Face to Face – 1/3 – Ladynero

Title: Face to Face
Author: Ladynero
Fandom: Vampire Hunter D, Castlevania (Netflix)
Genre: Action Adventure, BDSM, Het, Horror, Menage or more, Paranormal/Supernatural, Slash
Relationship(s): Meier Link/Charlotte Elbourne/Vampire Hunter D, Alan Elbourne/Ten Heart (OFC), Ten Heart (OFC)/Jack Heart(OMC)
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Incest, Major Character Death, Violence – Graphic, Negotiated non-con in a BDSM relationship, Murder, Blood play, Blood drinking
Author Notes: See notes tab on Summary Post for warnings related to specific chapters and other author notes.
Word Count: 81,930
Summary: A twist of fate, or perhaps an act of compassion, has the vampire Noble Meier Link and his human love, Charlotte Elbourne, whisked off to a new life where they will be free to love each other without fear or persecution. Yet family is not so easily denied, and Alan Elbourne wants to know the fate of his sister, unsatisfied with the story he was told. Falling in with the Royal Heart family, a group of con artists, thieves, and murderers, he hunts for Charlotte, determined to bring her home one way or another. Standing between the lovers and the crooks is the enigmatic Vampire Hunter known only as D, but it is not only bodies but hearts on the line when they all come face to face.
Artist: Izzy Hound



Chapter 1

 

“I’m taking her back. Back to her family who loved her.”

Absolute fury filled Meier Link, washing away the slowly fading beat of Charlotte’s heart and the grief that wanted to crush him in the face of such a loss. He gently placed Charlotte on the cold marble floor before whirling, launching himself at the vampire hunter known as D, determined to make the dhampir feel the pain and grief Meier Link felt gripping his heart. His cape shifted into a pair of lethal bat-like wings, and he swung the razor sharp edge at D. How dare this half-breed upstart decide that Charlotte’s family loved her more than he!

Only, the dhampir wasn’t there when his wing came down. Meier Link whirled around the second his feet touched the ground, trying to locate the source of his fury when he spotted D kneeling next to Charlotte. On Charlotte’s other side was the female hunter who had been such an annoyance during this whole trip. The pale haired Noble barely noticed the sorrow and resignation on the woman’s face as she stared down at his love, already lunging for them both.

“Get away from her!”

He wasn’t aware of the words bursting from his mouth as he lunged at them, trying to drive them off without harming Charlotte further. He couldn’t bear the thought of accidentally hurting her, no matter what her condition currently was.

Before he could get close, D whirled around, rising to his full height, and he lashed out with his left hand. Sliding past Meier Link’s attack with a strange ease he had not demonstrated before, those long fingers curled around the Noble’s face, and Meier Link froze in surprise at the gentle touch so similar to a lover’s caress. It seemed to soothe him as an almost drowsy haze drifted over his mind, easing his fury and loss of his loved one.

No! How dare this dhampir try to take his grief and rage, the last gift from Charlotte. He was Baron Mayerling, Overseer of the Western Frontier Sector, and a Greater Noble! He refused to allow this half-blood hunter to claim anything that his lady love had given him, even in her death. Shaking his head, Meier Link forced that tranquil feeling away only to blink in confusion. It actually took a few minutes for his mind to understand exactly what he was seeing as it was completely different from what his surroundings had been before that strange touch. He was in his coffin, and from the feeling of movement, he was traveling somewhere.

Where was Castle Chaythe? Had Carmilla’s betrayal been some horrible nightmare brought about by his injuries and being chased by determined hunters? Carefully, he opened the lid of his coffin and sat up, looking around. Lying on a makeshift bed of blankets and pillows in one corner of his coach was Charlotte. She was still incredibly pale and drawn, and there was an IV running from a bag hanging above her to her arm, but now that he was listening, he could hear her heart beating. Steady and slow, each thump announced her continued existence.

Somehow, Meier Link managed to stumble over to her, nearly falling when his foot got caught on the lip of his coffin, and he collapsed to his knees next to her. His hands shook with fear that he was hallucinating again, and the second he touched her, she would vanish forever. Still, he knew he had to risk it if only for his own peace of mind. When his fingers touched warm skin, he collapsed at the feel of the steady pulse beneath his fingers that matched the one in his ears.

“Charlotte.”

Meier Link breathed her name like a prayer before he lowered his head and wept in sheer relief. She was alive! The hunters hadn’t taken her back to her father or her thug of a brother, but that still left several unanswered questions that crashed down on him now that his mind was not clouded with grief. Why were they in his coach? Who had tended to Charlotte? How had he gotten into his coffin with no memory of the time between facing off against the hunters and now? Where were they going? The need to answer those questions pressed harder against him than the desire to remain at Charlotte’s side. Even if only to ensure she was safe while she recovered from Carmilla’s attack.

Rising to his feet, the pale haired Noble moved over to where the information panel was and activated the external sensors. The cameras showed the coach was traveling through a heavily forested mountain range that Meier Link was unfamiliar with, the trees growing so thick and tall as to cast the ground beneath them in a constant twilight. It was the sort of area a Noble would certainly enjoy if only for the overall Gothic feel that was the lingering aesthetic Nobles preferred when arranging for their homes.

Unfortunately, there was not a single landmark to inform Meier Link of their location, much to his frustration The data that the cyberhorses were running much faster and harder than their projected speed for hours now had a chill running down his spine. At that sort of speed there was no telling where in the Frontier they were. He tried to call up the mapping function only to discover it was offline and had been since they left Castle Chaythe. Not even turning the device off completely and restarting it could get the onboard computer to connect to the ancient ring of satellites that ensured the Nobility could find their way no matter where they were or heading.

If this was some sort of trap, Meier Link was well and truly caught. Whomever this was had tended to Charlotte’s injuries and blood loss before spiriting them both off to only they knew where. Was Charlotte’s health a peace offering or blackmail to hold over his head to ensure his continued good behavior and compliance with whatever their captor wished of him? If it was the latter, then his captors would discover they had attempted to cage a panther and would pay dearly for such an insult towards his love.

The screen suddenly beeped before it and the control panel went dark, and Meier Link softly snarled as he tried desperately to restart the system. Never before had it failed him, not even when his coach had been nearly destroyed years before he had met Charlotte. Yet no matter what he did, the screen remained stubbornly black. His fear for Charlotte grew with each passing second. He had nearly lost her once, and he would die before he let her be taken from him again. Transforming his left hand into the deadly armored claw his family was known for, Meier Link wrapped his cape around him and settled between Charlotte and the door, prepared to fight to a permanent death to keep his lady love safe.

For the next few hours, Meier Link was a statue, not even blinking, as the coach raced to whatever destination was ahead of them. He managed to banish the fanciful speculations of various scenarios that awaited them with the ease of a predator awaiting its chance at freedom. Meier Link had grown so used to the speed the coach was traveling at that it took him a few minutes to realize they were slowing down. Apparently they had reached their destination. Whatever was going to happen, it was going to be soon.

The coach stopped, and Meier Link blinked for the first time since assuming his defensive position in front of his helpless love. Outside, he could hear multiple feet approaching before the door silently swung open. He cursed himself for a fool for not checking to see if the door was locked, but the damage was done.

“Lady Charlotte was attacked by Carmilla. See that she is taken to Medical and her injuries are seen to.”

The voice of the dhampir hunter reached Meier Link a few seconds before a pair of large human men entered the coach, bearing a stretcher between them. It wasn’t the caduceus each wore on the breast of their white jackets that marked them as healers that kept Meier Link from attacking them nor was it D’s voice.

It was the crest on their shoulder. A heater shaped shield divided vertically with alternating horizontal bars of four orange and three red on the sinister while a field of blue on the dexter held a white crescent over a six pointed gold star. The Heraldry of the House of Drăculești, the Sacred Ancestor’s House, and no one, vampire or human, would dare to use that crest for their own purpose, such was the respect and fear for the greatest of Nobles.

Without thinking about his actions, Meier Link moved aside for the healers, allowing them unfettered access to Charlotte even while his mind whirled with new questions. Wherever they were, it was obviously one of the Sacred Ancestor’s properties, but why were they brought here? And why were the servants of the Sacred Ancestor listening to a vampire hunter that was a dhampir at that? How did this dhampire even know about this castle in the first place? Surely if any vampire was keeping this place for the Sacred Ancestor, they certainly wouldn’t tolerate a dhampir and a hunter giving them orders as if he was master of the castle.

More voices pulled Meier Link out of his thoughts, and he left the coach, following the medics who were carefully carrying Charlotte on their stretcher. D was speaking to a couple of rough looking men as they stood near the five black cyberhorses still hitched to his coach, and Meier Link blinked again as he realized the fifth horse belonged to the hunter. Meier Link glanced after the healers, but his unwavering faith in the heraldry they carried had him drifting towards D, hoping for some answers. Despite everything, the Sacred Ancestor always treated guests with respect until they proved honorless.

“Have Specialist Hector check over all five of them,” D stated, pulling saddlebags off of the lead cyberhorse to sling over his shoulder. “These four have had very little rest, and mine was purchased from an engineer named Poke in Garucia. All of them have been pushed hard after we left Castle Chaythe.”

“Yes, sire. They will get the best care, and the exterior of the coach will be fixed and polished as well,” rumbled one of the men while the other took the bridle of the lead cyberhorse, clicking his tongue to get them to follow him.

D inclined his head. “I will send one of the footmen to collect any luggage after the baron has been settled in his rooms,” he stated before turning, and he inclined his head towards Meier Link in an acknowledgment of his presence. “Follow me.”

For the first time, Meier Link turned to see the castle in question only to freeze in awe and more than a little fear at the sight of the grand structure that seemed to reach to the sky. It seemed to be composed of spires that were attached to the central structure with walkways and buttresses, and Meier Link knew there was a great deal more to the castle that he could not see. There was no mistaking this structure for anything than what it was.

Castle Dracul, the home of the Sacred Ancestor and the seat of his power.

No one knew where it had vanished to or even when in time it had moved when the humans had rebelled against the vampires who had ruled them for centuries. Yet, here he was, standing before the unique structure that no one could possibly duplicate in their wildest dreams.

A strong grip on his arm pulled Meier Link forward, and he stumbled a few steps before he snapped out of his stupor. Shaking his head slightly, he pulled himself upright and the grip on his arm vanished as D stepped ahead of him, placing Meier Link in the subordinate position. That rankled but common sense kept his mouth shut as there was more going on here than he realized. Until he had more answers, Meier Link was going to watch and plan to keep Charlotte safe.

Sweeping steps led to giant double doors that stood open, and framed between them was a human. Dark of skin and bald, he had twin scars running horizontally from his right eye to vanish behind his head, and he wore the armor of the Sacred Ancestor’s Forgemaster over a long dark robe that reached his ankles. His hands were tucked behind his back and his face was emotionless, but there was something in those dark eyes that burned as they stared down at the approaching D. Something that Meier Link could not identify, and that worried him. Never before had any human been so unreadable which could cause trouble should things turn hostile for either himself or Charlotte.

“You and your… guest are requested in the Grand Hall,” the human announced, his deep voice holding a note that this was more of an order than a request, and Meier Link felt a chill of dread slide down his spine. “He has questions about your latest assignment.”

“Of course, General Isaac,” D stated, politely inclining his head to the man before moving past him. Meier Link followed, feeling those dark eyes fixed on his back until the deep boom of those massive doors closing echoed through the air.

A long red carpet stretched before them, leading to another set of double doors while armored soldiers stood on each side. Torches flickered in wall sconces, casting an eerie glow while making shadows dance around them, and Meier Link had to admit that it was a rather ingenious design while trying to ignore the creeping feeling of eyes staring at his back. The dancing shadows would hide any murder holes or spies while the whole atmosphere was one of intimidation and power, adding that much more weight to whomever was waiting for them on the other side of those doors.

The doors before them swung open to reveal a cavernous room with stairs curling up both sides to lead to a railed landing that looked out over the room. Above the landing, Meier Link could just make out more stairs leading up into the darkness, before his attention was taken by D stopping between the staircases and kneeling, his head bowed and his hat in his hand. Deciding to err on the side of caution, Meier Link also knelt for the first time in his life and bowed his head.

There was no sound before a presence filled the room, and Meier Link was glad he was kneeling as he would have dropped to the floor from the sheer force pressing on him. Never before had he experienced anything like that, but he was now certain that they had somehow been delivered to the Sacred Ancestor himself. Yet, the dhampire’s connection to the Greatest Noble was still unclear, and the one possibility was just too ridiculous to consider.

“Yakov Mordecai Tepes Dracula,” intoned a deep voice above them, and only through centuries of dealing with various other Nobles kept Meier Link’s head bowed instead of looking around to find this person. “Welcome home.”

“Thank you, Father.”

Unable to help it, Meier Link whipped his head over to stare at D in sheer disbelief. How could this dhampir be related to the Sacred Ancestor? It wasn’t possible!

“May I present Baron Mayerling, Overseer of the Western Frontier Sector,” D continued, gesturing to Meier Link with a bare hand even as his focus was on the shadows above them. Where the Sacred Ancestor stood on the landing, staring down at them, and Meier Link did not dare to look up. To look upon the Sacred Ancestor without permission was to invite one’s permanent death, and no vampire would ever be that rude to one as powerful and respected as the Sacred Ancestor. “He and his lover, Lady Charlotte Elbourne, assisted in the permanent destruction of Carmilla. Unfortunately the lady was grievously injured.”

The tiniest of flinches coursed through Meier Link at that less than truthful story. If he had not believed Carmilla’s lies about safety and assistance to the City of Night, then she would not have gained the power from Charlotte’s blood to break the seal on her coffin. Therefore, it was his fault for not only giving her the opportunity to rise in the first place but also putting Charlotte’s life at risk.

“You do not agree with my son’s assessment?”

That statement earned the Sacred Ancestor a hard and quite visible flinch, mostly from the blatant acknowledgement that the dhampire hunter was in fact the Sacred Ancestor’s son. However, the Sacred Ancestor had asked a question, and Meier Link was honor bound to answer. If only to keep the powerful vampire’s anger at a minimum.

“If I had not been taken in by Carmilla’s false promises of safety and assistance to reach the City of Night, then she would not have used Lady Charlotte’s blood to break your seal on her prison, Sire,” Meier Link admitted, bowing his head and staring at the red rug he knelt on. It was the same color as fresh blood, and he wondered if there were any stains from those that displeased the Sacred Ancestor that still lingered in the vermillion threads. Would his own join them for his honesty?

“Carmilla has always been silver tongued and knew which of her victims was vulnerable enough to sway them to her side,” remarked the Sacred Ancestor, and a touch of tension slid out of Meier Link’s shoulders. Perhaps this might not be as bad as he expected? Much better to be thought of as a gullible fool than someone who willingly moved against the Sacred Ancestor. “Yakov, bring your friend. We’ll continue this discussion in my study.”

The presence vanished, and Meier Link felt like he could breathe again. A hand rested on his shoulder, and he looked up to find D standing there, his face as unreadable as ever. Rising to his feet, Meier Link found himself staring at D, still trying to figure out why the son of the Vampire King would hunt vampires for the humans even as he automatically fell into place at D’s shoulder.

Their feet were silent as they climbed the stairs, and Meier Link was trying very hard not to gawk at his surroundings. It was difficult as none of the Mayerling family had actually been invited to Castle Dracul, and there were only the usual stories and rumors that circulated from those that were lucky enough to visit the Sacred Ancestor before his castle vanished. That had also been a time when the vague rumors began about the Sacred Ancestor simply disappearing or allowing himself to be destroyed by the humans. Meier Link was rather glad to see that neither of those stories had a basis in reality.

“Why do you let the humans butcher your name anyway?” rasped a strange voice, snapping Meier Link out of his thoughts, and he looked around for the one taking. Other than the occasional suit of armor on display, only the dhampir was there. Yet that gruff almost ugly voice most certainly did not belong to D.

There was an almost mocking laugh that Meier Link traced to D’s left hand, the same one that had covered his face before his strange loss of time, and he blinked red eyes at the sight of a tiny, wrinkled face in the hunter’s palm. Where had that come from? He was just about to ask that very question when the face opened its mouth to speak again. “Cause I gotta admit. I’ve never known one of you Noble bastards to tolerate such a blatant insult from humans.”

“It was a little girl of about three I think,” the vampire stated with a shrug of his shoulder. It had been a very long time since he had thought about the reason behind why his name changed even if it was never an official change. “Meier Link was as close as she could get to saying Mayerling, and as she was only a child, there was no harm in letting her continue to call me such. Unfortunately, the other humans soon started referring to me as ‘Meier Link’, and I could not punish them for something a little girl started.”

“You’re just a big old softy aren’t ya?” chuckled the strange face, and Meier Link was sure that those strange eyes were twinkling. An odd thought considering they were simply black holes in the hunter’s skin. “Just like the boss here. After all, why else would he tell me to URK!

