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painted faces

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Admittedly, Trevor could have picked a better mask. The snout is far too long, the ears too ridiculous, and best of luck trying to see anything clearly through the eyeholes. As a red fox, Trevor seems relatively unimpressive compared to the rest of the Carnival attendees. Yet he also sticks out like a sore thumb among the more intricately painted faces. Still, it could always be worse. He could have chosen an old plague doctor’s mask as an ill-mannered joke.

At least Sypha likes the mask, despite it being in stark contrast to her choice of peacock feathers. They’re a rarity in Wallachia and she especially likes how they softly brush against her cheeks. Now the two of them wait for a third, unknown mask.

The bridges and streets of Venice are filled with porcelain faces, some are simple and plain with rose red lips and blackened eyes while others display simple jewels, golden leaves, and multicoloured fabrics. Those who strive for more ambition in their facades turn to decorating their faces with old sheet music, tarot cards, metal ornaments, and rare bird feathers just like Sypha’s. One needn’t look too far if they wish to find entire courts of kings, queens, dukes, jesters, and the like wandering like beautiful ghosts throughout the dark canals. They carry dimly lit lanterns, hanging them by each building in an effort to light their path, but it’s no matter. The fireworks provide more than enough guidance.

Trevor and Sypha stand off to the side, still patient in their waiting. They pass the time by watching the parade as it makes its way towards the heart of the floating city. Surrounding them are smaller groups of masked individuals who have been dancing, drinking, and courting one another well into the night. Trevor is used to lively festivals, coming from a family with its own traditions of celebrating good company and even better drink. However, this time he’s content to act as just an observer.

Venice is somewhat reminiscent of Bucharest and perhaps Targoviste (when it wasn’t turned into a mass grave site). Traveling from Wallachia was a pain, no surprise there. Yet even Trevor agrees the destination was well worth the journey. There’s a mystery to Venice, like a dream. The fact that there is no earth beneath its foundation only adds to the city’s otherworldly quality. Trevor’s not entirely sure what to make of it. He feels admiration and his curiosity is adequately fueled, but letting down his guard completely has been difficult. Of course he and his close companions just had to arrive on the day of the Venetians’ most beloved event.

Then there’s Sypha. Trevor can’t remember the last time he saw her react with such wonder. Half of her face is obscured by the mask, but he can tell from the look in her blue eyes and the way her mouth gapes open every time a firework lights up the dark sky. He doesn’t blame her; some of them are rather impressive.

“You could make bigger ones,” he comments. It’s not an exaggeration or lie. Sypha could in fact make bigger, brighter, perhaps even better fireworks. She glances at Trevor with a slight curl on her lips, knowing this to be true as well.

“I am very tempted.” Before she can contemplate any further, Sypha becomes distracted by someone else. Across from where the two of them are standing is a group of young women wearing humble dresses along with their own handmade masks; not quite as expertly crafted as others in the parade but just as colourful and imaginative. With the music of drums and flutes as their guide, they dance hand in hand. One woman bears a blue mask like Sypha’s, only hers is more akin to a butterfly. She twirls and laughs until she stops, her eyes catching the Speaker’s. Sypha turns away, pretending that something else has seized her attention, yet she can’t help but look back at the butterfly woman. She smiles and makes a friendly, excited motion with her hand. Come join us! When Sypha hesitates, the woman lifts the mask, her expression bright and lovely, and beckons her once again.

Trevor notices this gesture too. “Well, are you just gonna keep her waiting all night?”

“You think I should?” She asks, removing her mask.

He shrugs. “It doesn’t matter what I think. Go ahead, I’ll stay here and keep an eye out for him.”

Sypha doesn’t need much more convincing. She gives Trevor a happy expression before sliding the peacock feathers back over her face and joining the women on the other side. They welcome her with open arms and almost immediately, Sypha feels at ease. Trevor awkwardly wanders, staying close enough to Sypha and her new friends, wondering if he has enough time to go hunting for a good drink.

His vision momentarily goes dark. He feels a soft cloth on his skin, carefully slipping underneath his mask and over his eyes, liked gloved hands. Trevor’s entire body tenses, until he comes to his senses. Crossing his arms, he doesn’t give his sudden company the pleasure of a more exaggerated reaction.

