Sypha and Trevor leave at the end of spring. That is also when they convince Alucard not to die.
So Alucard lives, after a fashion.
He spends his days cleaning the castle, humming the songs his mother used to sing while sweeping, until his father invented machine servants who would clean the castle instead (enthralled servants were one of the first things she put her foot down on after their marriage). He builds mechanisms to allow himself into the Belmont hold without having to climb up and down endless stairs. He carves runes to stop dust and mould from gathering amongst the books before the summer rains move in. He fills the kitchen with summer blossoms the way his mother used to. He cooks increasingly outlandish meals for himself.
He sees ghosts in every room he enters.
Alucard has always been surrounded by people. Growing up, there had been had always been his father and his mother. Their servants, the non-mechanical ones, were vampires or humans who would pay off a debt. While his father didn't quite hold court anymore there were always other vampire nobility who might visit to ask for his father's wisdom or impartiality in settling disputes. As his father's son, he had to learn to run a household, to entertain. And from his mother, he learnt to speak to humans, to smell the diseases that lay in their blood, to speak to them softly and gently when they had no more time to live.
He’d thought he'd been at his lowest when he sealed himself away in Gresit, his chest knitting sluggishly back together, grieving for his dead mother and mad father.
He had no idea.
It takes a month for his cleaning efforts to slow.
What was the point to all this anyway? A caretaker of vampire and human knowledge, Belmont had said. Everything had seemed possible then, with the rising sun painting the world rose and gold. The local birds had finally gotten used to the strange presence of the castle, and gathered around the trees and the open rafters of the entrance hall to sing.
He thinks of his mother's stories of sphinxes and guardian spirits who would wait for centuries until the right hero came by. How did they live until then? Fighting his father was easier.
Every day, he feels more like a grave warden.
He begins tossing glass bottles onto the floor and leaves the shards to gather dust. Talks aloud to dolls and pretends that they answer. (He does a fairly good imitation of Belmont, if he does say so himself.)
He never enters his old bedroom again.
When he hears the arrow nock against the bow, he almost laughs out loud in relief. Even his brain will not create imaginary enemies that real.
He throws the first stone wide, lower and with less strength than he normally would, aiming to startle, not kill. He supposes even an enemy, bound and tortured, would be someone to talk to.
Then the hunter and huntress turn to him with wide eyes and beg him for help.
How is he supposed to say no?
The ghosts disappear when Sumi and Taka are around. When he cooks them their dinner, the kitchen is just a kitchen, without his mother bending over the stove, or his father insisting that they had servants to cook for them. The library, through their borrowed eyes is once again the treasure trove he used to wander in freely.
Meals taste different when you cook for someone, he learns. He takes more pleasure in watching Taka empty his plate than he does in the act of eating. He watches their expressions, learns what they like and dislike through the smallest of frowns on their faces, the enthusiasm they have when he cooks their favourites. He learns that they are partial to fish, but not rabbit. White wine and not red. They never complain or course, well-brought-up slaves would have never had take opportunity to develop any kind of discernment with food, but he learns their tastes anyway.
He coaxes the two to use a knife and fork while they laugh at his attempts to use chopsticks. He points out the portraits that they pass and tells them about the occupants, answers their questions easily without the barbed weight of guilt hooking itself to his chest. It is almost as though living ceases to be a punishment.
He prepares two bedrooms for them, and does not comment when they share the same one. The beds are large enough.
On the nights he cannot sleep he wanders the halls. When he passes their room, he sometimes hears cries from inside. He is never quite sure when it is a nightmare, and when it is not, so he cannot bring himself to knock on the door.
They come to him in the night, like all the bad things do.
He lets them push him down. Lets them climb over him. Wonders if they can sense his inexperience - this act, he has read about in books that he blushed to read and hid under his bed and which his mother found anyway - but they seem happy to be taking the lead.
This is what it means to be a dhamphir, he thinks. To stand at the edge of day and night, of humanity and the undying. To always be apart.
(Sypha knew it. A cold spot in a room. Maybe that is why she left.)