The voice was cut off as D clenched his hand, apparently not wanting the strange face to tell anything more, but that just brought up more questions for Meier Link. What had D told the strange face to do? What was the strange face? How did it help D? It seemed for every question that was answered, five more arose to take its place. At this rate, Meier Link did not believe he was ever going to get his curiosity satisfied.

D briefly stopped before a plain wooden door and seemed to be bracing himself for whatever awaited them in the room, and Meier Link felt some sympathy as he remembered being called before his own father many times for some infraction or discussion about some wrong that had happened. Of course, one serious difference was that his father wasn’t the Sacred Ancestor, so Meier Link did not blame D for wanting to take a few minutes before he opened that particular door.

The room beyond was large yet comfortable with a fire in the fireplace and full bookshelves lining the walls. Two oversized armchairs faced each other before the fire, and for the first time in his life, Meier Link looked upon the face of the Sacred Ancestor and immediately knew that no one else could be D’s father. Long, dark hair fell around a sharply angled face as a mustache and goatee accented those features while also making the Sacred Ancestor even more intimidating even if his sheer size was not taken into consideration. His clothes were as fine as any Noble’s, and there was an aura of power that just radiated from him as he sat there, fingers steepled as ruby eyes glittered in the firelight. The only jewelry he wore was a simple gold band on his left ring finger, and a large pendant that seemed to be the twin of the one that hung around D’s neck but red instead of blue.

Removing his large sword from his back, D leaned it against the empty chair before he settled in it, and Meier Link hesitantly stood next to D’s chair like an attendant, unsure what else he should be doing in this room. There wasn’t a chair for him, but his presence had been requested and it would have been quite rude to refuse his unexpected host an audience.

Meier Link only hoped that whatever happened, he and Charlotte both would be able to survive the decision of the Sacred Ancestor together. To lose Charlotte now would kill him as surely as a wooden stake through his heart. There was no way he would be able to continue existing in a world without her, not after everything they had been through to stay together.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

D sat in the armchair across from his father, outwardly appearing calm and unruffled in his black armor. However, he was highly nervous to anyone who knew him which meant Dracula, his father and king, was quite aware of his mental state. D had broken his father’s decree on allowing anyone to either follow him to Castle Dracul or D himself bringing them here. Even though he had ensured that there was no way Charlotte or Meier Link could find out where in the world they were at the moment, D had still brought strangers into Dracula’s seat of power.

Dracula had plenty of people, human and vampire, who would love nothing more than to destroy him and ransack his castle for technology and riches, another reason his father had withdrawn from the world. However, that did not mean that he did not have any influence in dealing with the more corrupt of his subjects which was where D came in. As the Crown Prince, D was the judge, jury, and executioner of those that Dracula himself deemed unfit to continue their existence. When D had agreed to be his father’s agent in the Frontier, Dracula had given him a list of Noble names that he should eliminate when the opportunity presented itself. The rest of the vampires D had taken out had been at his discretion and had earned him the reputation of a dedicated vampire hunter. In the centuries that D had been patrolling the Frontier and enforcing Dracula’s will, he had obeyed two simple rules – never tell anyone who his father was, and never bring anyone to Castle Dracul, and as a loyal son, he had obeyed them.

Until he found himself chasing a vampire willing to walk into the sun to save the human woman he loved, and the human woman who knew full well what her vampiric lover was capable of and didn’t turn from him.

“Give me one good reason to not throw you in the dungeon or give you to Hector as a personal slave for the next century.” Dracula’s voice was calm and reasonable, but D flinched the tiniest bit at the faint growl of anger he could hear in his father’s words. At least his father was willing to listen to why D had disobeyed him and give it serious consideration, or D would have been threatened with Isaac who was fanatically loyal to Dracula and thus would see this breach of the rules as near treason.

“Charlotte Elbourne knew exactly what Mayerling is capable of yet begged me to let her stay with him out of love,” D began, folding his hands in his lap to hide their faint trembling. He only hoped his words would be able to sway his father into accepting the couple without the need of D bringing his own mother into the conversation. That could always be tricky when Dracula was feeling irritable. “Later, when Kyle and Borgoff Marcus pulled Charlotte out of his coach while the sun was still in the sky, Mayerling willingly walked into the sun, trying to rescue her despite the horrific burns that he was receiving. Also, during their entire time together, the only fangs to pierce her skin were those that belonged to Carmilla.”

While he might not have been witness to the confrontation on the bridge, D had experienced what had happened through Mayerling’s eyes by using the demonic symbiote in his left hand. He had done that when he had stopped Mayerling from attacking him after D had worked on saving Charlotte’s life. That brief connection had also let him know if Charlotte had willingly or unwillingly donated any blood to help heal Mayerling, and while it had been offered, Mayerling had refused. That had been the real reason D had been willing to risk his father’s wrath to bring them both to Castle Dracul and safety to live out the rest of their lives together.

There was so much ugliness in the world these days; humans constantly fighting nature, monsters, vampires, and each other while many vampires were simply trying to find safe places for themselves to live out the remainder of their days. Those that were vampire victims were ostracized by their friends and family if not outright killed before they could turn themselves. It truthfully was getting harder and harder for D to resist sliding into that cold abyss where he didn’t care about anyone or anything. Then, he would meet someone like Poke, the old man that he had saved as a child and wanted to return a bit of that kindness in his own gruff way, or even Mayerling and Charlotte who loved each other despite the odds stacked against them and knowing other humans would turn against them when they found out. In them, D found a bit of warmth in the Frontier again, giving him the strength to resist that abyss for just a bit longer.

Dracula hummed and his eyes briefly flickered to Mayerling before returning to D. “And your claim that they were instrumental in helping you destroy Carmilla?”

“Carmilla was focused on Mayerling and Charlotte, convincing them that she only had their best interests in mind thus allowing me to slip farther into Castle Chaynth with very little trouble,” D stated with a slight gesture of his hand. “Also, after I managed to destroy Carmilla’s spirit, Mayerling destroyed her physical body in protection of Charlotte.”

Another thoughtful hum from his father before ruby eyes switched to focus on Mayerling. “Why were you courting an alliance with Carmilla, Baron Mayerling?”

“My lady and I sought shelter against those that would hunt and persecute us for being in love, my liege,” stated Mayerling, and D didn’t look at the Noble as he focused entirely on his father. He couldn’t afford to weaken Mayerling’s position with Dracula at the moment nor seem as if it was trying to divert his father’s attention from the other Noble. “She wrote me a letter, promising safe passage to the City of Night where we would be free to love each other. It sounded plausible, and perhaps it was foolish of me to hope it was a true offer instead of a betrayal. I had heard all the rumors about Carmilla, but for some reason, I did not wish to believe them when it would have seen my love and I safe.”

“The City of Night is no more,” Dracula stated, his voice held a touch of kindness in it even as D noticed his father’s eyes softened slightly. D relaxed a bit more at that sign, and he knew while he would be punished, Mayerling and Charlotte would not be turned out or harmed. “There was a plague that broke out on it a few centuries before the humans rebelled that defied all attempts at stemming it. Out of desperation to save those on Earth from a slow and lingering death, the remaining few decided to steer the station away from its steady orbit and into the sun, sacrificing themselves to ensure the plague never reached the population here.”

“I had not known, my liege,” Mayerling said, and D could hear the grief in his voice. Grief for those long dead people or grief for what was no longer available for him and his human love, D couldn’t say. “I had heard nothing about the City of Night’s troubles and believed that the station was waiting for us. Carmilla offered a ship to get us there and nothing more. Claimed she had done it out of respect for our love that she envied.”

A hoarse cackle came from the demonic symbiote in D’s left hand, and even D felt like joining in. Carmilla had never seen humans as anything other than cattle at best, uncaring how many she slaughtered over the slightest offense. Not even being sealed away in her castle would have changed her opinion of humans, and to think she would help a human and a vampire who were in love was ridiculous.

“You have something to add, Servant?” Dracula’s voice was amused, but then he always found the symbiote amusing whenever it spoke up. Mostly because it was one of the very few beings who never watched what it said around the King of the Vampires.

“Carmilla was a self centered bitch who would have gleefully tore a human’s throat out and bathed in their blood if she thought they looked at her funny,” the symbiote stated before belching. “She tasted like shit too.”

Dracula huffed a laugh and settled back in his chair, lacing his fingers across his stomach in a very relaxed position. “Carmilla was very good at convincing people to do things her way even as she enjoyed pitting her enemies against each other,” he remarked, and D felt Mayerling relaxing next to him. “You were not the first to be manipulated by a master of the art, but thanks to your actions, you were definitely the last.”

A long fingered hand rose and a sharp nail was pointed at D. “However, you still broke the rules and thus must be punished,” Dracula stated, and D focused entirely on his father even as his spine stiffened both out of respect for his father and as if he was drawing himself up to attention. “For the next month, you will be confined to Castle Dracul, and the Servant shall slumber. The first week, you shall assist Hector with his duties, fetching, carrying, and doing whatever else he wishes of you. The next three, you shall be the personal attendant to Baron Mayerling and Lady Charlotte who will have recovered from their various injuries by the time you enter their company. You will be their servant and teacher, and should they misstep, it will be you that bears the brunt of their punishment.”

“Yes, sire,” D stated without hesitation, even as his mind went over the punishment. He was being kept in the castle for a month which would give him time to recover from everything that had happened, including his latest bout of sunlight syndrome which he had not fully recovered from despite his recent actions. Helping Hector would allow him to tend to the cyberhorses that he had pushed to their limit to get here, and the time spent with Mayerling and Charlotte would let him teach them about general life at the castle while also helping them figure out their own duties when it came to day to day tasks. As for putting the symbiote in his hand to sleep for the month, the time would give it a chance to rest and recover from everything as well. Considering how often it saved D’s life, he tried to let it rest when he could.

The fact that he would be free of its crude comments and sometimes troublesome statements was simply a bonus.

“What of the job you took for the Elbourne family?” inquired Dracula, drawing D out of his thoughts. “You were unable to return the lady to her family after all.”

“Leila Marcus, the last survivor of the Marcus Hunting Clan, took Lady Charlotte’s ring back to her family to collect the reward, giving her more than enough money to settle somewhere with a new life,” D explained with a slight shrug. “She explained that she barely managed to get away as the castle came down around her which was why she didn’t have a body to return to them.” The Servant had helped cement that story in Leila’s thoughts with her permission before he had returned her to the armored carrier and programmed the driving computer to head back to the family in question as he loaded his own charges in the coach and drove off with his cyberhorse leading the team.

Dracula inclined his head, understanding what he wasn’t saying before a stern look crossed his father’s face. “Should any trouble come from housing Baron Mayerling and Lady Charlotte, you will be responsible for dealing with it.”

“Yes, sire.” Princess Chō would find out any trouble before it arrived and inform him because her information network was second to none. She was undoubtedly already aware of his punishment as well as if any trouble were to show up from adding Charlotte and Mayerling to the household.

“Mayerling, a servant is waiting outside to take you to Medical for your own healing as well as to rejoin your lady,” Dracula stated in an obvious dismissal, and D remained seated after catching the look in his father’s eyes. Mayerling murmured his acceptance of the command and dismissal before walking from the room, leaving father and son alone. D remained silent, realizing his father still had things to say to him that he did not wish to aire in front of someone who was now a guest.

“Give me the real reason you bought those two back, Yasha,” sighed his father, relaxing back in his chair as he seemed to shift from the Sacred Ancestor to just a father, concerned and frustrated with his child. “And none of the excuses that you offered up earlier. I’m not about to throw them to the wolves after I’ve already accepted them into our household.”

“They reminded me of you and Mother,” D stated, a small smile curled his lips as he freely admitted his motives. “If Charlotte was a passing fancy for Mayerling, I sincerely doubt he would have deliberately walked into the sun to try and rescue her. Nor would he have faced down a vampire that was centuries older than he was for the sake of a human woman, no matter how lovely she is.”

“Plus the boss has a hard on for both of them,” announced the symbiote, and D softly growled at it as his cheeks flushed from embarrassment. Unfortunately, he couldn’t simply close his hand and strangle that voice as it was part of the deal between them for a harmonious relationship. D could silence the Servant as he wished outside of the castle walls, but inside, the Servant was free to speak as it wished with no fear of repercussion from the dhampir. He was undoubtedly paying for his brief silencing of it in the hallway with these comments, but he didn’t want Mayerling to know that he had an interest in the Noble and his lady. “Not that I blame him. I mean have you seen the rack on her? A man could get lost in those soft globes.”

Chuckling, Dracula leaned forward and took D’s left hand in his, drawing a light finger over the face in D’s palm. “Sleep and rest, Servant. You have earned it.”

With a yawn, the wrinkled face sank into D’s hand, leaving smooth skin behind, and D could feel a slight decrease in his senses as the symbiote slipped into a restful slumber. Even his eyesight deteriorated slightly as leftover damage from an old injury let itself be known. Various little aches surfaced, small souvenirs and reminders of jobs he had done in the past and enemies he had managed to survive despite their best attempts to kill him, mostly on his own but the symbiote had also helped greatly. He always ached when the symbiote withdrew its powers from his body, but he was used to it.

“Are there any lingering injuries you are hiding?” inquired his father, and D offered up a wry smile.

“Beyond the usual, Father?” he countered before trying to relax in the chair, but a twinge in his back had him straightening with a hiss. He reached back, attempting to rub out the flare of pain despite the fact he was wearing armor. “I had a brief bout of sunlight syndrome, and Carmilla threw some sort of energy attack at me in an attempt to kill me. There was also a psychological attack where she tried to lure me into lowering my guard by using an image of Mother, but she underestimated me with that trick.”

“You will also report to Medical to see to your injuries, past and present,” Dacula stated in a no nonsense voice, and D sighed, bowing his head at the order. Apparently he was going to be stuck in Medical until he was fully healed by his father’s standards which was something he had been avoiding for the past several visits home. Normally the Servant was rather good at keeping D going even when he was two seconds from collapsing from various injuries, but with the demonic symbiote sleeping, it would be easier for the doctor to heal whatever was wrong with the dhampir. “Do not think that I am ignorant of how your body aches nor how you push yourself to continue as if you are not hindered by such injuries.”

“I won’t be able to fulfill the duties you have given to me if I am on bedrest, Father,” D pointed out, hoping that he would be able to escape Medical sooner rather than later. He disliked being stuck on bedrest for any length of time when he had other duties to carry out, and there always seemed to be something he had to finish as the Crown Prince.

Dracula snorted and pointed a finger at D again. “Hector does not require that much of your help, and he cares about you enough that he will not ask anything if he knows you are recovering from injuries,” his father stated before lowering his hand, and D had to admit his father was correct. Hector had always treated D with kindness and respect that was usually reserved for the animals he tended or Dracula himself. Of course Hector had watched D grow up as both Hector and Isaac had been modified through science and magic to extend their lifespans to that of a vampire’s but without the weaknesses that came from being turned. Both of the human generals were like strange uncles to D, and he appreciated what they had done for him over the years.

“Also, the princess has a request,” his father continued, and D tilted his head, curious. Princess Chō was beautiful but distant and cold at times, and she had not interacted with him beyond bringing him information for various jobs in quite a while. He had a small crush on her when he was growing up, but they had proven to be incompatible. “She wishes for a child fathered by you. I have already told her that it is your decision, and if you did have a child with her, they would not be considered your heir unless the two of you entered a relationship.”

“She is lovely, but we have nothing in common,” admitted the dhampir, shaking his head. “I will give her request an honest consideration before giving her my answer. Should I agree, I would ask that you assist her as well as monitor her to ensure neither her nor her child is in danger during her pregnancy due to my own history and genetics.”

If D decided to grant Princess Chō’s request, he sincerely doubted he would go to her bed especially when his father had made artificial insemination into an art when trying to create D himself. His mother, Mina, had trouble trying to conceive and carry Dracula’s child safely which was why D was an only child. Even with all of his father’s science, D had still been born with a defective spine, resulting in surgery that had replaced a section of it and had required further surgeries as he had grown up to prevent problems and stunted growth. Another reason he disliked being confined to a bed for any length of time.

Wanting to get away from that particular conversation, D folded his hands in his lap as he stared at his father. “There is an issue I wish to bring to you before I head for my check up,” he stated, his eyes meeting Dracula’s red gaze. “There is a rumor that someone is using the title of Sacred Ancestor and has been wandering around the Frontier.”

While he had not heard of one of Dracula’s agents wandering around the Frontier, there was always the possibility that someone was working on a special project for his father and was operating in his name. The flare of fury in his father’s eyes and the way the shadows darkened in response to the show of temper, however, put that thought to rest.

“How much information do you have about this individual?” growled Dracula, his eyes glowing with power, and D fought his instincts in that moment. This was his father who had never hurt him before and never raised his hand unless it was on the training field. Yet, the very instincts he had developed as a vampire hunter was screaming about the danger before him in the form of a Very Power Greater Vampire Noble, and he didn’t have a weapon in his hand.