“You’re supposed to guess who this is.” A soft, familiar voice speaks.

“Sorry but you sort of gave yourself away just now.” Alucard appears from behind the hunter, his own mask an elaborate combination of gold markings and black jewels. Trevor expected nothing less.

“You are no fun.”

“Don’t I usually say that to you?”

The dhampir chuckles. “I must say your choice is… unique.” He says, tapping the fox’s snout. Trevor finally gives in and takes the whole thing off. “You don’t have to remove it.”

“It’s been a pain in the ass all night. At least now I can actually breathe and see properly.”

“Well, my apologies for keeping both of you waiting. Enjoying yourself?”

“… yes, actually.” Trevor doesn’t say it to make Alucard feel better; his answer is genuine.

“Good.” Alucard takes his hand. “Come with me.”

“Wait, why? Where?”

“I know how well you fare in crowds.”

Trevor scoffs under his breath. I’ve gotten better. “Should we let Sypha know?”

Alucard looks towards the group of festive women with Sypha standing out amongst them all. He watches her dance and laugh without a care to be had, as though nothing else in the world matters in this moment. “We don’t need to bother her. She can find us when she’s ready.” Grasping Trevor’s hand, he starts dragging him away from the main street deep into the darker alleys of Venice. Trevor decides to follow the dhampir willingly. Maybe if he’s patient and plays along, there’ll be some wine (or something even better) waiting for him.

They discover a secluded canal luminated by only a few simple lanterns. Alucard sits on the stone steps leading into the tranquil waters with Trevor joining him, their arms brushing against each other’s. Not even the sounds of the parade can be heard in this isolated haven they can call their own.

“Did you know Venice is slowly sinking?” Alucard says after a moment of calm, comfortable silence.

Trevor didn’t know, though the question did cross his mind upon the trio’s arrival earlier on. How romantic. “Wouldn’t surprise me. You’d have to be mad in order to build an entire city atop water.”

Staring out at the water, Alucard lazily rests his head on the hunter’s shoulder. “It must be hubris. Still, it is rather beautiful, don’t you think?”

“Sure. Beautiful.” Trevor turns his head, glancing at Alucard. The dhampir’s eyes have grown heavier (more than usual) and his breathing slower, so much so that he looks to be on the verge of falling asleep. Trevor raises his hand, close to tucking a long strand of soft hair behind his ear, before slipping off the mask and laying it beside his own. Alucard smiles.

“Does seeing someone you trust put on a fake face bother you?”

Trevor’s face grows hotter. “I just wanted to do this…” He says before pressing his lips against the dhampir’s cheek. Before Trevor can pull away, Alucard removes his glove and lightly grabs his chin.

“That was surprisingly chaste for someone like you, Belmont.” He teases the hunter a little bit more by ghosting his lips along Trevor’s, listening as blood flows from his wildly beating heart through his veins. Alucard has tasted that blood before; at first it reminded him of salt and ale. But it’s not the taste that he enjoys the most, it’s the satisfied reaction. All the sighs and moans that Trevor always tries to hush.

Alucard kisses him with a hand on his neck, not forcefully but gently, stroking it in a soothing manner while savouring Trevor’s warmth. Their affection is slow, tender, a much welcome and needed change from their usual violent lives. Eventually, Venice will be claimed by the sea; maybe in a year or in a hundred. Who can truly say for certain? But for tonight, Trevor is thankful for its determination to stay afloat and beautiful.

“Is this more of what you had in mind?” He mutters, smiling against Alucard’s mouth. They share a few more kisses, a few more seconds of their hands roaming wherever they please on each other’s body, before the dhampir speaks.

“Very much so.”

Both are unaware of Sypha wandering towards them, giddy as ever, before stopping herself before they can notice her. She came to tell them how they’re missing all the festivities but sees the two men holding one another and how Alucard drapes his arms around Trevor’s shoulders, burying his face against his neck. He doesn’t seem to be biting down; instead he closes his eyes and enjoys the closeness between him and the hunter.

Sypha quietly retraces her steps backwards. Even she can’t bring herself to interrupt their intimate moment. Besides, the other women will soon be wondering where she’s run off to.