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Relax

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Alucard woke with a quiet sigh, rolling over in his bed so that he faced the wall of his room. It was early in the morning, the sun just barely over the horizon. He heard hushed voices and quiet footsteps beyond the closed door. The dhampir wanted to go back to sleep, but then there was a knock at his door.

“Alucard?” Maria’s voice called.

“Yes?” he asked, his voice heavy with sleep as he turned to face the door.

“Richter’s here. I know it’s pretty early, but I’m making breakfast. Would you like to join us?”

“All right...”

“Great! Just come out when you’re ready.”

Her footsteps receded as she made her way to the kitchen. Alucard flung his arm over his eyes as he lay in his bed for a moment, listening to his companions’ cheerful voices. He thought that it would indeed do him some good to join them, so he sat up and got out of bed. He lit a few candles in his room to illuminate the space before opening his closet. The dhampir removed his nightclothes and pulled on his black trousers and boots. He grabbed his white shirt from his closet and put it on, fingers grazing the large scar on his chest—a memory from centuries ago—as he buttoned it up. Alucard tied his white cravat around his neck, then he found his black vest and carefully clasped its four silver brooches. 

Before he put his coat on, Alucard found his comb and began pulling it through his hair. He found that it was easier to straighten his hair before putting his coat on, so that the coat collar wouldn’t get in the way. It often took a while to completely finish combing his hair because it was so long, but he sometimes found it calming. 

The dhampir was so lost in thought now as he looked out the window with the comb in his hair, that he didn’t hear the approaching footsteps. His door opened and he jumped at the forceful sound.

“Hey, are you almost—” Maria looked up. “Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“It is all right,” Alucard said softly.

He looked vulnerable in that moment with a comb in one hand, mid-sweep through his hair as his other hand guided the long pale-blonde tresses. He wasn’t wearing his coat, and Maria could see just how small his frame was, how lean and limber he was beneath the many layers of clothing that he so often wore.

“I’m just glad I walked in on you combing your hair rather than getting dressed,” Maria giggled as she snapped out of her reverie.

Alucard’s face heated up, and he could practically feel the crimson color darkening his complexion. 

Maria noticed and laughed some more as she stood in the doorway. Alucard turned away and prayed that the burning in his face would go away. Maria’s laughter died down as she noticed the dhampir’s discomfort. 

“Do you need some help?” she asked suddenly.

Alucard frowned. “I’m sorry?” 

“With your hair.”

Alucard was taken aback. “I...no, I am fine.”

Maria pulled up a stool and led him to it, ignoring his response. She took his arm and made him sit before he could protest.

“Here,” she said, as she took the comb from his hand. “Allow me.”

“Lady, you do not have to—”

“Shh. Just let me. Relax.”

Maria took the comb in her hand and admired it. It was a pale silver color with three small red jewels on the shaft, the center one slightly larger than the other two. She carefully set the comb into Alucard’s hair, and tugged it gently through the knots and tangles. Alucard’s hair was softer than silk, and it was a beautiful, ethereal color unlike any pigment she had ever seen. 

The dhampir let out a quiet sigh as Maria worked through his hair. He thought back to when his mother used to brush his hair when he was a young child. She would tie it back with a dark red ribbon and tell him how cute and handsome he looked. Deep down, Alucard liked the feeling of someone else brushing his hair, rather than him doing it himself. He hadn’t felt that sensation in a long time.

Alucard let his eyes slip closed as he felt Maria’s fingers pull pale-blonde strands behind his ears. He felt her hands move to his chest as she began to untie the cravat around his neck.

“It’s getting in the way,” Maria whispered, keeping quiet as she sensed Alucard’s serene state of mind.

The huntress combed the beautiful locks until there were no more tangles, and then she continued to comb some more. She loved the feeling of the dhampir’s hair slipping through her fingers, but even more so, she loved how Alucard looked so calm and at peace with himself. He was usually so conflicted inside, and he always had a depressed and upset mentality, if he would even display his emotions at all.

Alucard let out a quiet hum of contentment as Maria combed close to his scalp. She worked her way to the front, where short curls framed his face and fell down his forehead. He sat quietly with his hands in his lap and his eyes still closed as she carefully combed the curls down the side of his face. 

Maria thought it a miracle that Alucard hadn’t stopped her by now. He usually didn’t get so personal with her, Richter, or anyone else for that matter. She figured that maybe he enjoyed the feeling of his hair being combed, and that it was somehow sentimental to him. She dared to hope that he didn’t mind her presence in his life. 

After about twenty minutes, Maria decided that Alucard’s hair could not possibly get any softer. She set the comb down on Alucard’s dresser, and the dhampir opened his eyes, but kept his gaze down. The huntress picked up Alucard’s cravat from where she had placed it on the dresser, and she stepped in front of him where he sat still on the stool. Maria lifted his chin and tied the cravat around his neck again, tucking it snuggly beneath the hem of vest. After a long moment, Alucard looked up at the huntress.

“Thank you, Maria,” he said quietly, as he stood up.