Sumi’s body is corded muscle. Taka’s hands are calloused from years of holding a bow. Their black hair spill down their backs like glossy ink, healthier after the last few weeks of steady healthy meals. They have foreign olive skin, tanned after all their time in the sun and so starkly different from the ivory skin he spent his life with.
As they lick his skin, he wonders if this is gratitude. Not lust, and certainly not love.
A part of him whispers that he should stop them. That this is not right.
He wonders if he is sick for letting them.
Then they clamp the silver chain on his body.
He remembers seeing the bracelet amongst the weapons in the Belmont hold. Wonders how long they have held on to it. Wonders if they debated for long, before they came in.
He shuts his eyes, unable to see their death.
After he eases the silver restraints off his body he carefully licks the blood that had spilt onto his skin. He does not miss a single drop.
There is a special place in hell for sons who have killed their fathers. He cannot decide if it is any worse than the one he is living in, as he leaves Taka and Sumi's body to rot on stakes.
(He remembers the stories his mother told him of the bodies lining the fields outside the castle, bones balanced precariously on in the breeze, a stake through their chest. She never believed in sugarcoating stories about the monster that Vlad Dracula Tepes was.)
The leaves are starting to die. He'd always known he would outlive his human companions with their mayfly lives, but even the most cynical part of him never imagined it would be this quick.
He envies Oedipus, who had known nothing. He wonders if Zeus, if Cronos had thought it worth it.
(Even his father hadn't gone far enough to kill him.)
He picks at his scars when he can’t sleep. That seems to be every night now.
When he can bring himself to stumble out of bed, Taka tugs at his clothes and asks him what he's cooking for lunch, clutching the wound on his neck and gurgling he speaks. Sumi laughs, and wraps bony arms around his neck. Her mouth falls open and he sees the splintered end of the wooden stake dashed through.
When he goes out to the river, he listens closely for footsteps. An indication that he can try again, though he does not know what he would have done differently.
He watches his father fall apart. When he wakes at night he can still hear his mother's screams.
He promised to live, he never promised to remain sane.
At one point, he thinks Sypha and Trevor might have come home.
They call out to him, but he ignores them, as he does every ghost he sees in the castle. (When he wanders the halls at night, his mother still tells to him to join her in the library. Sometimes her voice rasps as her jaw breaks into ash on the carpets. His father does not speak but somehow exudes disappointment anyway.) They speak in hushed whispers when they see him pass by.
We should have never left him alone, Sypha says. We should have taken him with us.
Trevor only grunts and gives him glares that might either be morose or angry depending on the light. He is slightly disappointed that his imagination could not have come up with a more creative reply.
I never wanted this, he wants to tell them. He is afraid of what they will say in response.
The nights are the worst, he thinks.
Trevor’s and Sypha's ghosts have settled into the guest room that Sumi and Taka used, probably because it is the cleanest. (He scrubbed it and stripped the sheets clean and made sure not even a trace of hair remained there, after.) He does not dare go near the room at night, afraid of what he might hear.
He still thinks of Taka's and Sumi's lips pressed onto his skin. When they do it now, a mockery of the gesture, their lips are cold and falling apart.
Vampires cry bloody tears, so even when grieving they look like the monsters they are.
Alucard can't even do that right.
After three days, Trevor Belmont's ghost punches him in the face. It hurts enough to stagger him.
He bursts out laughing and Trevor begins cussing him out with words he’d never heard and of course Sypha starts shouting at him for being an unsympathetic bastard.
He takes it back. He’d never gotten his Trevor impression quite correct. His imagination is certainly nowhere near as creative.
Are you really here? he asks.
When Sypha holds him, he thinks he could cry. He does.
They don't ask about the scars that snake his wrists. They don’t ask about Taka’s and Sumi’s corpses at the front door. (Bones now, picked clean by insects and wind and no more gaping faces and accusing eyes as he walks by.)
