it, wasn’t she. “I like him,” Lisa said finally.

Rahela raised an eyebrow. “You like him.” There was that you’re an idiot tone to her voice again.

Lisa couldn’t even be mad. (Well. Not that mad.) She’d been calling herself stupid for this the whole time, hadn’t she? Dracula was unexpectedly kind, and thoughtful, and his first blundering attempts to scare her were more endearing in hindsight. She could talk about ideals, discovery, and plans for the future, and none of them were untrue. But whatever was going on between her and Dracula wasn’t a matter of principle. It wasn’t something she could reason herself out of any more than she had reasoned herself into it. She liked his dry humor and his odd sincerity. She’d liked the way his teeth felt in her neck.

Maybe Lisa was fooling herself; maybe he really was just biding his time until he could be a monster again. But she still wanted to pry him out of his castle, see what he could be once he was exposed to the light. The moonlight, at least.

She settled on saying, “He takes me seriously.”

Perhaps sensing—finally—that Lisa would not budge, Rahela groaned out loud. “Lisa, he doesn’t even have a soul,” she tried, sounding resigned to failure.

Lisa scribbled soul??? Cant be external locus of personality or V wouldn’t have in her notebook. “That’s an interesting perspective,” Lisa said as she wrote. “Can you explain what a soul does?”

Instead Rahela sighed. “Well, you’re not under thrall.” She pushed herself to her feet. “Call me if you have questions. Or if you need any help. I mean it.”

Lisa nodded. She didn’t know whether she’d ever end up calling the hunters—she hoped she wouldn’t have to—but it was still reassuring, to know Dracula wasn’t her only connection to the supernatural anymore.

“And you know he’s probably been listening this whole time, right?” Rahela asked. “He keeps clairvoyance spells hanging all over the place.”

Lisa pointed at the security camera, hanging in a corner near the door. “Thanks for only bringing that up after the interview, though,” she said dryly.

Rahela shrugged, unrepentant, offered a handshake. Her grip was strong but it didn’t feel like she was doing that as a power play, at least. “Good luck with school, kid.”

Somehow kid felt nicer than girl. Lisa let it go.

Dracula was waiting for them, dramatically placed on the first-floor balcony opposite the door. Lisa waved. “You have no further business here,” he told Rahela, and didn’t smile so much as bare his teeth. “I recommend you leave.”

Lisa almost reminded him about the whole manners thing, but Rahela just rolled her eyes as she headed for the door. “Don’t get your codpiece in a twist. I’ll be back soon enough.”

“Why don’t you bring your child?” Dracula drawled. “I’d love to see who will have to stand against me next.”

Rahela’s jaw tightened and her hand twitched toward her—still flat—stomach. “Creep,” she muttered, and threw open one door, letting in a ray of sunlight that Dracula had to sidestep. Then she turned back to Lisa to call, “Hey, he’s told you about dhampirs, right? Be safe!”

“Excuse me?” Lisa asked, face lighting up red. Dracula just sighed. The door drifted shut with Rahela’s cackle still echoing through it. “Jesus, why does everyone assume we’re…” She trailed off with a frustrated noise and went back to the kitchen. She needed water.

She was specifically refusing to have any kind of relationship with Dracula, and it didn’t even matter because people kept thinking she did anyway. Part of her wanted to just…go for it, whatever, but she still couldn’t help but feel like it was a bad idea. If they were involved like that, wouldn’t she be responsible for him? If he hurt someone, she’d have to—

Lisa paused halfway through her glass of water. Wait a second.

Dracula pushed open the door while she was still staring at the opposite wall. “Are you alright?” he asked.

She held up a finger. “I’m thinking.” He gave her a droll look; she grinned, but it faded as her thoughts turned.

He listened to her; she knew that much. Maybe he’d never be truly altruistic, but no one was. Maybe his first instinct would always be to hurt people, but neither of them could help that.

If he started killing people again—it would be her problem, because she’d probably be the first to know, but it wouldn’t be her responsibility, would it? When she’d seen Niklas’s blood on the stoop that had been her first thought, that judgment was all up to her. But it wasn’t, really. Never had been.

“Did you hear all of that?” she asked, gesturing to the table. Dracula nodded. “You do know that if you started murdering people for food again I would have to call them. I couldn’t let that happen.”

He actually chuckled. Lisa raised an eyebrow. “Of course. You wouldn’t be yourself if you didn’t.” He caught sight of her expression; what face she was making Lisa couldn’t say, but he sobered quickly. “I have no plans to do so, you know. Somehow I managed to refrain from hunting for years before you came along.”

Slowly, she nodded. There was that, too. She finished off her glass of water and set it on the counter. Then she eyed him speculatively, tapping her knuckle against her lips. Lisa liked that he was so tall, but it definitely had its disadvantages.