“I heard the rumor right before the Elbourne job landed in my lap,” D explained, making sure to keep all gestures to a minimum. Better to not attract the wrong sort of attention. “That one took priority as per your orders, sire.”

“I will inform the princess of this development and see what falls out of her web,” growled Dracula, briefly closing his eyes to get a reign on his temper, and D forced himself to relax even as a long finger was leveled at him. “Your new priority will be this Sacred Ancestor. Hunt up any bit of information you can while Chō does the same, and if you get the chance, you will bring this person before me for judgement on using my title and name for their own ambitions.”

“And the rest of the names on my list, sire?” inquired D as he mentally shuffled that into the standing orders he already had. It would be tricky and might mean that he missed a job or two, but with Chō’s help, he was sure he would find this person and bring them before his father.

“They shall remain a priority, but if you must miss one to grab this person, then that is agreeable,” Dracula announced, flicking his fingers, and the shadows receded as his temper was banked. He shook his head and gestured towards the door. “You have delayed long enough from your appointment. I will see you after your healing.”

D recognized a dismissal when he heard it, and he rose to his feet to politely bow to his father before leaving the room with his sword in hand. Outside in the hallway, he sighed in relief as he leaned against the wall, taking a few minutes to calm down. Dracula’s temper was legendary for its ferocity, and D truly hated being the unintentional focus of it, especially with the Servant sleeping and unable to help. Shaking his head, he pushed off the wall, slung his sword across his back, and started towards Medical.

It seemed that in no time at all, he was walking into the sterile and slightly chilled room that was Medical. The walls were a soft cream, much more pleasant on the eyes than the stark white the humans prefered for their hospitals, and there were beds lining one wall. Two of those beds were occupied by Charlotte and Mayering, both appearing asleep, and she was looking much better beyond the field medicine he had done at Castle Chaythe. Briefly, he wondered if Mayerling was sedated to allow his body to heal as the vampire hadn’t twitched when he entered the room, before he mentally shrugged and pushed that thought aside.

“Ah, good! You’re here,” remarked a voice as a little old man bustled into the room from a side door. He had gray hair cut close to his head and wrinkles on his face, but he moved like a person in his second decade instead of one closer to his eighth. Originally, Dr. Liao Luoyang had come with Princess Chō as part of her entourage, but he had quickly become the resident doctor of the castle, learning everything he could about medicine and healing. It had been his skill combined with Dracula’s knowledge that had led to the longevity treatment for humans known as the Methuselah Treatment, allowing not only him but Hector and Isaac to live as long as they had. D’s mother had died from a riding accident before the Treatment had been perfected or she would have been in the castle as well.

“Father has ordered me to submit to your tender mercies, Dr. Liao,” the dhampir stated, removing his armor to place it on an empty bed next to his sword, and he glanced at the doctor with a small, teasing smile. “Be gentle. I’m fragile.”

“Bah! You are no more fragile than the mountains outside the caste,” Dr. Liao huffed but there was an amused smile on his face as he lifted his hands, and a holographic keyboard appeared under his fingers. “Do not try to fool me, young one, or I shall ensure your bedpan comes from the freezer.”

“That’s still better than threatening to strap me down,” countered D, stripping off his underclothes before he carefully removed the blue pendant from around his neck, laying it on top of his things with gentle hands. While it didn’t truly need such delicate handling, it was the most important part of his gear created by his parents in the form of a Universal Override and Key, letting him get into any vampire’s manor no matter the defenses. “You know I don’t ask for bondage on the first date.”

Dr. Liao laughed and shook his head as D turned to stand before him wearing only his hair. “Ah, what a delight it is to speak with you again, my prince,” he remarked as his fingers started flying over the keys made of light, and D held still as a few lights played over his  body. Dr. Liao’s jolly nature was quickly replaced by a dark frown at whatever the sensors were telling him, and he huffed, shaking his head. “You have multiple microfractures in all of your bones, nerve damage, strained muscles, older injuries including to your eyes and optic nerves which could lead to blindness in a few years, and the ultraviolet buildup in your body is almost to dangerous levels. It is a surprise you haven’t collapsed from sunlight syndrome already.”

“I did collapse about a week ago, during a chase,” confessed D even as he mentally winced at the damage. He had not realized that the injury done to his eyes had been that bad as they had healed with the help of the Servant. Yes his sight had deteriorated a bit, but he hadn’t attributed it to that injury.

Shaking his head, Dr. Liao pressed a few more keys, and a round glass tank emerged from the ceiling. D flinched at the sight of it, but he knew it was the most efficient way to heal the various injuries he apparently had as well as the lingering sunlight syndrome. “You’re going to be in the tank for at least three days,” announced the little doctor as the keyboard vanished, and he motioned the dhampre towards it. “Braid your hair and get comfortable. You’re not leaving until I am satisfied with your health.”

Grabbing a brush out of a cabinet of supplies, D brushed his thick, waist long hair before quickly braiding it and tying it off with a rubber band. It was almost amusing to know that the hair supplies that had ended up in Medical over the years when his spine had been fixed were still here and in the same spots. The braid thumped against his back when he tossed it over his shoulder, and he stepped into the tank when the front half swung open like a door. Dr. Liao muttered to himself in Cantonese as he moved around D, placing various patches on his skin. D shivered when a needle slipped into a vein in his arm, but he was quickly distracted when a breathing mask fit over his mouth and nose before Dr. Liao pushed the door shut.

There was a faint click, and D looked down as the drain at the bottom of the tank was locked shut a heartbeat before clear liquid started pouring down the sides. It looked and felt like water, but D knew it was a powerful healing agent as well as a nutrient supplement to ensure that whomever was in the tank wouldn’t starve or dehydrate if they were in there for more than a day. His father had jokingly called it bacta after some movie he saw once, and D had spent every post-operation in the tank to ensure his body healed better than if he had simply been on bed rest.

Closing his eyes, D relaxed as the liquid rose, enveloping him completely, and he did his best to relax. Already, he could feel the slight tingling that indicated the bacta was starting to work on his injuries, and he mentally settled himself for the duration. It was going to be a long stay in the tank, but he had endured longer ones.

 

 

Chapter 3

 

Alan watched as the female hunter climbed back into her badly damaged armored vehicle and drove away, despair and fury churning in his gut. Leila Marcus, the last survivor of the Marcus Brothers, had brought him and John, his father, the ring his sister always wore that had been their mother’s last gift to her as proof that Charlotte had died. Leila claimed that Castle Chaythe had been collapsing around her and that was all she managed to get as proof, leaving Charlotte’s body to be buried under the ruins of the castle itself. The only good thing was that she said Meier Link had also died, killed by the Bloody Countess Carmilla, a terrifyingly powerful vampiress that the Sacred Ancestor had locked away in her coffin who in turn was killed by Meier Link when she turned on him.

The bastard had never loved Charlotte at all. He had only used her to free his lover, Carmilla, before he had died at Carmilla’s hands. It served Meier Link right to be killed by the very vampire he had sought to free through a young lady’s naivety.

The only unanswered question was what had happened to the Vampire Hunter known as D. Leila was unable to answer that question, claiming they had gotten separated in Castle Chaythe as they hunted for Charlotte, and Alan hadn’t wanted to press further, not with the news of his sister’s death. He had paid her the rest of the promised reward and let her escape to whatever she was going to do with her life.

He looked down at the little band of gold in his hand, and as much as he wanted to claim it was a good forgery, he couldn’t. There was the little nick on the one leaf that had come from the time it had slipped from a young Charlotte’s finger to hit the rough stone, and the slightly curled petals on the rose that was the result of her twisting the ring when she was nervous. No forgery would have gotten those details at all, slight as they were. He closed his fingers over the gold ring, hiding it from his sight even as tears burned in his eyes.

Charlotte was gone, out of his reach forever.

He didn’t want to believe it but the proof was overwhelming. Alan shoved the ring into his pocket as he walked to John’s study, hoping the news would not harm the old man further. His health was already on shaky ground with Charlotte’s abduction, and Alan was afraid the news of her death might push John into a downward spiral that would end with his death.

Briefly pausing at the door, Alan took a fortifying breath before he entered without knocking. Grief had already bowed the old man’s shoulders even as Alan pulled out the ring, holding it out to John.

“She died at Castle Chaythe, just another of Bloody Carmilla’s victims,” Alan stated, watching with some sympathy as John took it with shaking hands, tears flowing down his wrinkled face. “Her body was unretrievable as the castle was falling down around Leila Marcus with the deaths of Meier Link and Carmilla.”

“And the dhampir hunter?”

A snort of contempt slipped out of Alan as he shook his head. “She didn’t know. They apparently had separated inside Castle Chaythe to find Charlotte, and she never saw him again.”

“Then it is possible he is dead as well,” sighed John, bowing his head before holding out the object to Alan in a trembling hand. “Take it. I don’t need a reminder of everything I have lost.”

Gritting his teeth, Alan retrieved the ring, shoving it into his pocket before turning to leave only to stop at the sound of his father’s voice.

“I would like you to find a nice young woman and get married within the year, Alan,” stated John, no trace of grief in his voice, and Alan whirled around to glare at John. The old man sat in his wheelchair and stared into the crackling fire that was trying to chase some of the chill out of the air as if he hadn’t just been told his only daughter was dead. Even the evidence of his previous tears had been wiped away.

“The only woman I have ever loved is lying dead in some vampire’s crumbling castle!” snarled the young man, throwing out his good arm in a general direction to emphasize his words. How dare this old and crippled man dictate his life like this, as if Charlotte didn’t matter any longer to either of them now that she was dead and gone from their lives. “You can’t expect me to just get over Charlotte’s death and trot off to find someone to take her place, Father.”

John turned his wheelchair around to stare at Alan, his eyes hard and unforgiving. “Did it ever occur to you that your ardent protection of Charlotte is why she was willing to run away with a vampire?” he growled, and Alan flinched at his accusation. “You caused her death as surely as if you had driven a stake through her heart yourself. Now, you are going to fix this by getting a wife to handle everything Charlotte did or you will be taking over those duties yourself!”

Glaring at John, Alan whirled on a heel and stormed out of the house. How dare that crippled old man blame him for this! He who had been nothing but a dutiful son and brother who only wanted the best for Charlotte, and that best was him!

He stormed down the street and into the nearest tavern that he visited quite often. By the time he reached the bar, the bartender had a glass of alcohol poured, and Alan carelessly threw it back before slamming the heavy glass on the wood surface.

“Bad news?” asked the bartender, already pouring Alan another drink as he dropped into a chair with a soft growl.

“My idiot of a sister ran off with a vampire of all things and got herself killed,” Alan growled, glaring at the wood as if he could set it on fire with his eyes alone. “And the hunters that were hired to get her back failed.” He wasn’t going to mention his father’s decree just yet. Not until he had a few more drinks in him to help deal with everything that was happening.

“Are you sure she’s dead?” asked the bartender, concern in his voice, and Alan glared at the man who was more than a little pale. The man shrugged his shoulder. “If she’d been bitten, she’ll come back to you. Everyone knows victims always return to their families to take them out first or make them like they are.”

“I’m not about to travel to Castle Chaythe just to make sure my sister is dead,” Alan drawled, wondering about the man’s intelligence. “Besides, I hired the Marcus Brothers and D to get her back. If she was bitten, they would have made sure she never returned.”

But a niggling doubt started in the back of his head. Leila had not mentioned having to kill Charlotte, merely that she was dead and she had not been able to retrieve the body. All of Leila’s brothers had been killed during the hunt, leaving no witnesses, and D never returned with any information at all. Was Charlotte truely dead or had Leila lied to him to get the rest of the promised money before vanishing into the Frontier?

Damn it! Now he was going to have to find someone to either escort him to Castle Chaythe so he could retrieve Charlotte’s body himself, or hire someone to do that job for him. Which would mean he’d have to talk to his father about money for the trip either way. Something he did not want to do as John might see it as Alan trying to escape from the order to find a wife. Except John held the purse strings, and without money, Alan wasn’t going anywhere.

Damn it!” Alan snarled, hitting the bar with his fist only to regret it as his hand started throbbing from the hard impact. His injured arm ached as the force of the impact radiated through his body, and Alan curled around his arms, breathing through the pain until it had faded to a dull ache that he was getting used to from the broken arm.

“Easy there, stud,” purred a seductive voice in his ear, and Alan turned his head to find a woman pressing against him. She had wild, chestnut curls that seemed to defy all attempts at taming them, and a very lush figure barely contained by her tight red dress. There was a touch of gold embroidery along the neckline that strained to hold her generous breasts, and for the first time, Alan felt himself attracted to a female that was not his sister.

“You don’t want to hurt yourself any more than you already are,” she continued, and Alan managed to pull his eyes away from her breasts to focus on her face. Her lips were the same scarlet as her dress and gold dust was brushed over her eyelids, accenting her whiskey eyes. She slipped onto the seat next to him at the bar and draped a friendly arm over his shoulders. “Why don’t you tell me what the problem is, and I’ll see what I can do to help you.”

He felt a hot hand on his thigh, and he blinked as he felt his cock harden in response to that simple touch even as his thoughts were conflicted. She was a stranger and meant nothing to him so why would she be interested in helping him out? What was in it for her? Of course, with her lush figure on display for him, he honestly couldn’t find it in him to really care at the moment.

“How about I take you home with me, and we’ll talk more in the morning,” Alan countered, dropping some coins to cover his drinks on the bar before he stood up. He wrapped his good arm around her waist and pulled her out of the seat, pressing their bodies together as he ground his hips into hers.

“Sounds like a better plan, stud,” she said with a delighted laugh and a toss of her hair. He grinned as he led her out of the tavern and down the street to his house. There were only a couple of lights on in the windows, and Alan easily escorted her up to his room, knowing John turned in early due to his own condition.

The second his bedroom door closed behind them, his mouth was on hers as he gripped a handful of that round ass, pulling her against him again. She moaned in delight and wrapped her arms around his shoulders as she returned the kiss, hot and eager in his grip. He briefly wondered if things were always like this with a woman before her hand slipped from his shoulder to dive into his pants, and all rational thought was driven from his mind.

Things grew disjointed and hazy after that, and if asked later, he could only recall snapshots of their time together. Her scarlet lips wrapped around his cock as he fucked her mouth. His head between her thighs as she squealed in pleasure. Fucking her on her hands and knees, his good hand buried in her hair as he pulled her head back while she praised his skills. Fucking her ass as her heels rode his spine and her hands played with those full breasts. Sheer exhaustion sweeping over him as he came one last time before collapsing on her, her scent clinging to his skin and filling his head.

“That was fantastic, lover,” she purred, curling her arms around his shoulders as his head rested on her breasts. Alan hummed, blinking as he fought off sleep to listen to her beautiful voice. He felt her fingers slide through his hair before playing with a couple of his curls. “Why don’t you tell me what sent you to the tavern in a temper.”

Slowly, he started talking about the situation, starting when his mother died, and the whole story came pouring out, including the doubt he now had that Charlotte was truly dead. His frustration with his father, the idea that the hunter had betrayed his trust for the money, and that he was trapped as long as John held the money which would prevent him from funding an expedition to Castle Chaythe to find out for himself once and for all if Charlotte was dead.

“Well, one problem is easy to solve, Alan,” she murmured with a soft and understanding smile. “Simply incapacitate your father enough that you can take over finances, and then you can do what you want.”

He blinked in surprise as he realized it really was just that easy. With as weak as John was, it wouldn’t be that difficult to arrange an accident that would keep him bedbound and unable to handle any of the duties around the house. It wasn’t like his father had done anything of note recently. Alan had been the one to hire the vampire hunters, arrange the meetings between them, and had tried to rescue Charlotte from Meier Link. John had sat in his wheelchair and played the helpless old man to evoke sympathy in the dhampir hunter not that it had done much good with that cold hearted bastard.

A sudden thought occurred to him, solidifying into a plan to remove his father from Alan’s path. John took medicine for the constant pain he was in, and Alan had heard the doctor cautioning John to not take too much of it or he would risk serious complications. All Alan had to do was sneak into his father’s room, add a bit of extra medicine to the glass that John drank from every morning, and John would be out of the way. Nodding to himself, he got out of bed, leaving her there, and slipped out into the hallway. Better to do it now while he was thinking about it instead of delaying long enough for something else to come up and prevent him from escaping his father.

The house was silent and dark, night having arrived while he had been enjoying the woman in his bed, and Alan easily made his way to John’s room. The door was open but the lights were out, and Alan hesitated in the doorway, listening for any sign that his father was awake. Instead, he was greeted with the sound of whistling snores that announced his father was soundly asleep, and Alan quietly slipped into the room, picking his way over to the bed. The bottle of medicine and the glass of water was sitting on the bedside table as expected, and with only a little bit of difficulty from his broken arm, Alan was able to open the bottle and pour half of the remaining colorless medicine into the water. Then the bottle was capped again, replaced on the bedside table, and Alan was heading back to his room and the very welcoming woman he had left there

Ten Heart watched as Alan staggered from his room, and she smirked as she stretched out on the bed, groaning softly as various aches from the sex marathon eased with that action. Alan Elbourne was almost embarrassingly easy to manipulate, but he was the sort of person her family preferred to target.