Maria beamed. “Thank you for letting me do that. Your hair is very pretty, you know?”

Alucard blushed. “Th-Thank you.”

The huntress reached a hand out and tucked a stray strand behind his ear. She picked up his coat from where it was laid out on his bed, and she handed it to the dhampir. Alucard pulled the sleeves over his arms and adjusted the high collar, his hair cascading down his back and shoulders as he did so. Maria watched in admiration. Everything he did was so elegant and regal—just looking at him made her heart flutter in her chest.

“Maria.”

The dhampir’s beautiful voice interrupted her thoughts. She looked up and saw a small blush feathered across his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. The huntress couldn’t believe how human he looked, how vulnerable, how adorable—

She cleared her throat. “I’m sorry, did you say something?”

“Are you all right? You were staring...”

“Oh, was I?” Maria asked innocently, internally scolding herself for letting him notice. “Sorry, just...lost in thought I guess.”

The dhampir hummed in response and turned his gaze to the window.

“Ready to eat?” the huntress asked, hoping to break the tension. “I made some biscuits, and Richter brought in a nice selection of fruit for breakfast.”

Alucard nodded and noticed that Maria seemed flustered, but he didn’t say anything. He followed Maria into the dining room where Richter was setting the table. The hunter looked up and smiled.

“Well, it took you long enough,” he teased. “What have you been doing all this time? You guys left me starving out here!”

Alucard’s eyes widened. “My apologies, I did not mean to keep you waiting—”

“I was kidding, Alucard,” Richter laughed. “Relax.”

Maria smiled and led Alucard to a seat at the table. Richter sat down across from him, and Maria set a plate of biscuits in front of them, along with a bowl of strawberries and some honey. She took a seat next to Alucard and they began to eat. The dhampir listened to his companions’ laughter and idle conversation as the morning passed by. Maria spoke of market prices and how Richter should wash the mud from his coat, while the Belmont talked about new fighting techniques and how Maria’s cooking skills had gotten better...

“Alucard?” 

He flinched and looked up to see Richter and Maria staring at him. 

“Yes?” he asked, confused. 

“Are you okay?” Richter asked. “You seem a bit...tense.”

The dhampir realized that the hand holding his fork was trembling slightly, and he quickly put it down. 

“Alucard,” Maria said. “Calm down. Take it easy. You don’t need to be on guard all the time.”

“You're safe here,” Richter added. “You know that, right?”

Alucard nodded. “Yes, of course. I’m sorry, I did not mean to insult you—”

“You’re doing it again,” Maria said. “You worry too much, Alucard. Just sit. Breathe. Enjoy yourself, for once.”

The huntress patted his hand and smiled, leaving the dhampir somewhat bewildered. Maria left the table and returned with a glass of water, which she handed to Alucard. 

“Thank you,” he said quietly.

He took small sips from it, and it slowly calmed his strangely shot nerves. Maria sat down again and picked up a strawberry, taking a bite from the fruit. 

“Hey, Alucard,” she said, and gestured to Richter. “The two of us are going hunting tonight. You know, just to get out of the house for a bit. Would you like to come?”

Alucard thought about it for a moment. He had been feeling pretty restless lately. He felt the need to move around and fight for a good cause. Hunting demons would be the perfect outlet. 

“I would like that,” he said.

“Just like the good old days!” Richter exclaimed with a grin. 

Alucard wasn’t sure that the days of slaying monsters in Dracula’s Castle were “good,” but he supposed that Richter had the same urge as he did—the will to destroy evil and take action against it. 

Maria laughed. “It will be good for you. I think sometimes you don’t know what to do with yourself, all cooped up in the house.”

“I...I suppose...” the dhampir said, slightly flustered.

“The three of us haven’t gone hunting together in a while,” Richter said. “Let’s see if you still have what it takes!”

Alucard gave a small smile. “Of course. But perhaps you would like to show us the new combat techniques that you spoke of?”

“Oh, yes, you haven’t seen anything yet!”

Maria stood up to clear the dishes from the table. “All right, you two, we can discuss this later when we go hunting.”

“Yeah, let’s not get too excited yet,” Richter agreed. “We need to save our energy for the night hordes.”

The huntress nodded and glanced at Alucard. She loved seeing the dhampir engage in conversation. His smile, though a small and modest one, warmed the room along with Maria’s heart. She wished that she could capture it somehow and keep it stored in her memory forever. It was so rare to see him happy, and Maria hoped that she could somehow change that. She wanted him to be cheerful and content—he deserved it more than anybody. 

Richter went to light the fireplace, and Maria took his spot across from Alucard. The dhampir’s hands rested on the tabletop, and she held them tightly. The huntress stared into Alucard’s amber eyes and beamed at him, hoping to lift his spirits. He gave her just the slightest smile, but it was all that she needed.

“Save your energy for tonight,” Maria said gently, mimicking Richter’s words. “Don’t spend it worrying. You don’t have to worry.” She moved the hair from his face and smiled. “Just relax.”