His eyes narrowed as he picked up on her changing mood. “What are you—”

Lisa stepped forward, too into his personal space, and rested her hand on his chest. Dracula froze. She should have been able to feel his heartbeat but of course there was nothing like that, only the shallow rise and fall of his chest under his shirt until that froze, too. She shoved, just a little, her eyes darting up to his face. His head tilted and then he allowed himself to be pushed into the rickety chair Rahela had left pulled out. It creaked with his weight.

The room felt hushed, all the silence of the castle pressing in on them. “Thank you,” she said softly, reluctant to break it. He was still taller than her, but not insurmountably so when she leaned forward and kissed him. He allowed it, tilted his head a fraction, gave her a better angle around his fangs, but not much more than that. Lisa pulled back, trying to keep her face neutral though she knew he’d see right through it.

Alright, maybe she’d misread things, wouldn’t be the first time. Lisa tried to step away, but one big hand spread across the small of her back and tugged her closer so they were nearly nose to nose. He hesitated for a moment, but all that came out of his mouth was, “Are you sure? Now?”

“I’m sure,” she promised.

His irises were redder than she had ever seen them, bright as garnets. Was that good or bad? “Good,” he said, and leaned forward to kiss her again. And that was what she was looking for. Lisa’s fingers twisted in his shirt and she smiled, a relieved exhale that he swallowed. Dracula leaned back, pulling her with him. Lisa cupped her hand around the back of his neck and hiked one knee up onto the chair, between his legs—the position was a little ridiculous, but she was straddling his leg and leaning full-length against his chest, so she didn’t mind.

Despite that he kissed her slowly, almost chaste. Impatiently Lisa nipped at his bottom lip. And then she promptly cut her own lip on one of his fangs.

“Ow.” She flinched back, more surprised than hurt.

One of Dracula’s hands came up to her chin. “I—apologize,” he said, voice rough.

Lisa straightened as much as she could and touched the puncture with her finger. It stung, but not too much, and her fingertip came away bloody. His fingers flexed against her spine. “It’s fine.” The sound of her own voice took her aback; was she really that breathless? But she looked up and saw Dracula was staring at her mouth as if hypnotized. “Vlad?”

His eyes darted up to meet hers and emotion flashed across his face—part guilt, part…not guilt. “Yes?”

She poked at the puncture gently with her tongue, braced herself, and held her finger up to his lips. “Don’t be careful with me.”

For a moment there was nothing, no reaction but the twitch of his hand at her back and a very slight widening of his eyes. Then he grabbed her wrist and his mouth closed over her finger, wiping it clean of blood. And before Lisa could do more than blink he’d scooped her up, set her fully down on his lap, and yanked her mouth to his with his fingers in her hair.

She laughed against his mouth, surprise and delight in one, and felt his answering smile. He was still calculated, no doubt about that, he kissed her purposefully and methodically like he was conducting an experiment. It was easy to meet him there—figure out how to get her tongue past his fangs, where to time her breath when her partner wasn’t breathing, how to press down on the bite so iron flooded their mouths.

His body warmed under hers as heat pooled between Lisa’s legs. She dragged her nails down his chest with just enough pressure to sting and rolled her hips forward when he shuddered. And—he couldn’t be hard, not already, but there was definitely something there. When it ground against her in just the right spot her breath hitched and she did it again.

And stopped. Because now she could definitely feel him getting hard, unmistakable even though his trousers and her jeans, only that couldn’t be right. She broke away from him for a moment, looking down between them, and—yeah, she could see the outline of his dick through his trousers.

“What,” he started, sounding a little dazed.

“You’re huge,” Lisa said. God, how was that even going to fit in her.

He’d been so prudish the first time she said anything sexual—it took her entirely by surprise to hear his half-grumpy, “Did you expect anything less?” And then he smirked.

Lisa’s face was on fire. “Do you have any lube?” Or muscle relaxers?

“No?”

Lisa could feel them losing the mood but this was important, dammit. “Can you get some? Or is there a spell or—” Thank god she had the shot, at least.

“Why would there be a spell for that?” Dracula asked, and there was the scandalized tone. “Lisa, if you don’t think you can, er, manage, we don’t have to—”

“Vlad.” She pulled on his collar and leaned into him so that their foreheads touched and her nose brushed his. Very solemnly she asked, “Are you calling me a quitter?”

“I wouldn’t dare,” he said, voice just as serious.

She pecked him on the mouth. “Good boy.”

Dracula hadn’t struck her as someone who could snicker but at that he did. His hand slid down to her butt and pushed up; Lisa obligingly rose up on her knees as he trailed his mouth along the underside of her jaw. She reached for his cravat just as he nipped at her neck. Lisa gasped and promptly lost her balance, falling against him. The chair creaked dangerously. “Alright?” he asked.