Gullible and weak willed.

They had heard about the family’s problem with their daughter being kidnapped by a Noble, hard not to when it was the biggest bit of gossip running through the shadows. The men that Alan had hired to help him get his sister back had loose lips after a couple of drinks, especially as they were nursing a grudge against both the young man and the vampire in question for almost killing them. The Royal Heart family had decided to see how to best manipulate the situation into getting their hands on the Elbourne fortune, and Ten had figured out that the easiest way was to snag the son.

And now, Alan was trotting off down the hallway to incapacitate his father as if it was all his idea. Ten laced her fingers over her stomach as she stared at the ceiling, a small smile on her face as she plotted out what to do next. If the sister was still alive, she might be a problem especially if she was bitten and wanted revenge on her family the way many victims did. Of course, if she was as gullible and weak as her brother, then Jack Heart could easily wrap her around his prick.

That was their little talents – he could seduce any woman to obey him, and she could do the same with men – and those talents had yet to fail them as they moved around the frontier, taking what and who they wanted. Ace Heart, their little brother, could scry for the perfect target and mark them. King Heart, their father, could follow that mark to any place on earth, and Queen Heart knew when a target was too much trouble to go after. Sometimes, the target ended up dead, but people went missing in the Frontier all the time between villages. They did have to be a bit careful about visiting any of the larger settlements and they avoided Capital at all costs due to the bounty on their heads, but that just made everything more exciting.

Ten partially sat up on the rumpled bed as Alan wandered back in, a satisfied air about him, and she opened her arms, wrapping back around him when he rejoined her. His mouth instantly found hers before he was spreading her legs again, and she groaned when he slid back into her. Weak willed and gullible, but he knew what he was doing with his cock.

“I want to leave first thing in the morning,” Alan huffed, nibbling along her neck, and Ten shivered with satisfaction. “We’ll go to Castle Chaythe to see if Charlotte’s truly dead.”

“Yes, lover,” she moaned, her breath coming in gasps as she found herself racing towards her next climax already. Her fingers dug into his back, nails leaving red marks behind as he fucked her like it was a duty and a pleasure, which she knew it was.

“Maybe if we’re really lucky, we’ll be able to take out that damn dhampir as well,” growled Alan, and a shiver of something slid down Ten’s spine.

Taking out the vampire hunter known as D. How many bandits, mercenaries, and other hunters dreamed of just that feat? The dhampir had such a reputation that the one who finally managed the impossible would not only be instantly catapulted into great infamy but also would put a huge target on their backs. But with the notoriety of taking down the dhampir, the Royal Heart family could create a huge empire of those self same mercenaries, bandits, and other crooks. No one, not even Capital, would be able to stop them as the money rolled in, making them fabulously wealthy while also providing the security to live their lives as they wished.

Gasping out a laugh, she climaxed as she continued to plan for the fame and fortune that awaited her family.

 

Chapter 4

 

Ace snuggled down in the mismatched pile of pillows and blankets that made up his bed, relaxing for the first time that day now that he had managed to escape to the tiny storage room turned bedroom. It hadn’t taken much to convince King and Queen that Ace needed his own bedroom, especially as he was willing to build it himself in the unused storage room on their transport. A sturdy platform halfway up the wall was reinforced to be his bed with a small ladder leading up to it while underneath was storage for his few possessions and clothes.

The precious few books he had managed to get his hands on were tucked under his pillows to keep them out of Jack’s hands. Ace’s brother was egotistical and had a deadly temper. More than once, they had lost a “guest” because he had flown into a rage and beat the poor sucker to death. During those times, not even Ten could calm Jack down, and as his twin, Ten had more influence over Jack than anyone else in the family. Ace found it was simply easier to hide behind a locked door or out of sight than present Jack a target for his temper.

Flipping over in his bed, Ace moved a pillow to uncover a small window that helped make the room feel less claustrophobic before he dug out the latest book he had bought with dalas he managed to scrounge together from the few jobs he had taken while scouting for the next target. This one was on animal anatomy and how to treat common ailments in domestic animals, and it looked to be the companion to the cyberhorse manual he had picked up a couple of months ago. His parents found it amusing that Ace “wasted” his money on books instead of what they considered practical things such as fancy clothes or pricey objects, while the twins found books boring and only good to wipe their asses in the bathroom. Ace just shrugged, pointed out it was his money to waste, and often bought another book. Of course, what none of them knew was that Ace was planning for the future and striving towards what he considered the ultimate prize.

His freedom.

Ace was thirteen years old (if Queen was to be believed about his ever fluctuating age), and he was sick and tired of this life he was trapped in. Tired of always looking over his shoulder. Tired of all the lies. Tired of Jack’s unpredictable temper. Tired of these selfish and greedy people that claimed to be his family. Ace had tested the control his family had over his actions once over the pretence of scouting for a target. It had always been suspicious that his parents always seemed to know where he was at any given time, and he decided to experiment a bit.With a packed bag and a few dalas in his pocket, Ace had arrived in a small town with the story of wanting to make his own way in the world (not uncommon in the Frontier) and had gotten a job working at the general store in exchange for room and board.

That had been the best week of his life, which unfortunately was how long it had taken for King to show up looking for him. Ace had played the role of a huffy teenager being dragged home even as he realized that King must have some way of tracking him since Ace never stated which way he was going when he left. When questioned about his actions by his parents while Jack snarled behind them like a rabid animal, Ace gave them all the gossip and information he had collected, including a payroll shipment that they deemed too risky to attempt. That night as he lay in his bed, Ace realized the only way he was ever going to be free was for his family to die. He had been expecting the sharp pain from that realization, a bit of proof that he loved them and cared more about them than himself, but there was only frustration at being unable to figure out how to ensure he could walk away from this life.

Shaking his head, Ace shoved those thoughts aside as he did his best to lose himself in his new book with a pen in hand. He had already started making notations in the margins, some having to do with the subject matter while other bits were idle thoughts and speculations on how to get free yet still being vague enough that none of the others would realize what the notations were about if they happened to flip through his books.

The sudden furious pounding on his door yanked Ace out of his book, and he groaned, knowing who was on the other side by that heavy hand alone. Marking his place with the corner of a blanket, he put the book aside and climbed down to unlock his door. Somehow he managed to paste a bored expression on his face as he opened the door to find Jack there, fist raised to start pounding again.

“Where’s Ten?” Jack demanded, his eyes burning with temper. “She’s not here.”

Ace shrugged a shoulder. “She said she was going to find the Elbourne son,” he reminded the furious man, appearing unconcerned even as he resisted the urge to start swearing. He did not want to have an unlocked door between himself and Jack when his brother was in a temper. And these days, Jack not knowing where Ten was always put him in a temper. “If she’s not back yet, she must have found him and started wrapping him around her tits.”

Jack’s fists were wrapped in Ace’s shirt before the young teen could blink, and Ace yelped in surprise and pain as he was yanked out of his room only to be slammed against the wall next to his door. His head bounced off the wall with a crack that made his eyes blur enough to obscure Jack’s features, but Ace could still feel his brother’s breath as he leaned into Ace’s face.

“You never talk about my Ten like that again!” snarled Jack, and Ace felt his brain rattle in his head as he was shaken by his older brother. Fuck! He knew Jack had a temper, but this was nothing like the teen had ever had directed towards him. And it wasn’t like Ace hadn’t said those same words to anyone in the family before. “You dare sully her reputation to me, and I’ll cut out your lying tongue before playing marbles with your eyes!”

Ace clawed at Jack’s wrists and hands, desperate to get away from the rabid madman that his brother had become. Only, he couldn’t break free no matter how hard he struggled. His fingers slid off of the leather coat and gloves Jack wore, and he was sure a few of his nails broke in his desperation. Even kicking didn’t help as his shoes were no match for the thick leather pants his brother preferred. He used to tease Jack about wanting to be a hunter instead of a con, and Jack had just laughed, shrugging the comment off. Now, Ace was wishing Jack wore sensible clothes instead of the sort that could double as body armor.

“Jack, release Ace.”

Never before had Ace been so relieved to hear King’s voice, and he staggered back into his room the second Jack’s fingers uncurled from his clothes. Slamming the door shut in what could be seen as a fit of temper, Ace threw the lock before scrambling up into his bed, his mind whirling.

Jack had been completely serious about maiming if not outright killing him. Ace hadn’t said anything new, in fact he had often commented about Jack or Ten wrapping their marks around his dick or her tits because that’s what they did! Ace never saw the appeal in sex because it was messy, noisy, and not for him.  Now Ace knew more than ever he had to somehow get away before he was killed by his brother. He would also have to arm himself because he was not going to give Jack the opportunity to kill him.

His skull ached where it had been bounced off the wall, and he was going to have to deal with the repercussions of what just happened even if he hadn’t been the one to start it. He had to figure out how to spin things so it looked like it was just another fit of temper from Jack to keep King and Queen off Ace’s back. Because now he could practically hear the ticking clock that was his freedom or at least his mortality, and he wasn’t about to let it run out.

The polite knock on his door pulled him out of his thoughts, and he climbed down to cautiously open it a crack, bracing the bottom with his foot to prevent whomever was on the other side from simply slamming it open. Standing there with a concerned look on her face was Queen. Her gray touched blond hair fell around her shoulders, but her eyes were cold and calculating instead of reflecting the concern that was visible. Another familiar look when she was figuring out if a mark was an easy one or more difficult, and Ace was not going to be the easy mark in the family. It was too much of a coincidence that Jack had thrown a fit only for King to come along and rescue Ace. He wasn’t sure if they were testing him, or if they wanted to make him feel indebted for their protection.

“Are you  alright, Ace?” she asked, the concern thick in her voice, and he felt like snorting at how thorough her con was. It was in that instant he realized that she didn’t care about him which seemed to solidify his thoughts about the confrontation being a setup. “King told me about your fight with Jack.”

Well two could play the long con. Snorting, Ace opened the door a bit wider and leaned against the frame, his whole attitude screaming ‘annoyed teenager’. “Jack is being stupid and petty,” he drawled, waving a hand as if he was completely unconcerned about the entire incident. “He took me by surprise with that little show of temper. Frankly, I think all the sex has rotted his brains.”

Queen blinked, a touch of confusion in her eyes even as her expression never changed. Apparently she had been expecting him to either sob in her arms about how mean Jack had been or beg for her protection from his older brother. Both of which would have labeled him a victim and given his parents even more power over him. No, better start turning this to his advantage now than to let them try a new tactic.

“You might want to remind Jack that without me, everyone’s lives in this family will be more difficult than necessary, madam,” Ace said with a casual shrug. “I am more than willing to work for the family’s well being by hunting up guests to exploit and sniff out information from townsfolk. But if Jack threatens me again as he did today, I will not hesitate to defend myself.” He smirked slightly at her, his own face cold and calculating. “After all, what’s the bounty on his head up to now? A million dalas? That would set me up rather nicely somewhere.”

“You would turn your brother in?” gasped Queen, her eyes wide with shock, but there was more than a touch of grudging respect there, replacing the confusion.

Ace shrugged again. “I’m you’re Ace in the Hole,” he stated, parroting what they had told him time and again. “Jack is a knave in this hand and the most valuable in terms of reward due to the attention he draws to himself with his temper. How many times has a guest’s relatives ended up dead by his hand often in front of dozens of witnesses? His wanted poster has the most detailed picture and a long list of crimes because of that! Ten, sire, and you have posters that are a lot less detailed. I’m unknown and easily slip through the Frontier, getting all of you the information you need to flourish.”

He could see the wheels turning behind her eyes as she tried to find the lie in his words, but Ace only spoke the truth for now. Jack’s temper was more than likely to get the rest of them killed or captured by the law, and Ace had the best chance of all of them of simply vanishing into the wild Frontier. It was hard to call the bluff of someone who wasn’t bluffing, and frankly, if it came down to him or his family, he was gone!

“I will talk to him about his temper, dear boy,” Queen stated, drawing the back of her ice cold fingers down his cheek in an almost loving caress, and Ace forced himself to lean into the touch. There was nothing comforting about that touch, and he wondered if she was always cold and he just never noticed before.

“Thank you, madam. I don’t want to turn against anyone, but to protect us, I will,” lied Ace, smiling at her as if the only thing he wanted to do was protect his family.

She smiled, apparently believing the lie, and gently patted his cheek before walking away. Ace closed his door, locked it, and sagged against the metal, shaking as everything crashed down on him. His brother had tried to kill or at least maim him, and his parents were in on it. Somehow he had managed to convince Queen that he only had their best interests in heart, and he hoped that bought him some time to plan his escape. It might even get Jack off his back for a while, but Ace wasn’t going to gamble on his usefulness being his only protection. No, better to be over prepared and have a clear escape route than having to depend on any fickle protection from his parents.

Rubbing his hand over his face, Ace climbed back into his bed and started seriously planning his escape from the Royal Heart Family.

 

 

Chapter 5

 

Standing next to Charlotte’s bed, Meier Link watched as the doctor finished examining her while he did his best to ignore the cylinder in the corner that held the naked form of the dhampir suspended in some clear liquid. It had certainly been a surprise to wake up and see D floating in it with only a breathing mask and his hair, apparently asleep, and Meier Link had quietly looked his fill while his lady slept. He could not deny that he was attracted to the dhampir even before finding out his lineage, but while D had been chasing them, Meier Link had not allowed that infatuation any fertile ground.

“You have recovered quite nicely, both of you,” remarked Dr. Liao Luoyang, snapping Meier Link out of his thoughts, and the vampire focused on the human as the man straightened, fixing both of them with sharp, black eyes. “However, I would like both of you to join the prince in the tank to ensure you both are fully healed.”

“Is it necessary, doctor?” asked Meier Link before nodding towards the apparently sleeping dhampir. “I would not wish to disturb his rest.”

A finger was leveled at Meier Link, and he flinched at the authority behind that gesture. “I am the doctor here, and if you wish to live a long and healthy life, you will listen to me. Bad enough I have to fight with Yasha over his health at times. I will not take any fighting from you. Now, strip off everything including any decorations you wear, while I get the tank ready for you.”

With that order, Dr. Liao turned and moved over to the tank, and Charlotte giggled, drawing Meier Link’s attention. “I believe we have our orders, my love,” she remarked, a blush on her cheeks as she stood up and started pulling the beads from her hair. It felt strange to watch her do that as she hadn’t removed those since Meier Link himself had placed them in her dark locks as a symbol of his affection for her. She had returned the favor, using beads from a broken bracelet her mother had given her before the woman’s death.

Her head turned to stare at the floating dhampir for a few moments, a thoughtful look on her face. “He’s not what I thought he was.”

“What do you mean?” inquired Meier Link, his own hands removing the beads and ribbon from his own hair to join hers in the small dish that lay on a nearby table. The young prince truly wasn’t like anyone he knew or had ever met, and Meier Link had to admit he was curious to know Charlotte’s thoughts about their unusual rescuer.

“Back in the garden, when I went out into the sun, he could have easily grabbed me and whisked me off,” began Charlotte, unwrapping the simple gown she had been given after she had recovered enough to be on her feet, and Meier Link watched as her skin was revealed to him for the first time. Even in Castle Chaythe, he had waited in the outer room while Charlotte changed out of her nightdress. “I honestly was expecting that after hearing so much about the famed Vampire Hunter D. After all, he is expensive to hire but he always gets the job done.”

She paused, her attention drifting back to the tank as she held the gown to her chest in a bit of modesty. “He tried to talk me out of going with you instead. Now, he brings us here, to some place where we can live out the rest of our lives in peace and risked his own relationship with his family to do so,” she murmured, shaking her head in amazement. “To see him like this, he looks more like a Fae Prince who has wandered out from the Underhill instead of the most feared and respected vampire hunter in the Frontier.”

Meier Link slipped out of his hospital clothes as he turned that knowledge over in his mind to mix with the rest of the information he had about the dhampir. “The Sacred Ancestor was always stern but fair, cruel in his punishments, yet not once did he punish an innocent,” he remarked, turning to stare at the floating D. “His son is much the same way.”

And yet, there was something almost fragile about the dhampir, seeing D like this, all his masks and defenses stripped away by slumber to reveal the painfully lonely being that was isolated from everyone in many ways. Feared and hated by humans for the vampiric blood in his veins yet too human for vampires to acknowledge as anything but a half-breed mongrel not worth their time to destroy. Had not Meier Link done the same since they met? Taunted him by simply referring to D as “dhampir” as if denying his chosen name made him a thing not worth acknowledging? How many vampires had done the same, referring to D by what he was instead of who?

He shook his head, pushing those thoughts  aside for now. There was no changing the past. He could only work on fixing his attitude  for the future, and he vowed to do just that, especially with the possibility of any children with his lady. They would be dhampirs, and while they would face discrimination outside of his home, he truly hoped that they would not face it from within.

Dr. Liao gestured them both closer as he tapped away on a holographic keyboard, and Meier Link watched as the tank slowly sank into the floor until only half of it remained visible. “It will be a bit crowded in there, but it will do all three of you good to help any skin hunger you might be suffering from.” He pointed a silencing finger at Meier Link before the vampire could start any sort of protest, before Dr. Liao put a couple of sensors on their skin. Obviously to monitor them if the two new screens that popped up on the wall were any indication, joining the one that Meier Link hadn’t noticed before. “You vampires always hold yourselves aloof from everyone around you, and don’t get me started on those that have been a victim in their own home, young lady. Both of you put on the breathing masks and get into the tank.”

Meier Link found it impossible to deny the human’s words as he reached for one of the masks that was hanging down from the ceiling even as Charlotte reached for the other. It took a few moments to adjust it so it was comfortable, and then Meier Link was helping Charlotte climb into the tank.

He shivered as the warm liquid slid over his skin, and he only had a brief moment of panic when he sank into it, the water-like consistency sparking the race’s deep fear of being submerged in running water and all the more vulnerable for it. The faint tingling along his skin, especially where he had been bisected by Carmilla, helped him fight off that panic, and he glanced at Charlotte when she slipped her hand into his, tangling their fingers together with concern in her eyes.

“A moment of panic, my love,” murmured Meier Link, hoping she would hear him somehow. “It’s gone now.”

“I would apologise but unnecessary apologies only irritate His Majesty,” remarked Dr. Liao, his voice reaching them, and Meier Link turned slightly to find what looked like a large suction cup attached to the side of the tank. The doctor had a small microphone strapped around his throat even as his fingers continued to move over the holographic keys that had shifted when he had moved closer to the tank. It took Meier Link a few moments to recognise a subvocal microphone as it had been centuries since he had seen one outside of a poorly rendered drawing. “I am very glad now to insist on you both taking a dip in the bacta. Baron Mayerling still has lingering damage to his cells down the center of his body where something sharp bisected him, possibly backed by some spiritual ability that was slowing your regeneration. Lady Charlotte had several older injuries that would have crippled her in the years to come.”

That was alarming as Meier Link hadn’t thought that Charlotte had such injuries, but before he could ask her what had caused such damage, he suddenly found long arms wrapped around him as D pressed close with a small, hungry whimper. Automatically, Meier Link wrapped his own arms around the dhampir, shivering as the other’s warmer skin pressed against his own. D wasn’t as warm as Charlotte but he was warmer than Meier Link, once again revealing his dual heritage.

Meier Link looked at Charlotte, who had an uncertain look on her face as if she wanted to offer comfort but wasn’t sure how either Meier Link nor D would take such a thing. It was then that Meier Link realized this was the first step in changing his own attitude towards dhampires.

“Come, my love. He is isolated by his very heritage. We can at least offer him this comfort as he has brought us to his home,” murmured the vampire, extending a hand towards her.

“I never thought about what his life must be like,” murmured Charlotte, taking Meier Link’s hand and wrapping her arms around D. Meier Link relaxed his hold on D long enough for her arms to slip between them before he shifted his grip, encircling both D and Charlotte with his arms. “But he must be very lonely.”

“As much as I wish it were otherwise, Lady Charlotte, he is indeed lonely.”

Charlotte squeaked, her head whipping around even as Meier Link’s arms automatically tensed as he realized there was a Noble standing next to the tank. It took a couple of seconds for him to realize it was the Sacred Ancestor, and he relaxed again as his instincts of a possible threat settled. Then his sense of duty prodded him as he realized that Charlotte had not met the Sacred Ancestor yet.

“Sire, may I present my beloved, Charlotte Elbourne,” introduced Meier Link, trying to ignore the discomfort of speaking with the Sacred Ancestor while floating naked in a tank with two other equally naked people, one being the son of the very powerful vampire staring at them. “Charlotte, it is my honor to present Vlad Tepes Dracula, King of the Vampires and the Sacred Ancestor.”

“Y.. your majesty,” stuttered Charlotte, and Meier Link couldn’t help the slight smile of fondness as a delightful blush spread across her cheeks even as she did her best to hide behind D.

“I am glad to see you are both recovering, and I wish to discuss what positions you would hold within my household,” the Sacred Ancestor stated, red eyes flickering over all three of them, and Meier Link couldn’t help but be in awe at how casual he seemed. As if he held conversations with naked people in tanks all the time. “Also, I would like to extend an invitation for Lady Charlotte to receive the Methuselah Treatment.” He smiled, just the slight lifting of the corner of his mouth, but his amusement was evident. “After fighting so hard to keep her, I would not wish you to lose your lady love to something as simple as time.”

“What is this Methuselah Treatment, sire?” asked Charlotte, her tone respectful but her eyes were wary. Not scared but cautious, and Meier Link truly couldn’t blame her. While vampires held the Sacred Ancestor in reverence for all that he had done for them, humans had a more healthy fear, not knowing if they might be whisked away to one of his castles, never to be seen again.

“It is something I helped develop with my wife and Dr. Liao to give a human the same lifespan as a vampire,” the Sacred Ancestor explained with a slight gesture and a deep grief in his eyes. “Mina died in a riding accident before it was perfected, but my Forgemasters and Dr. Liao have benefitted from its creation.”

Now the fear was replaced with a thoughtful frown which Meier Link thought suited Charlotte much better than the fear. She had always been a curious one, thinking through the consequences of a plan as much as she could before jumping feet first into it. Her elopement with him had been the only plan she had impulsively gone along with, and he was glad as it had turned out for the better.

“It will give you a vampire’s lifespan and make you sturdy enough that you will not be accidentally harmed should Mayerling forget himself,” continued the Sacred Ancestor, and now heat infused Meier Link’s cheeks as he realized what exactly the elder vampire was referring to. Still it was a priceless gift to be offered to a virtual stranger, and a human at that, simply because a Noble loved her.

“I am honored to be offered such generosity, sire,” Charlotte stated, and Meier Link was sure she would have curtsied if both of them were not wrapped around the dhampir. “And on behalf of Meier Link’s heart, I accept.”

The Sacred Ancestor inclined his head before those red eyes focused on the Noble. “I am curious why you changed your name.”

“A human child, sire,” explained Meier Link with a faint shrug. It had happened so long ago that he barely remembered the details, but he found them returning to him as he focused on the encounter in question. The girl had been very young, toddling after her parents with curls bouncing around her face and a bright smile. “Meier Link was the closest she could get to saying ‘Mayerling’, and I did not have the heart to punish her for something that was beyond her abilities at the time, being so very young. Soon, the name spread with use as I could not punish others for using it when I didn’t do anything to the girl, and I grew used to it.”

“If you wish to resume your old name, no one would say anything,” remarked the Sacred Ancestor, and the pale haired vampire realized that it was indeed his choice. This wasn’t an order disguised as a suggestion, but a casual observation of the household. “As to the positions I have in mind for both of you. Baron Mayerling, I am in need of a senechal as my last one died of old age a few decades back.”

Meier Link was surprised by the offer, realizing it was one of power even if that was a different sort than he was used to. He would be in charge of the servants as well as the go-between for them and those “Upstairs” as it were, a step down from Overseer of the Western Sector rank wise, but any position in the Sacred Ancestor’s household was better than what he had. Even the stable boys were of a higher rank than any noble outside of the borders simply because they were part of the Sacred Ancestor’s household.

“My lady, Princess Chō is in need of a lady in waiting and a fresh pair of eyes with an outsider’s perspective to help with the information that comes to her,” continued the Sacred Ancestor, snapping Meier Link out of his thoughts. “If neither of you wish to assume such positions, I will find a different place for you, but these seemed like a good fit for you both.”

“I am unsure how much help I might be to her highness, but I am willing to try, sire,” Charlotte announced without any trace of hesitation in her voice before she huffed and glared at Meier Link. “You should have told me I was mispronouncing your name, Mayerling!”

“I never gave it much thought, Charlotte,” explained the Noble, and he reached up to cup her cheek with a hand. “However, because you wish it, I shall resume the proper pronunciation.” He glanced at the Sacred Ancestor. “It would not be proper for your senechal to use a mangled version of his name, sire.” Plus it had sounded delightful rolling off of Charlotte’s tongue, like an exotic wine only the fortunate were able to sample.

The Sacred Ancestor nodded again, his expression was amused if Mayerling was any judge. “Your horses have been added to my stable, and what little luggage you brought with you has been settled in your rooms,” he said, and Mayerling mentally winced as he realized that was essentially his emergency luggage. Charlotte had even less than that as the dress she had been wearing at Castle Chaythe had been destroyed because it had been made by Carmilla and horribly stained with her own blood. “As there was not much in the way of clothing for either of you, my tailor and seamstress have begun simple wardrobes for you both with any final decisions waiting for when Dr. Liao finally releases you from his tender mercies.”

There was some good natured grumbling from the doctor in question before he fell silent as the Sacred Ancestor continued. “There are some rules you will both need to know to live in my lands and especially my castle as part of my household. Everyone follows these from myself down to the scullery maids and stable boys. To break them means your life is forfeit no matter who begs me for mercy.”

Which meant that not even D would be able to protect them should they misstep. A glance at Charlotte showed that she understood the severity of the situation as well.

“The first rule is you do not drink from the unwilling,” began the Sacred Ancestor, and Mayerling was willing to bet his fangs that charming a person was right up there with unwilling. Frankly, he wondered who had been foolish or suicidal enough to do such a thing under the Sacred Ancestor’s roof.

“There are servants who wear ruby earrings that routinely donate their blood to the castle’s supplies and are compensated for their generosity,” the King of the Vampires continued. “They are willing to offer a vein in a life or death situation, but most are happy to just donate.”

Mayerling nodded his understanding to keep his fangs to himself. Considering how pleasurable it was to both bite and be bitten, such an act could be seen as another form of assault, something everyone knew the Sacred Ancestor had a very low tolerance for. His own family had developed the idea of a blood harem; people who were willing to share their blood and bodies when asked, and in exchange, they lived long, healthy lives protected by the very family that turned them into despised “victims”.

“The second rule is the Hellforges and my private wing of the castle are off limits to you unless you are invited in,” The Sacred Ancestor stated, and a shiver slid down Mayerling’s spine. He had heard stories of the Hellforges and the men who brought monsters to life on black metal amidst screams and crackling lightning. It was said they were demons, plucked from the depths of Hell and given corpses to inhabit and twist into monstrous forms as they spread through the land like a plague, carrying out their creator’s will.

Considering he had briefly met the cold General Isaac, Mayerling was in no hurry to meet any other Forgemaster or even set foot in their domains.

“These are the two important rules, and Yasha will be instructing you on the other ones during the three weeks he shall be your guide and teacher,” the Sacred Ancestor concluded in a casual tone with a wave of his hand. “A servant will be waiting to escort you to your rooms, and you shall have a week to settle before Yasha joins you.”

Then, not giving them a chance to say anything, the Sacred Ancestor vanished in a swirl of shadows which was much more dramatic than Mayerling’s own phasing ability. Dr. Liao snorted and shook his head. “There is a perfectly good door you can use, sire!” he shouted at the ceiling before leveling a glare at Mayerling. “I expect you to use it as well and show me you have more manners than to pop everywhere because you can.”

“I would only ‘pop’ somewhere in an emergency, Dr. Liao,” Mayerling drawled, not mentioning the times he had used that ability for amusement to make Charlotte squeal and laugh or simply because he wanted to. From the look of disbelief the doctor gave him, it was obvious he wasn’t believed.

“Mayerling, who’s Yasha, and why is he going to be our teacher?” Charlotte asked, and Mayerling frowned in confusion. Had he not told her what had happened when they arrived?

He blinked and shook his head when he realized the two of them had been sleeping, her more than him, for the past few days. There had not been any time for him to tell her anything beyond where they were and that they were safe.

“May I introduced Yakov Mordecai Tepes Dracula, Prince of the Vampires, son of the Sacred Ancestor, and the vampire hunter known as D,” Mayerling murmured, reaching up to brush a gentle hand over D’s braided hair. “The Sacred Ancestor decided that his punishment for bringing us here was a week of helping Specialist Hector before teaching and serving us for three.” He shook his head slightly. “It is my understanding that he broke some rule bringing us here.”

“Because he did not receive permission from His Majesty to bring you within our borders first,” announced Dr. Liao, his fingers moving over the holographic keys again. “However considering the state of the lady’s health, there wasn’t time for a thorough investigation into your background to see if you would be allowed entrance or not.”

Mayerling was very glad to hear that D had brought them here even if it had gotten him in trouble because he knew how close to death Charlotte had been at Castle Chaythe. How certain he had been that she wouldn’t live to see even another minute pass. He tightened his hold on her out of habit only to blush when he remembered that the young prince was pressed between them. D didn’t seem to mind the tightened grip as he continued to slumber, his face tucked into the crook of Mayerling’s neck as much as the face mask he was wearing would let him. Charlotte worked a hand out from between the two men to stretch a bit more, and Mayerling shivered just a bit when she rested her hot hand on his back.

Dr. Liao had been right. It had been far too long since he had enjoyed the general comfort of another in his arms without fear or injury pressing at him, and now he had two people in tight quarters with him, skin against skin. He closed his eyes as he rested a hand on D’s hair, cradling his head against his throat, even as his other arm was wrapped around Charlotte’s slender waist. She hummed softly and shifted so she was next to them, and it only took a bit of shifting for them to be in a mostly three way hug. The dhampir’s arms were still wrapped around Mayerling, but he didn’t flinch or move away from Charlotte. It was a very peaceful feeling that wrapped around Mayerling, and he smiled, tilting his head to rest his cheek on Charlotte’s hair as she tucked her face in his neck as well.

This is what he had been missing even if he hadn’t realized it. To have those who cared for him, even in a little way, in his arms, soothing his nerves until he was once more feeling comfortable in his skin again. From the way Charlotte was relaxed against him, completely trusting him and all the more cherished for it, she was enjoying this peaceful feeling as well as the skin on skin contact. For some strange reason, he felt like he had finally found the home he needed.

“You are both at the peak of health for your species.” Dr. Liao’s voice broke through the comfort that had enveloped Mayerling. He opened his eyes to watch the doctor typing away again on his holographic keyboard. “I can start the Methuselah Treatment now, Lady Charlotte, and it will be complete in a quarter of an hour.”

“What exactly will happen, and will it be painful?” asked Charlotte, a touch of fear in her voice. Mayerling tightened his arm around her waist in comfort but remained silent. This was ultimately her decision and her body. However, he would remain with her as long as he could if only to offer comfort.

“There will be a gas you breathe in and a shot of adrenalyn to help spread it rapidly through your system,” began Dr. Lioa as a new holographic screen popped into existence. On it was a detailed diagram of the human body, and Mayerling figured it was going to help the doctor follow the treatment. “Your bones and muscles will become more dense, causing you to increase in weight but your overall size shouldn’t change too much. There will be some discomfort, but the bacta will help ease that.”

He looked up, a small smile on his face. “You will also have to relearn how to do some things as you will suddenly be stronger than you were. Even something simple like drinking from a cup or writing a letter could result in a shattered glass or broken pen in a moment of distraction. Should take you about a week to get used to your new limits.”

Which was once again the time limit the Sacred Ancestor gave them for settling in. Truly the Sacred Ancestor was more generous and caring towards his people than Mayerling had ever suspected from the stories which still showed he was quite generous to those under his rule. Even those that unexpectedly arrived in his kingdom.

Mayerling watched as a blood red gas rushed down the tube to her breathing mask before her eyes widened. It was only because he was focused on her with all of his senses that he heard her heartbeat spike a second before her breathing picked up, and she shivered in his embrace. The dhampir in his embrace stirred slightly before his arm slipped from Mayerling’s waist to wrap around Charlotte’s, obviously offering comfort even while asleep. It was strange because Mayerling never heard of a vampire moving once they were asleep, especially when it was as deep as what D was experiencing.

Charlotte tightened her arms on both of them before burying her face in Mayerling’s chest, a tiny whimper slipped from her lips as her eyes were squeezed shut. He knew she had a high pain threshold, he didn’t know of a woman who didn’t, but it was still something that had his heart clenching at the realization that he couldn’t help her with this or even protect her from the pain she was feeling at the moment. She had willingly accepted this treatment, had been warned that there would be some discomfort, but Mayerling still wanted to take the pain from her.

He didn’t know how long he floated there, watching each little twitch of her body and hearing her tiny sounds of pain, before she sagged in his arms, panting slightly. Mayerling focused entirely on her, forcing his vision into hunting mode, and the network of veins and arteries under her skin became visible to his sight. At the very center was her heart, beating a bit rapidly but starting to slow down even as he watched, and tension he didn’t realize he had in his shoulders drained out as he realized she was going to be just fine.

“Dr. Liao would have said anything if there had been problems.”