Blushing, Lisa rested her head against his chest. “Very alright,” she managed. “But, um, bedroom?”

He stood abruptly, picking her up with him, and Lisa’s breath hitched at the casual display. Her stomach swooped out as he took them there and she closed her eyes against the sudden burst of wind. He stopped just as abruptly as he had begun. Lisa drew back to get a look at the room, her legs still locked around his hips, but there was no light except for a little leaking from down the hall; she could barely make out the silhouette of the man in front of her.

She was really doing this. Him. Lisa reached up to cup his face. She could barely make out the shining red of his eyes. He turned his head to press his lips to her palm. “And you believed I didn’t do this,” he said, sounding frustrated enough she suspected he’d wanted to say something since he’d heard her. Lisa snorted. “I thought I was obvious.”

“I thought you just wanted to bite me!”

Her eyes had adjusted enough to make out his raised eyebrow. “I can want both. You certainly did, as I recall.”

Fair enough. “Maybe next time. Now put me down.”

He took her literally and dropped her none-too-gently on the bed. Lisa leaned back into the nest of pillows and kicked her flats off to the side. Dracula threw his suit jacket in the same direction before his mouth found hers again. She reached for his cravat and fumbled with it for a minute before he took pity and undid it for her. She could, at least, unbutton his shirt without assistance—so she did, even if she was distracted by a cool hand slipping under her T-shirt, and shoved his shirt down his arms.

Dracula had never exactly shown skin; she’d never even seen him roll his sleeves up, so she wasn’t sure what she would find. He looked strong, muscle thick in his chest and shoulders and what she could see of his arms, but somehow soft too—not exactly a bodybuilder. She ran her hand under the edge of one of his pecs and took a moment to enjoy the view.

“What?”

With her free hand Lisa pushed the hair out of his face and tapped her thumb against one sharp cheekbone. “You’re sexy,” she told him seriously, and he ducked his head. She got the distinct feeling that if he could be blushing, he would be. Telling him he was adorable might be pushing it for now.

“And you—” Dracula ducked further down her body and shoved her shirt up, pressing his mouth to her hip. Lisa jerked. She could feel the imprint of his fangs. “—have the advantage of me.” His mouth was careful as he kissed and nipped his way up her stomach, her ribs, but his hands weren’t; she could feel the ends of his talons scratch at her skin. It stung enough that she knew there would be marks. Good, she thought.

Lisa helped him, pulling her shirt her head as his mouth found her nipple through her bra. Lisa swore, hips bucking up. He made a satisfied noise, reached up her spine until he found her bra strap—and fumbled. “Front clasp,” she said, arching her back and biting back a smile. “So you aren’t good at ev—oh.

Dracula tweaked her nipple again. “Sorry, what was that?”

“Mmm, nothing, carry on.” Dick. Her dick. Lisa smirked. After a moment he reversed course, mouth moving back down her ribs. She grabbed a fistful of hair and tugged as if to pull him back up. “Don’t—fangs.”

He paused with one hand on her zipper. “Yes?”

God, she couldn’t believe she was about to say this. “You’re not trying to eat me out, right? Fangs are great, still don’t want them there.” And, if she was being honest… “I’m pretty concerned about the talons too.” Lisa poked a line of raw skin on her side and her fingertips came away damp. His eyes followed the movement and narrowed as if he was just now realizing she had limits.

“Don’t be,” he said. Lisa frowned; he grabbed her hand and pressed it. “Trust me?”

Lisa let out a breath. “Yeah. Yeah, okay.”

Dracula nudged her legs open and cupped her through her jeans first, running his knuckle along the inseam until Lisa gasped. Experimentally he circled her clit, faster and faster until he found a rhythm that had her rocking against his hand. Lisa’s fingers dug into the bedspread as her orgasm started to build, legs shaking—

And he stopped.

Lisa’s hips stuttered again, looking for friction, but he pressed her legs back down into the bed. “Oh fuck you,” she gasped. Dracula chuckled. “You are evil, fuck, take my fucking pants off.” Lisa was already undoing her zipper as she spoke, but he hooked his fingers around her waistband and pulled her jeans down, throwing them somewhere across the room. “Now get on the bed.”

“If you insist.” He still looked too pleased with himself as he leaned back against the headboard. Lisa wanted to wreck him. She settled for straddling his lap and grinding down against him. He was definitely hard now—at least, she hoped he was—and his words trailed off as he sucked in a breath. Then she dug her teeth into his shoulder, hard enough that on a human it would have broken the skin, and felt his dick twitch.

They’d have to look into that later. For now, she grabbed his hand and guided it between her legs. “Do it again.”