Mayerling jumped at the unexpected voice, and he looked down to find D gazing back at him with a sleepy expression in his pale eyes. A few slow blinks and the dhampir seemed to shake off the last of his slumber as he straightened up, his arms falling away from the other two, and Mayerling felt a pang of loss as D seemed to pull away, withdrawing into himself again. He already missed the closeness that he had experienced when D had been asleep.

“You should still be asleep,” huffed Dr. Liao, shaking a finger at D, but Mayerling thought the frown on the human’s face was more concerned instead of angered. “That was the same anesthesia I used on you the last time you were under my care, and you were unconscious for another quarter of an hour.”

D simply shrugged, his head lowering slightly, and Mayerling was reminded of the large traveler’s hat he wore on the road. The action one of those that obviously was to drop the brim of his hat over his eyes, creating a wall between the dhampir and the person he was facing off against. Perhaps as a means to discourage them from whatever conflict they had with him?

“The Servant is asleep, but it would have been more than willing to keep me under,” D remarked, and Mayerling remembered the strange face that had been on the dhampir’s left palm. He was rather curious to know what the relationship between the dhampir and the strange being that was part of his hand was as well as what the Servant actually was, because Mayerling had never heard of such a thing in his entire life. There were parasitic creatures in the world, including those that took over the host until that being was nothing more than a sort of meat puppet for the parasite. But what little things Mayerling had heard and observed between D and the creature called the Servant, it was more of a symbiotic relationship instead of a parasitic one.

“Wh… who’s the Servant?” mumbled Charlotte, her lashes fluttering before she managed to open her eyes. She blinked a few times before a blush stained her cheeks as she realized that D was awake.

“It is a demon that my father has a pact with,” D explained, extending his left hand, palm up. “It assists me in my duties outside the kingdom while also indulging in its nature to tempt me or getting me in trouble.” He shook his head and seemed to pull farther back into himself as he withdrew his hand, long fingers curling to hide his empty palm again.

“It called me sugartits!” burst out Charlotte, her eyes wide with realization, and D jerked as if struck, his eyes coming up to focus on her face even as Mayerling glanced down at her. The blush was high on her cheeks as she folded her arms across her chest. “I remember a voice telling me that it wasn’t my time, and I was far too beautiful to be dying in such a horribly drafty and crumbling castle. Then it told me ‘relax, sugartits’.”

Laughter rang through the air, and Mayerling huffed his own amusement as Dr. Liao leaned against the tank as he gave into his own mirth. D simply shook his head and didn’t look at anyone as he waited for their laughter to die down. Mayerling thought that there was a touch of embarrassment in the dhampir’s body language, but D was extremely hard to read even now when he wasn’t encased in black leather.

A gurgle echoed in Mayerling’s ear, drawing his attention to his feet as he watched a grate open in the bottom of the tank. It took a few seconds for him to realize that the clear, water-like liquid that they were floating in was slowly draining out. Another few seconds and his feet were on the bottom, and he appreciated the chance to readjust to the fact he had weight again and subject to gravity.

By the time the liquid was below his chin, Mayerling realized that while it was very good at healing, it left an almost viscous residue behind on his skin and in his hair. He looked at Charlotte, who was looking a bit like a drowned cat as her thick hair stuck to her body, creating interesting designs on her pale skin, even as she grimaced and pushed it out of her face. He turned his attention to D who stood there, head slightly bowed and arms casually hung at his side, looking completely unconcerned about what was happening.

No, there was a touch of tension in that pale, slender form, as if the dhampir was expecting to be attacked and needed to defend himself even though he had no weapon at hand.

“Peace, my prince,” Mayerling murmured, holding his hands out, palm up, in a nonthreatening manner. “You are safe in your home.”

D blinked a few times as the tension slowly slid out of his body with the last of the strange liquid running down the drain. “We need to shower the rest of the bacta off our skin,” he said, slipping the breathing mask off his face, and letting it dangle from the ceiling as part of the tank opens with a faint hiss of hydraulics. “You’ll want to get it out of your hair as well or it will turn into a matted mess you will never be able to get straight.”

“The communal shower is through there,” Dr. Liao announced, pointing to a door in the far wall, and it only took a second for D to start that direction. Mayerling carefully helped Charlotte untangle her hair from her breathing mask before he removed his own. She stumbled slightly, and he automatically wrapped an arm around her waist. Despite knowing about the transformation she would undergo, it was still startling to feel dense muscle under his fingers instead of the softer, human muscles he was used to when holding her.

D had claimed the showerhead in the corner, giving them the illusion of privacy if they wished to take one of them at the opposite end of the room. Which would once again leave the dhampir rather isolated and alone. Mayerling didn’t even glance at Charlotte as he escorted her to a showerhead near D, and the dhampir watched them out of the corner of his eye even as he continued to deftly pick apart the thick braid his hair had been plaited into.

The hot water felt delightful on his skin, and Mayerling was so very grateful that a shower didn’t count as running water when it came to the vampiric weakness. He honestly didn’t know what he would do if he ever had to give up showers. From the pleasure filled moan from Charlotte, she was enjoying the water as much as he was.

“Your coach is comfortable to travel in, but it lacks a working shower, Mayerling,” she announced, reaching up to run her fingers through her hair. She smirked at him over her shoulder, and he found himself grinning back, delighting in this playful attitude that was making an appearance again. “Do see to that, would you?”

“Your servant, my lady,” Mayerling replied with a grand, sweeping bow, and he was rewarded with her bright laughter. It was an old joke between them, dating back to their second outing together when she had absently ordered him to do something. He had replied with a sarcastic “Your servant, my lady” which had her blinking for a moment before she burst into laughter that was only partially embarrassed at the thought of trying to order around a Noble. He had been offended for a few seconds before he had joined her in her humor.

Grabbing one of the bottles, Mayerling poured a bit of pearlescent liquid into his hand, and he grinned at the faintest mint scent that rose from the shampoo. He didn’t know why he was surprised to find soaps and shampoos that were friendly to a vampire’s nose here, but he was. A bit of thought had him realizing it was because Medical was more of a human area than one needed by a vampire no matter their status. With a vampire’s healing, it was very rare that they needed medical assistance beyond a couple of pints of blood to boost their own healing.

Turning, he started working the shampoo into Charlotte’s hair, getting another lusty moan from her. “You have a century to stop that.”

“If you keep making noises like that, I will not be responsible for what might come up between us,” Mayerling whispered in her ear as he continued thoroughly washing her hair. It fell below her hips, the weight of the water pulling all of the curl out of the dark locks, and Mayerling knew how long it took her to wash her thick hair. A blush stained her cheeks, but the smirk on her lips was definitely full of mischief and promise for when they were alone. He huffed and reached up to lightly tap her nose, leaving a few suds behind. “Minx.”

“And you love me because of it,” she sniffed, wiping the suds off her nose before she grabbed the bar of soap, lathering up a cloth, and scrubbing her body. Mayerling did his best to ignore her actions, but it was difficult because of how sensual her movements were becoming. He knew she was tempting him, teasing him with what was going to happen between them once they were alone in their room, but he also knew they needed to have a serious conversation first about his instincts and what she wanted from him. There had never been time before as their meetings had been fleeting, focused more on their developing relationship and their possible future together.

Shaking his head, he nudged her under the water and rinsed her hair, being sure to get all the shampoo out of the dark locks. His actions earned him another appreciative moan, and he huffed, lightly tugging on her hair in retaliation because his body was certainly getting interested in seeing if he could get her to make more of those noises. His eyes cut to D who was obviously ignoring them, and Mayerling wrapped his arms around Charlotte’s waist, pulling her back against his body with a hand splayed across her abdomen.

“Behave yourself,” he whispered in her ear even as she shivered in his arms. Her skin was so soft and smooth under his fingers, and he briefly wondered if the Methuselah Treatment had turned back the clock a bit for her, erasing some scars. He would have to thoroughly explore her body when they were alone. “The prince isn’t used to your playful nature.”

From the way she lowered her eyes, Charlotte had forgotten about their company in the communal shower as her cheeks turned pink again, this time from embarrassment. She turned and started scrubbing Mayerling’s skin, letting the water rinse the soap from her own body. He smiled down at her as he took the time to wash his own hair.

He glanced over at the dhampir only to hiss at the sight of the bright red scar running straight down D’s back. Right over his spine if the vampire was any judge, and his curiosity prodded him into asking about it.

“What happened to your back, my prince?” Mayerling’s question drew Charlotte’s attention, and she gasped at the sight of what must have been a horrific injury.

D turned the water off before squeezing his hair. “I was born with a problem in my spine,” he replied, calm as if talking about the weather, and Mayerling supposed that to the dhampir, it was old news. “I went through several surgeries over my life to ensure that I was not crippled. The tank and bacta we were in were developed to help me recover from those surgeries and heal with as few problems as possible.”

Because being suspended in liquid would be immensely easier on a damaged back trying to heal from surgeries than laying in a bed or strapped upright. It was also obvious from watching D fight that he had certainly not suffered any for starting with such a rough beginning.

“Why do you keep the scar?” inquired Mayerling, stepping back under the water to get rinsed off himself. “It would be a simple thing to remove it especially with the Sacred Ancestor’s technology and medical knowledge.” Many vampires were vain about their appearance, especially the Nobility, and scars, unless they were rather distinguished, had no place on a vampire’s skin. To find one, especially one as horrific looking as the one D had, was almost completely unheard of.

D shrugged as he tossed his wet hair back over his shoulder, standing there completely unconcerned that he didn’t have a stitch of clothing on, and Mayerling blinked as he realized that the dhampir was also hairless below the lashes. Was that a quirk of his genetics or something unique to dhampires? Mayerling was hairless as well, but he had undergone a treatment to achieve such a state as he had disliked shaving his beard all the time, a rare and expensive procedure.

“It’s just a scar,” the dhampir pointed out. “It means I survived something that tried to kill me, and it doesn’t bother me at all.”

“Why didn’t we see it when we were in the tank together?” Charlotte asked, a small frown on her face as she stared at D. “I was right behind you and never saw it.”

Another shrug. “It only really shows up under hot water,” he replied before starting towards the door. “There are towels by the door and robes as well.”

In other words, stop asking questions and get dried and dressed. Mayerling turned off their own water after making sure they were thoroughly rinsed off before escorting Charlotte over to where D had pulled a large towel out of a closet. A few minutes later, Mayerling was wrapping the soft, terry cloth robe around his body as Charlotte tied the belt of hers. D, on the other hand, had a small pile of clothes that he started pulling on. Black pants tucked into knee high black boots, a plain white shirt under a black vest, and a lace cravat around his throat with the blue medallion resting on top as a splash of color to the outfit. Even the cape fastened around the dhampir’s shoulders was all black. It wasn’t that far from his hunting armor, save for a few details, and it made sense that a servant brought D clothing as he lived here when he wasn’t out on the road. Meanwhile, Charlotte and Mayerling had only arrived with the clothes on their back which was why they were regulated to bathrobes.

A young lady in a tidy maid’s outfit was waiting for them in the hallway, and she gave them a respectful curtsy. What caught Mayerling’s attention about her wasn’t her looks or the fact she was hubam, but the ruby studs sparkling in her ears. Briefly he wondered if those jewels meant she was one of the donors that the Sacred Ancestor spoke of, but before he could ask, his attention was taken by the appearance of a young man approaching them. He had silver hair worn down around his ears, and he wore the distinct gold trimmed black armor of a Forgemaster. Yet unlike the cold and imposing General Isaac, this young man seemed more friendly. Or at least more open from the expression on his face. The only weapon he seemed to have was a long handled hammer made of a silvery metal at his hip although it was odd to see he had a long white glove stretching to his elbow on only his right hand, leaving his left bare. Was it a cultural thing or a Forgemaster thing?

“Ah good. I caught you before you vanished into your bedroom,” the young man stated, a small, amused smile on his face as he looked at D. Eyes the color of aquamarines flickered over Mayerling and Charlotte in an assessing way before returning to focus on the dhampir. “His Majesty has already informed me that you’re my helper for a week now that Dr. Liao has released you.”

D inclined his head before turning slightly to gesture at Mayerling and Charlotte. “Allow me to present Baron Mayerling and Lady Charlotte Elbourne,” he began before looking at the couple clad in bathrobes as if it was the most natural thing in the word to introduce people like this. “This is Specialist Hector, one of my father’s generals and the only other Devilforgemaster.”

“Our new residents,” Hector said before bowing to them. “Welcome, and I look forward to getting to know you.” He straightened and snagged D’s arm, getting a twitch from the dhampir. “Come on. There’s a lot of work to do.”

D inclined his head again in a farewell this time before he allowed himself to be pulled down the hallway by the Forgemaster. Mayerling stared after them, trying to wrap his mind around the fact that the young man who had just left with D was not only one of the fearsome Forgemasters but also as old as the dhampir hunter if not older. He barely looked like he was in his third decade of life!

A polite cough snapped Mayerling out of his stunned amazement, and he glanced down to find Charlotte looking at him with an amused smile as she slipped a hand through his arm. He automatically bent it as she tugged him down the hallways in the opposite direction that D and the Forgemaster had gone.

“Should I be concerned about your attention wandering?” inquired his love, a teasing note in her voice as they followed the maid. “We do seem to be surrounded by many lovely people.”

Mayerling chuckled and patted her hand in reassurance. “Do not be worried, my love,” he stated, his voice completely serious to alleviate any doubts she might have. It never occurred to him that she might be a bit insecure in their relationship now that they were surrounded by other vampires. “While there are many beauties that reside here, my heart belongs to you.”

She beamed at him, but he had to wonder if she truly was the only one who now lived in his affections. Mayerling knew he had a weakness for lovely and vulnerable people, and he had been so very fortunate that Charlotte had returned his affections before they had deepened into love. Yet, even now his thoughts turned to the dhampir with the breathtakingly beautiful face and the scar down his spine that told of a totally different life than what he now lived. It was ridiculous to believe D was vulnerable in any way, especially after they had crossed swords so to speak, but his thoughts kept circling back to when Mayerling had held the dhampir in his arms, the aching loneliness causing D to cling to him in return.

Would it be possible to have a relationship with D? Would Charlotte even agree to such a thing? Mayerling had entertained and thoroughly enjoyed both male and female lovers in the past, although he had never mentioned it to Charlotte, not wishing to appear as if he were bragging or trying to compare her to those past lovers. He shook his head and pushed those thoughts away. He didn’t even know if D would be interested in such a relationship with them or if Forgemaster Hector was the dhampir’s lover. Still, he would discuss the issue with Charlotte before discovering if D did have a lover in the castle. If Charlotte was alright with the idea of seducing the prince turned hunter into their bed and possibly their relationship, then it was better to have that cleared between them before he started looking into D’s romantic relationships.

The rooms they were led to were richly furnished, but that was all Mayerling had a chance to see as what seemed like an army of tailors descended upon him the second he was through the door, pulling him away from Charlotte who was besieged by her own army of seamstresses. He wasn’t sure how long they were measured, fitted, and presented with a variety of options to choose from. At least the tailor had the good sense to keep Mayerling’s future wardrobe close to what he had been wearing when he had arrived at the castle. The colors were also what he prefered to wear, which was another choice he didn’t have to think about. While he knew it was necessary, Mayerling hated dealing with the various issues that came from doing business with a new tailor or one that wished to “double check” records.

Finally, the last thread was snipped, the final color chosen, and the last decision made before everyone seemed to vanish out the door, leaving Mayerling standing in the center of the room, feeling rather shell shocked from the lack of organized chaos around him. He blinked, trying to adjust as he looked at Charlotte, and she looked at him, appearing even more shell shocked than he. It occurred to him that she might not have dealt with seamstresses before despite the wealth her family had.

Almost as if she realized he was staring at her, she slowly turned to look at him before she burst into laughter that was only slightly hysterical. That snapped him out of his daze, and Mayerling folded his arms over the button down shirt he now wore tucked into black pants that still had a few chalk marks on the fabric. He wasn’t sure when in the chaos he had exchanged the bathrobe for actual clothes, but here he was. Charlotte also had lost her bathrobe in favor of a simple dress in a color that could only be described as pale honey which beautifully set off her complexion.

“You look like you were hit upside the head with a wooden board,” she gasped out between giggles. “I haven’t seen you like that since I first kissed you.”

“Out of the two experiences, I assure you I prefer your kisses to that organized chaos,” he drawled, flicking his fingers towards the door that separated them from the rest of the castle. He walked over to her and took her hand, placing a soft kiss on her fingers as his eyes drifted over her figure. This close, he could see the dress was made of soft wool, and he was looking forward to peeling her out of it. “You look lovely in that color.”

There was a definite blush on her cheeks as she stepped closer to him, looking up into his face. “You have a promise to keep.”

Mayerling looked at her, letting her fingers slide from his hand as he wrapped his arms around her waist. “I do?” he inquired as her hands came up to fiddle with the buttons of his shirt. “And what promise might that be, my lady?”

“To introduce me to pleasure I have only dreamed of,” she said, a definite purr in her voice as her eyes darkened with lust, and her fingers slipped the first button open. She smirked at him and licked her lips. “We are alone, safely away from my family, and there is a perfectly serviceable bed that we have been given along with these rooms.”

His eyes widened as heat raced down his spine to pool in his groin. While she had been quite willing to share his coffin in his coach, he had not wanted for her first time with him to be in such a rather tasteless spot despite how roomy the inside was. Yet now, as she pointed out, they were alone, safe, and there was a bed just on the other side of the room that seemed to be waiting for them.

“I believe my lady has an excellent suggestion, and I would be a bore if I did not keep my promises,” he replied, his body temperature rising with his lust. However, his common sense took over before he could drag her over to that bed and rip her new dress from her body. “But, we need to have a serious discussion first, Charlotte. One we have been putting aside because the time was never right. Now we have that time to talk about us.”

“You’re right,” sighed Charlotte, resting her hands on his chest as she met his eyes, and she gave him a soft smile. “It’s always been one of those things we never had time for, but we do need to talk. If only to figure out our future together beyond seeing if we can break the bed.”

“Charlotte!” hissed Mayerling, closing his eyes and he firmly told his libido to calm down. There would be plenty of time to indulge in mutual pleasure after they spoke. He led her over to the couch that was part of the sitting area in the room, situated in front of a large fireplace that contained a merrily crackling fire. Whether the real thing or a very good illusion, Mayerling couldn’t say as it appeared extremely real to the point of throwing off enough heat to chase away the faint chill in the stones.

She settled herself, sitting with her hands folded in her lap, and he joined her, turning so their knees touched. He gently held her hands in his, rubbing his thumbs on the back of her fingers, enjoying the freedom to simply touch her as he wished. He opened his mouth to start talking only to find himself at a loss for words. It was rather frustrating since he was the one to insist they talk, and now he couldn’t. Growling and silently cursing his own foolishness for being unable to talk about something so simple, Mayerling rose and stormed over to the fireplace, leaning against the mantle as he stared into the flames. Why was this so hard?

“I would like at least one child. Perhaps two.”

Charlotte’s voice cut through the frustration and tangled thoughts in his head, and he turned to find her calmly sitting there, watching him with amber eyes, her hands folded primly in her lap. The smile on her face was understanding however. “We never had the chance to speak of children and marriage, but I want to make a family with you, Mayerling. No matter how difficult it might be or what obstacles stand in our way,” she stated, gesturing slightly with a hand before she shrugged a shoulder. “After all, we have managed to overcome many obstacles that have been thrown in our way already. What are a few more rocks in the road?”

“I confess I had not given children much of a thought,” he said, moving back over to sit on the sofa with her before taking her hands again. “I was a bit more preoccupied by the thought of having you in my life for as long as I could. And now, with the Sacred Ancestor’s blessing, that appears to be much longer than a mortal life.”

“Then think about children, Mayerling,” she urged with a smile. “A little boy with your eyes and my hair or a little girl with silver curls and amber eyes. Perhaps both, who would be free to live here away from the prejudice they would find outside this kingdom. Free to be raised with parents who love them, no matter what their heritage is, and free to be themselves.”

“I think I would like both,” he whispered, his voice a touch rough with the idea of children that looked like both of them. They would be dhampirs, but would that be so bad, here where the Prince of the Vampires was exactly that yet still welcomed and loved by his father? There did not seem to be the same prejudices here as there were in the Frontier, and Mayerling knew he would have to overcome any of his own prejudices about dhampirs which he hoped would be easier with Charlotte at his side. He never wanted any child of his to feel honored to have his attention or be ashamed of half their heritage simply because he wouldn’t change.

Perhaps it was time to stop thinking of Prince Yasha as either ‘the dhampir’ or ‘the hunter’. Yes, he was those things, but they did not define who he was anymore than being human defined who Charlotte was when Mayerling fell in love with her. It would be tricky because Mayerling had heard more about the famous Vampire Hunter D than he had about the Prince of the Vampires. There had been rumors that the Sacred Ancestor had an heir, possibly a son, but no one knew anything more about the mystery child than that. Most rumors were that the Vampire Prince was with his father, ruling from the shadows, but very few whispered about Mina the Fair, the human mother of the child. With the attitude towards dhampirs, those rumors were not listened to very closely, and Mayerling often believed it was simply humans trying to gain a bit of the Sacred Ancestor for themselves.

“I have many prejudices against dhampirs,” Mayerling confessed, dropping his eyes so as to not meet her gaze, afraid of the anger or accusation that might be found there. It felt even worse considering his feelings towards the prince. Was it because Yasha was Prince of the Vampires and a dhampir? Or were those feelings honest infatuation, something beyond wanting to see if he could coax the prince into his bed for a night of fun and another notch?

Gentle fingers lifted his chin, and he hesitantly raised his eyes to find her smiling at him, melting some of the tension and worry in his heart. “There are still a few prejudices I have myself,” she confessed, her voice soft. “But we will get rid of them together, and be better people for it.”

“One of the biggest ones involve my prince,” confessed Mayerling, tugging her over to sit on the couch together even as he took both of her hands in his. A blush stained Charlotte’s cheeks as she ducked her head, and Mayerling looked at her curiously as she played with his fingers. He tilted his head, unable to contain his curiosity as he  had only seen her act like that once before. When she had finally confessed to loving him. “You wish to say something, my love?”

“I don’t want you to think I don’t love you,” Charlotte began, focused on their fingers as she played with his, and there was a nervous tremble in her voice. “But I can’t help thinking about Prince Yasha and how attractive he is.” She sighed and shook her head, biting her lower lip. Mayerling was silent as he waited for her to organize her thoughts, knowing she would confide in him once she did so. “I admit I was attracted to him when we talked back in the Water Garden. He was charismatic and there was just something about him that made me want to get to know him better, but at the time, he was the hunter on our trail, determined to separate us.”

“And now?” he asked, his voice soft as he focused on her. She certainly wasn’t wrong about the prince’s charisma. When they had been chased to Castle Chaythe, it had been easy to consider Prince Yasha as the enemy, the one who wanted to kill them. But here in Castle Dracul, where they were safe and free to be with each other, all those feelings that he had managed to ignore were trickling back.

“Now, I want to hold him in my arms and invite him into my heart to live with you,” sighed Charlotte, her voice soft as if she was afraid of his response.

“I find my own thoughts drifting towards him now that we are safe,” admitted Mayerling with a wry smile, and her head flew up, wide eyes staring at him in disbelief. He nodded, raising her hands to press a kiss on her fingers. “It may be a bit premature, but if he is not with anyone, I would not mind opening our hearts and our bed to him if you don’t.”

Charlotte smiled and lifted her chin in an obvious invitation for a kiss even as her amber eyes sparkled. “I am certainly glad we have an accord when it comes to Prince Yasha, but for now, I believe we have other things to do,” she remarked. “Further conversation about who is allowed in our relationship can wait for now.”

Smiling, he leaned forward and brushed his lips across hers, enjoying the feel of her pressing back, participating in the kiss instead of simply submitting to him. It was a delightful experience, and a part of Mayerling hoped to share it with the prince one day.

“Take me to bed,” whispered Charlotte, a flush on her cheeks and her eyes dark with lust when the kiss ended. “And show me the pleasure we will share for the rest of our lives.”

“Your servant, my lady,” purred Mayerling, unable to resist the siren call of that bed any longer.

 

Chapter 6

Against one wall in the disused ballroom was a dias, covered with large pillows scattered around a low table while hookahs with multiple pipes were carefully placed to ensure the maximum number of people could indulge if they wished. Large glass doors opened onto a garden with night blooming jasmine sharing their scent with those that were in the room while the rest of the space was empty. The marble floor was scarred from weapons and heavy boots, revealing it was an area to test one’s skills against another or settle a dispute with more physical means. Six bodies sprawled on the pillows, laughter and chatter filling the air as bottles of blood wine were passed around to those that had fangs. Nearby was a pile of armor and weapons from those who found it more comfortable to be dressed in such even when there was no need.

“You need to finish your list and soon, Yasha,” huffed Dragoslav, pointing the mouth of the bottle he held at the young prince who was reclining on a pile of pillows. Yasha had discarded some of his clothes, leaving him in a pair of black pants and a white button down shirt that had the top few buttons undone, and he focused on the Slavic general. “Every time you come home, it takes you longer to settle back into your skin.”

Yasha hummed and brought his goblet of blood wine to his lips. As much as it galled him, Dragoslav was right, and only in the freedom of this room would any of the generals dare to speak to their prince without fear of being punished. They may have watched him grow up and trained him, but they still respected his position. “I’d love to wash my hands of the whole thing, but it’s my duty to our people,” he countered, the half of a bottle he had already consumed making him feel warm and relaxed. The blood aspect was certainly helping with the short rations he was forced to endure beyond the borders. “And things just got a hell of a lot harder.”

“Would that be part of the reason the lovely Chō isn’t with us?” inquired Raman with a slow smirk. Apparently the minor disagreement between the two ladies was still ongoing, and Yasha was willing to bet that neither remembered the incident that started it.

“Probably,” admitted Yasha, holding out his now empty goblet, and Hector chuckled as he refilled it from a bottle nearby. The human general and Forgemaster had his own bottle of normal wine, but he was always willing to refill a goblet for one of the others. “I heard a rumor that someone claiming to be the Sacred Ancestor is wandering the Frontier.” That earned him outraged hisses from the vampire generals while even Hector looked disgruntled, but the human had any time it had come up this past week as Yasha helped him. “Father wants me to bring this person to him for appropriate punishment.”

“And Chō is happier than a wolf with lame prey,” huffed Zufall, taking a drink directly from his bottle. The German vampire had abandoned his goblet long ago, preferring to claim a bottle for himself, and no one bothered to lecture him on manners. There was always plenty of wine to go around in gatherings like this. Zufall chuckled and shook his head. “Her harem will be pissed, but I’m sure all those pretty boys will be able to entertain themselves.”

“Speaking of pretty boys, when do you think Mayerling will join us with his lovely lady?” inquired Raman, a wide yawn showing off her serpent like curved fangs before they retracted, and Yasha grinned at the sight. When she was relaxed like this with them in this old ballroom, Raman’s lamia traits rose to the fore.

“Probably sometime after the two of them are done going at it like a pair of spring rabbits,” Yasha drawled, draining his goblet in one long drink in a poor attempt to hide his frustration about the situation. Every time he ran into them, they both reeked of lust and each other, making it even harder for him to  act normal around them. He simply had to keep reminding himself that they were happy together, and he should be satisfied he was able to give them that happiness. It never helped the ache in his chest, but it kept him from doing something completely foolish, like demand to be a part of their relationship.

Putting his empty goblet aside, he rearranged the pillows behind him, stretching out with a small sigh as his eyes drifted shut, letting him enjoy the warmth of the wine spreading through his body. There were a few snickers from Dragoslav, but Yasha ignored them as he felt fingers sliding through his hair and massaging his scalp. Hector from the way those fingers scratched slightly as if Yasha was a pet, but the dhampir didn’t mind at all as it sent a pleasant tingling down his spine. He raised a finger to drive his point home about those two. “They are experiencing the freedom to have as much sex as they want without the fear of persecution from anyone,” he drawled, a feline-like purr in his voice from those clever fingers in his hair. “Siamese twins, writhing intertwined.”

“He’s quoting ancient song lyrics again.” Sharma’s voice was resigned but amused, and Yasha could almost see him shaking his head. “I thought we had at least another hour before he reached that level of drunk.”

“At least it’s only Siouxsie and the Banshees,” Zufell pointed out. “I don’t get concerned until he starts with Steve Contre.”

A feeling of pure mischief slid through Yasha, and he slowly climbed to his feet, only wobbling a little as he directed his words to the computer that helped run Castle Dracul. “Clio, please play Call Me, Call Me.”

A guitar and a drum started playing as Zufell groaned, toppling backwards on the pillows with the good natured laughter of the others for encouraging Yasha. Grinning, Yasha snagged an empty bottle to use as a make-shift microphone as he started singing the lovely if melancholy song.

“I close my eyes and I keep seeing things,” he crooned, moving to the open floor where he was less likely to trip over something or someone. He was just inebriated for it to be a possibility, because unlike other alcohols, blood wine was a sure fire way to get him drunk even if the Servant was awake to filter the worst of it out of his body. “Rainbow waterfalls. Sunny liquid dreams. Confusion creeps inside me raining doubt. Gotta get to you, but I don’t know how.”

Yasha tried not to wince as his voice cracked slightly on the words, but this song had always been more personal to him than many others. More instruments joined in, filling out the music as he launched into the chorus. “Call me, call me! Let me know it’s alright,” he begged, letting the various emotions he kept bottled up and hidden behind the mask of the vampire hunter known only as D to finally emerge. Here, it was safe to let them out, to purge himself clean of everything he had been carrying around, forced on him by others. “Call me, call me! Don’t you think it’s ‘bout time? Please won’t you call and ease my mind? Reasons for me to find you. Peace of mind. What can I do to get me to you?”

Because I’m a dhampir. I don’t get to have a life. Not like you.

The words he had told Leila Marcus back when they had been waiting out the rainstorm drifted through his head. As much as he wanted to say he had been trying to make her feel better about her circumstances, he had to admit he had only been speaking the truth. Hated and feared by humans for being half vampire yet despised by vampires for his human blood, he was forever stuck in twilight, alone save for the brief times he could return home to those that at least understood a bit of what he felt through the simple fact that they had watched him grow up, helped train him to be the hunter he was, and supported him when he was lost. A small bit of comfort for those long and lonely nights on the road.

“I had your number quite some time ago, back when we were young, but I had to grow.” Yasha was eternally grateful to all of them, these generals of his father who were older than him. Who had shared their knowledge, their skills, and in the case of Sharma and Raman, their bodies when a very confused teenage dhampir was stumbling his way through puberty and had no one to help him figure himself out.

Movement near the door caught his eye, and he turned slightly to find Chō entering, a smug look on her face, and Mayerling and Charlotte following in her wake, both looking rather stunned to see everyone there. Yasha briefly wondered if Chō had warned them about what they would find here, but if she did, it didn’t look like they believed her.

“Ten thousand years I’ve searched it seems, and now gotta get to you. Won’t you tell me how?” begged Yasha, and he wasn’t sure who he was directing those words towards this time. Mayerling and Charlotte, the couple so in love with each other they were willing to court death to remain together, or some faceless person who was willing to love Yasha, no matter his heritage or the masks he wore.

Chō huffed slightly as she settled between Sharma and Hector, a goblet appearing in her hand as she held it out to be filled. “A bit early for this sort of music, isn’t it?” she murmured even as Mayerling and Charlotte were given goblets of the appropriate wine. “Or is he just that drunk?”

“Bit of both,” Sharma murmured, but Yasha heard them anyway. He knew they were only concerned about him, and that was a welcome change to the usual attitude he faced.

“Call me, call me, let me know you are there. Call me, call me. I wanna know you still care.” Those words were certainly directed at the generals, and Yasha never doubted their feelings towards him. Another small barrier against the world that hated and wanted to destroy him with that hate. “Come on now, won’t you ease my mind? Reasons for me to find you! Peace of mind. What can I do to get me to you?”

A startled look was on Mayerling’s face, and Yasha wondered if it was the lyrics or the fact he could sing well. His mother had insisted on voice lessons to help a young prince when his voice started changing. Charlotte wore a thoughtful expression on her face, like she was listening to more than just the song, and Yasha knew Chō had gained a valuable resource in the young lady.

“Come on now, won’t you ease my mind? Reasons for me to find you! Peace of mind. Reasons for living my life! Ease my mind! Reasons for me to know you! Peace of mind! What can I do, to get me to you?” Yasha let his head fall back, eyes closed, as the music drew to an end. There were a few minutes of silence as she stood there, doing his best to get his emotions under control before he did something like throw the bottle he held against a wall in a fit of frustration.

Only once he was sure he was in control again did he return to his previous place on Hector’s other side, exchanging the empty bottle for a partially full one. He ignored his goblet and took a drink right from the bottle, uncaring how crass it might appear. The huff from Mayerling over Yasha’s apparent lack of manners would have been amusing anywhere but here, and Yasha looked at the Noble, searching that pale face even as the prince tried his best to ignore the usual scents of each other and sex that enveloped the mixed couple like a cloud.

“Chō explained the rules of this room,” Yasha stated, knowing the princess never would have brought them here ignorant of the rules they had hashed out so very long ago for their own peace of mind. He pointed his claimed bottle at Mayerling, a serious expression on his face that felt like the far too familiar hunter’s mask that he longed to put aside for good. “You will abide by them as we do, or you will not be invited to join us again.”

That had only happened once, and the lady in question had quickly found that her previous warm reception had cooled drastically. That had been the last time any outsider had been allowed close to the mixed group of friends until now.

“She has, and we will abide by the rules,” Mayerling stated, and from the slight hesitation at the ends, it was obvious he had managed to stop himself from using Yasha’s title. That was one of the rules, that all titles were left at the door to leave them on an equal footing.