Lisa nearly cried the second time he edged her—more careful, now, with only her underwear between her and his hand, but she was so keyed up it didn’t take long. Her legs were still shaking when she reached for his waistband. Lisa didn’t even move off his lap, just rose up on her knees enough for him to push his trousers down, and she got her hand around his dick as soon as she could.

Fuck.” It was the first time she’d heard him swear. Lisa could have fist-pumped; she stroked him instead.

He was—as she’d thought—fucking big, not just long but girthy too. Proportionate to rest of him, but Lisa could barely wrap her hand around it. She licked her lips and ran her thumb along the leaking tip. Dracula shuddered. “Can I—let me—trousers,” he managed.

Lisa glanced up at him, her face flushed, and let go long enough for him to finish kicking off his clothes. Belatedly she realized she was still wearing her underwear and threw that off too. She nearly toppled over in her haste and, grinning, Dracula guided her back down onto his lap. Lisa ground herself along his length and they both made embarrassingly needy noises, but—this was going to be tricky.

“Bite me,” she said.

His hands tightened—one was on her thigh, one on her ass. “What?”

“When I get on you, can you—”

His eyes went very wide. “Yes,” he said quickly. Her hair tie had nearly fallen out of her ponytail altogether, and he impatiently pulled it off and grabbed her hair with one hand as he lowered his mouth to her neck. With one hand Lisa lined him up against her entrance, grabbing his shoulder to steady herself; she slid down onto him as his fangs slipped through her skin, flooding her system with adrenaline.

It hurt, they both hurt, and the insides of her legs felt slick and dripping. Lisa’s heart pounded like it might burst from her chest. Her nails dug into Dracula’s hip, his shoulder, and she whimpered pathetically. He swallowed and then pulled his fangs out of her, only to kiss her again, her blood still wet and coppery in his mouth as he bottomed out.

They couldn’t do more than grind in this position, really, and Lisa didn’t mind that at all—her legs weren’t up for more—and it was more than enough to feel his body moving against hers, all that soft strength, skin still cool but warmer now that he’d been near her for so long. Dracula’s mouth found her collarbone and she felt him murmuring something in a language she didn’t quite recognize, couldn’t focus on—it didn’t matter, she understood the gist. Her orgasm built up slowly, each brush of her clit against his skin sending quivering aftershocks through her until she came, biting her lip against the sound of it. He wasn’t far behind. She knew it would be messy, she’d never done this without a condom, but she didn’t care. She squeezed her knees against his hips and lifted up, riding him through it even as her legs protested.

He was quiet for a long minute after. Lisa couldn’t blame him. She didn’t know what to say herself, so she pressed her fingers under his chin. His eyes closed briefly as she pecked him on the mouth, and then she unhooked her legs from around his waist and carefully rolled off, sprawling next to him on her back.

“Are you alright?” he asked after a moment. His eyes roved her in a way that made Lisa want to sit up and preen.

But she was exhausted, and her back felt raw and sore, so she rolled over onto her side instead. “No complaints,” she managed. “But, um, ask me in the morning.”

At some point she’d live out that fantasy where he railed her over a lab table, but she knew her limits. They’d get there.

He nodded and silence fell for a moment. Cold metal pressed into her neck and Lisa realized she’d left his pendant on. She snorted and unfastened the chain, reaching over to place it on the nightstand. “What exactly prompted you now?” he asked, once Lisa had settled back on the bed.

Her brain felt so sluggish it took her a moment to remember. “I just realized, um, it’s not my problem if you start killing people again.” Dracula only looked more confused. “I mean—if there are hunters, then that means I’m not actually responsible for what you do? Like, obviously I’ll care, because I care about you and I don’t want you to be evil. But I don’t have to be your conscience. Does that make sense?”

Dracula leaned back against the headboard and closed his eyes. “I could have told you that weeks ago,” he drawled. For an ageless undead being of untold strength, he sounded exhausted.

Lisa shrugged. “And I would have said you just wanted to get laid,” she said lightly, sitting up and stretching her arms over her head. Her bicep protested; she glanced at it and frowned at the red ringing her arm, an obvious precursor to a bruise. Thank God he hadn’t grabbed her wrists. She didn’t need Clara staging an intervention.

“That’s not all I want,” he said, so seriously she had to turn back. “You know me better than anyone since I was human—you know better than that.”

After everything they’d done, that was what made her stomach flutter with nerves. Dracula’s hand closed around hers and she squeezed.

“You know,” he repeated, a little helplessly.

Lisa nodded and leaned back against his arm, closing her eyes. “I know.” She kissed his bicep because she needed to kiss him and didn’t want to move.

It was too late to detangle herself now. She was keeping him.