The prince nodded before glancing at Raman who was eyeing one of the hookahs thoughtfully even as Chō was setting up the one closest to her. A small crack had the coals lit before the scent of fine tobacco started to drift through the air. He was surprised that Raman had let Chō start the hookahs as the Indian vampiress often had a pipe in her hands before her second bottle.

“Alas, this will be the last time I shall be able to indulge,” sighed Chō, her words emerging on a plume of perfumed smoke. She smirked at the other generals, running her tongue over her fangs. “At least for a few years.”

Dragoslav laughed and saluted her with his goblet. It had been no secret that the princess had been hoping for a child for several decades now, but for various reasons she had been putting it off. Yasha thought it was just because she was very picky as to who the father of her child would be. “Congratulations! Have you finally decided on a donor?”

“Father will be monitoring her through her pregnancy,” Yasha stated, not caring if the others knew he was to be the donor. Father had more than one genetic sample from him on file so only Yasha’s permission was needed for it to be used. “Especially considering how many issues my mother had with conception.” He glanced at Mayerling and Charlotte. “That’s something you two will have to think about if you wish for children. Dhampirs exist, but we’re damn rare due to how genetically compatible vampires and humans are. Yes, humans and vampires can breed with each other, but it doesn’t always result in a viable child.”

A dark blush appeared on Charlotte’s face, undoubtedly from his blunt words, but there was interest in her eyes. Good. At least she would investigate what it would take to safely have a child with Mayerling even if the Noble didn’t.

“If you are to be the father of Chō’s child, does that mean the two of you are in a relationship?” Charlotte inquired, that thoughtful look turning curious, and Yasha burst out into laughter. He wasn’t trying to be cruel, but the thought of him and the princess together was extremely hilarious in his intoxicated state.

“No, Yasha and Chō aren’t in a relationship,” he heard Hector explaining, amusement in his voice, and Yasha managed to calm down to snickers as he curled up on his side, cradling his ribs and somehow not spilling his bottle. “Chō has her harem to keep her entertained. Raman and Sharma are together for I don’t know how many centuries at this point. Zufell and Dragoslav might share a bed occasionally, both are too fond of the female figure for it to be anything but stress relief.”

“And you?” inquired Charlotte, her voice was still polite and there was no hint in her tone that she was anything but curious about all of them. Yasha had heard about so many incest relationships between humans, especially smaller villages where often the only place to find a spouse to carry on the family line was through the children or between siblings. He couldn’t understand it, but then he wasn’t in charge of monitoring the morals of everyone he came across.

“Not interested,” drawled Hector with a shrug that Yasha felt, and the dhampir slowly sat up, his fit of humor over with for now. Yasha glanced at Charlotte, curious to see how she would take that information, and he discovered a very thoughtful look on her face as she was staring into her wine with a tiny, triumphant smile on her face. Apparently, she had managed to get whatever information she had been looking for with only a couple of innocent questions that were totally inoffensive.

“You’re good,” drawled Yasha, pointing a finger at her only to get eyes innocently blinked at him in return. “Give Chō a few decades to refine those skills of yours, and you’ll either be her second in command or in charge of your own information network.”

“Head of her own network that works with mine,” Chō announced with a wry smile as she inclined her head towards Charlotte. “That was the deal I struck with her before we met up with Mayerling. If she found out the relationships of those in this room without deliberately asking, then I would get her a network of her own. If she couldn’t or someone figured out what she was up to before getting the information she sought, she would remain part of my network as another set of eyes.”

Charlotte smirked at them, the cat that not only got the canary but ate it with a side of cream. “A simple question that was more speculation than anything, and Hector offered up what I sought with one small follow up inquiry that let me know about him.”

“And what have you figured out about Yasha?” inquired Chō, and Yasha glanced at the princess to find an expectant look on her face as if she was poised to pounce on some unsuspecting prey. Shaking his head, he returned his attention to Charlotte, curious to know what she was going to say.

“Not in a relationship and lonely,” replied Charlotte, her voice soft. “Quite possibly due to his job as a vampire hunter which takes him away for months at a time, his heritage, or bother.”

Yasha shook his head before smirking at Chō. “Be careful that she doesn’t simply take over your network, Chō,” he drawled before stretching out onto the pillows again and letting his eyes drift shut. “She’s dangerous.”

More good natured laughter filled the air as Chō snarled something in Caontonise that Yasha wasn’t in the mood to translate at the moment. He was pretty sure it was anatomically impossible and morally disgusting because the best curses often were.

“Well, I have a long day tomorrow,” sighed Hector. “It’s time for a complete check up on the cyberhorses, and with Yasha’s latest purchase as well as Mayerling’s addition to the stables, it’s going to take all day at the very least.”

“Oh! I tracked down your engineer,” Chō remarked. “He’s in bad shape, but my people are tending him. Once he has recovered, His Majesty has given permission for Poke of Garucia to become a resident and help you as needed unless he would wish to resume constructing cyberhorses.” She snorted, and Yasha could picture her shaking her head. “He did not deserve what he got.”

“It was because he was willing to help me,” confessed Yasha before launching into an abbreviated story about the children he had rescued from a vampire only to be chased out of town instead of paid, and how one child grew up to be a grizzled old cyberhorse engineer willing to stand up for what was right instead of bending to what was easy.

“We’ll have Dr. Liao look him over once he arrives and before we settle him into his chosen profession,” remarked Hector before huffing. “And on that note, I’m for bed.”

A chorus of wishes for pleasant dreams followed the Forgemaster out of the room, and Yasha folded his arms over his stomach as he let the various conversations that were springing up between people to wash over him, soothing and comforting. He slipped into a sort of meditative state, warm and relaxed with a belly full of blood wine, and he barely twitched as his head was lifted into a lap before fingers slid through his hair. He wasn’t quite sure who it was as the individual scents were mingling into one mass to cling to everyone, himself included, but his instincts were quiet so despite his ignorance of whose lap he lay in, he knew he was safe.

He was pretty sure he had dozed off at some point when he heard his name mentioned. Remaining limp and apparently asleep through long practice, Yasha focused on the conversations again even as the fingers in his hair threatened to send him back to sleep.

“So he has never had a serious relationship?” That was Mayerling, his voice thick with disbelief, and Yasha would have pointed out a few hard facts if he had not been feigning sleep. Plus the curiosity to know what someone else would say about the situation and shine a bit of light on it from their perspective.

“The closest he had was Raman and myself when he was a teen, and that was more about him figuring out his sexuality with people who were safe for him to do so than anything else,” remarked Sharma, his voice casual and unapologetic, and Yasha could have kissed him. He hated it when someone pitied him for whatever reason or worse, wanted to start something with him in the mistaken belief that he should be grateful for the attention, like he was a puppy yapping at the master’s feet.

“Far too many want him to be something he’s not or simply use him to notch their bedpost,” Dragoslav huffed, his voice deep with disgust for those faceless people. “I have no issue with those who wish to merely sample different lovers as long as they’re up front about it.”

“And none of those hunting him could be honest if their lives depended on it,” drawled Zufell. “They only wanted the bragging rights at having bedded Yasha.”

Those were the ones that hurt the most because Yasha had been hopeful that their attention towards him was genuine and without ulterior motives. His heart broke a bit more each time Chō presented him with the truth, easily discovered through her network. After the fifth time, Yasha started going directly to Chō the second anyone expressed a romantic interest in him. Word quickly got out, and interest in him dropped considerably when any possible paramours realized they were going to be investigated thoroughly before he gave them a chance to get close.

“There are two songs he closely identifies with,” stated Raman, her voice slow and lazy from both the blood wine and the hookah. “You heard most of the one song when you came in, but the other is less heartbreak and more seduction.” She softly laughed, and Yasha forced himself to remain motionless when he truly wanted to twitch away from her words. That was his fault for wanting to hear what the others thought. “Music is how he expresses himself when words fail.”

“May we hear the other song?” That was Charlotte’s voice coming from directly above him which meant it was her lap acting as a pillow for his head and her hand in his hair. He really should move, perhaps even head to his own bed to sleep off the blood wine, but those gentle fingers sliding through his hair kept him where he was, a prisoner who didn’t wish to escape.

“Clio, play Face to Face by Siouxsie and the Banshees,” Chō called out before anyone could protest, and Yasha was unable to prevent the delighted purr from slipping out of him as the dark and rather seductive music filled the air. The main lyrics were set up beautifully with three beats and then a pause as if Siouxsie was waiting to see the effect of her words before continuing on. It was a dance and a hunt, predator and prey stalking each other with the roles changing in a heartbeat, meither gaining the upper hand in that delicate balance yet both happy in their pursuit.

This time, however, instead of his thoughts focusing on some faceless partner who hunted Yasha and was hunted in return, it was Mayerling and Charlotte that entered his little fantasy. She acted as bait to draw Yasha out while Mayerling stalked the darkness after them both, set on claiming them for his prize. The dhampir could almost feel the cool moonlight on his skin and the soft grass beneath his feet as he let the harmless fantasy spin out in his mind.

Charlotte in a pale dress, racing through the moonlit trees, a ghost with her delighted laughter trailing behind her to coax Yasha on even as Mayerling was a dark shadow, silent as only a vampire on the hunt could be. And Yasha between them, trying to catch her without being caught by him even as he searched for a chance to turn the tables on Mayerling.

She was quite tricky, never running in a straight line when she could maneuver around and through the trees, using them as cover to keep him from simply lunging and carrying her to the ground. Oh, Yasha could use his full speed to catch her, but that wasn’t the point of this hunt. When would Charlotte make a mistake, a zag instead of a zig, which would let him catch her and spirit her off before he was caught by his own hunter? Or would Mayerling catch him first in his distraction of Charlotte?

He felt his nails, long and pointed but never as long as a vampire’s claws, brush against the fabric of her skirt before it was whisked out of reach by a sudden turn of foot, her laughter ringing out again as it teased him. His own instincts had him spinning around a tree just as a pale hand tipped with proper claws flashed through the air where Yasha had just been, and Mayerling’s dark laugh slid down his spine in a caress. Close was his hunter, almost too close, and Yasha knew if he wasn’t careful, he would end up kneeling for the Noble.

Would that be so bad? a small voice whispered, and it distracted him long enough to lose Charlotte in this dream garden.  He would not simply use you or try to change you. Look at how far he was willing to go for his lady.

Another whisper of movement had him dodging another playful swipe, and Charlotte’s laughter rang out again. Behind him now. She had joined forces with Mayerling. No longer bait, she was hunting him as well, and a strange thrill raced through him. He had been chased, been hunted before, but there was something different about this time, this couple. It was playful as much as it was seductive, but there was a thread of seriousness about it that made his heart beat faster. Would it be possible for the dream to become reality?

His thoughts and the dream were shattered by the feel of a claw on his back, tracing the scar that rode his spine. Snarling as his instincts flared in the face of danger, he acted to protect that small vulnerability. Great leathered wings burst from his back, shredding his shirt as he curled up in a tight ball. There was a startled scream as he wrapped his wings around him, a thumb claw catching on something as the bat-like appendages formed a protective cocoon around him with the leather membranes folding over his vulnerable spine. He was tense, ever sense trained to find the next touch, the next attack. He was trying to figure things out, but his head felt muddled, his thoughts sluggish.  Had he been poisoned? Why hadn’t the Servant taken care of it? Had his hand been taken again? A quick flex of his fingers revealed his left hand was still attached to his arm, so what was happening?

Carefully, he focused on the world outside of his leather cocoon, braced for a trap. Far too many enemies tried to use his very senses against him, leaving him unable to trust anything but his instincts. His mouth was open to help accommodate his fangs which had lengthened in response to the danger, as well as to help him filter through the various scents teasing his nose. Most would try to fool one or the other but rarely both.

The tang of wine mixed with the hot copper of blood. Cardamom, cinnamon, and tumeric. Ginger and water lotus with scented smoke. Steel, wool, and metal polish. Night blooming jasmine. All the scents that meant home, but there were other, strange scents that didn’t fit. Gentle rosewater and cool silk heated by a warm body. Cedar and the faintest tang of gravedirt, the latter always marking a Noble. Was he a prisoner? How had he been caught? Why was the Servant silent? Where was his armor and weapons?  Where was the Servant?

Hey, relax Boss. I was just catching a few winks.

If he hadn’t been so well trained, he would have collapsed in relief at the sound of that voice echoing through his head. As it was, he simply opened his memories to the Servant, something he rarely did if only to keep personal thoughts from the demonic symbiote who was more than willing to take advantage of any scrap of information it could get about him. But right now, he had too many questions and not enough answers to feel safe, especially with his instincts screaming at him right now.

That’s because you’re drunk on blood wine, and someone twitched wrong when you fell asleep, drawled the Servant, amusement clean in its voice. You were dozing in sugartit’s lap when sugar daddy touched your back to wake you, setting off your instincts.

He was drunk? That was why it was harder than usual to think?

There was a chuckle in his head. Yeah, you were relaxing with the other big shots and enjoying a chance to unwind without Raman stringing you up or Sharma draping you over the closest horizontal surface for a good hard fuck or a warmed ass.

Heat flared in Yasha’s belly from the memories of his time with Sharma and Raman. He tried to push them away, to hide them with his other special memories, but they proved elusive, slipping through his mental fingers like fine grains of sand. He knew the Servant would use them against him because that was what it did. It didn’t care how precious such memories might be to Yasha, only that it was a weak spot to exploit.

Relax, Yasha. Your dad’s here, and he’s gonna get you back to your room to sleep this off, murmured the Servant, and he twitched at the use of his actual name. He could count the number of times he had heard it from the Servant and still have more of his fingers left over. Not even when Yasha marched into the most deadly of circumstances to defeat his target did the Servant call him by name.

New scents slipped into the mix, instantly drawing Yasha’s attention as he focused on them. Dusty books, the tang of wet ink, warm leather, a touch of wolf, and the indescribable scent that was Ancient Power. There was no way anyone could replicate that last scent now matter how they tried, and Yasha sighed in relief, feeling the tension he had nearly been vibrating with vanish as a large hand was splayed across his wing.

“Time to put your wings away, my little fruit bat,” coaxed the deep voice of his father. “You cannot sleep like that unless you plan on hanging upside down from your knees.”

It was an old joke between them, dating back to when Yasha had spent a summer wanting to wear his wings all the time and eat only fruit. Mother had laughed, declaring Yasha her little fruit bat while Father had teased him about sleeping like an actual bat.

Carefully, Yasha unwrapped his wings from around his body before folding them against his back, and he blinked up at the face of his father as his wings tucked themselves away under his skin. That was another thing no one was able to replicate out of fear and respect for his father. Most often paintings or sculptures of Dracula would have blurred features or blank faces as the hands of those artists simply refused to cooperate.

Of course as the adrenalyn and his instincts faded, the alcohol he had consumed tightened its grip on him, and he barely managed to politely cover his mouth as a jaw-cracking yawn caught him by surprise. Strong arms lifted him off the floor, cradling him against a firm body that didn’t feel quite right, and Yasha managed to pry his eyes open to find Mayerling holding him as Father stood behind the Noble’s shoulder, an indulgent look on his face.

“He wished to make amends for startling you so badly and ruining your relaxing evening,” Father explained as Mayerling carried Yasha out of the ballroom. There were calls of “pleasant dreams” from the other generals in the room, but Yasha focused on Mayerling. His eyes narrowed as he stared at the pale Noble who seemed perfectly willing to carry him around, but Yasha knew better. There was no way the vampire simply wanted to apologize.

“What do you want?”

“To see you safely to your bed as an apology for ruining your evening, my prince,” Mayerling replied, his voice calm and reasonable as if he believed he spoke the truth.

“You want something more. Everyone does,” argued Yasha, his words only slightly slurred by his lengthened fangs and the blood wine. It would take a bit before his fangs retracted and the red color left his eyes. Until then, he would just be talking a bit strangely. “A notch on the bedpost. Bragging rights at being in my bed. Courting favor with my father. Doing a job at less than the agreed upon price. Not killing them. It’s always something.” People always wanted something from him. It was a fact of his life, and anyone who said otherwise was lying.

Mayerling hummed, a thoughtful look on his face, and Yasha felt his heart ache as he waited to hear what the Noble’s price for this kindness was to be. “I want for you to sleep yourself out and take it easy when you wake because you shall undoubtedly be feeling your indulgence tonight,” the pale vampire stated, a small smile on his lips, and Yasha frowned. That was it? But that didn’t make any sense. “That is how normal, healthy relationships work even if they’re only working relationships, and it is a sad state of affairs when I am more knowledgeable about such normal things thank you, my prince.”

“I’m a dhampir. I don’t get to have a normal life,” yawned Yasha, his eyes sliding shut against his will even as a feeling of deja vu slid over him. Hadn’t he said those words before to someone? He was sure he had, but the welcoming embrace of sleep wrapped around him before his muddled thoughts could drag the memory up. He’d figure it out when he woke up if it was important.


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