Sypha takes over the cooking and raids the old spice cabinet, makes meals that taste of other countries. She sings songs in languages he cannot recognise, filling up the space so his mother never enters when she is there. She tames a goat she finds wandering around the woods. Trevor raids the alcohol stash, finds the vintage wines lacking, and begins to brew his own beer. It takes a month, with a lot of his grumbling as he tries to find something in the cellars that will suit his tastes and fails, but then he is pouring out something dark and sweet and Alucard can finally understand the appeal of beer. Sometimes, what you need is to drink in wide gulps like a barbarian, and wake up hours after with a spinning head, only to do it all over again.
One day, Sypha takes his hand and asks him to leave.
His father stands by the door reproachfully, as though to say, You have killed me, my son, but will you abandon me too? His mother places a soot streaked palm on his father’s broad chest, leaves soot on the tattered silk shirt.
I can’t, Alucard rasps. He speaks aloud so little these days.
She nods, as though she understands.
You can bear witness even when in a different place, she says and he remembers how her people have been hunted down for centuries.
He suspects Trevor has never stayed in a place for so long. Sypha certainly has not.
She spends most of her time exploring every inch of the castle, mutters to herself as she digs around the books. Trevor never goes down to the Belmont hold. Alucard wonders if he is haunted too.
He hears Sypha crying out one night and walks into the room. They haven’t bolted the door anyway.
Trevor has cradled her in his lap and glares at him for walking in, but does not tell him to get out.
She’s feverish, he says. I can’t get her temperature down.
It is a good thing then, that Alucard's body runs cold.
They carefully transfer Sypha into his lap. He presses his hands to her forehead and cheeks, carefully wipes her sweat away with the linens he orders Trevor to get for him. Sypha turns her head and says something about shoes. Alucard does not understand why she cries when she does so.
Sumi puts her arms around his neck and holds his throat until each breath comes out as a gasp. Still, he does not let go of Sypha all night.
He asks Trevor How do you do it?
Be the last Belmont.
Trevor takes a long draught of beer before answering. Because I won’t give them bastards the satisfaction of finishing their work.
Alucard supposes spite is as good a reason as any to stay alive. If only who he could decide who he would be spiting though.
Ice covers the road and hailstorms break windows every other week. Most of the repairs have long been done. He has fixed the heating.
Still, he wanders into their bedroom each night. The first time, he complains of the cold and Belmont laughs - the prick - when even he is repelled by Sypha’s icy feet but still makes sure there are enough blankets to wrap him in. After that, Alucard does not bother with excuses.
He falls asleep to murmurings from Sypha as she recites the books she has read for the day - To make sure I remember, she says. Trevor interjects his own opinions from time to time, and sometimes earns a smack to his head. From time to time, he will murmur the words after Sypha, committing them to his own memory as well. There are spells, poetry. One day she discovers a book of songs and he sings the lullabies in perfect French while Sypha braids his hair, and Trevor smiles with something that looks like peace. He wakes to Sypha’s lips pressed against his bare skin, to Trevor pulling him to his broad chest. This happens again the next night. There is never any embarrassment when they wake. Most times they are content to remain there until either Sypha or Alucard roll out of the bed to cook them all breakfast.
Sumi and Taka have no place in this warm nest of blankets. They hiss from across the threshold but that is easy enough to ignore.
He can’t remember the last time he slept so well.
When it happens, he is only surprised it did not happen sooner.
He is half-asleep when Trevor presses a kiss to his forehead. Sypha’s mouth is on his throat and her hands cup his face.
Tell us to stop if you don’t like it, she whispers.
He feels his heart rise up to his chest. Your reward, they had called it. Something they were giving to him out of obligation, whether he liked it or not.
Sypha sighs as she slips her fingers under his shirt, and he almost thinks she has summoned sparks under her skin. Trevor grunts and slips a tongue through the seam of his mouth.
He’d expected himself to tense. To have Sumi and Taka coil their corpses to him again while he writhes on the bed. He doesn’t expect himself to open his mouth and moan.
Then Trevor pulls away and says I’m not in the habit of fucking corpses, and that’s enough for the spell to break.
It’s a challenge, like sparring, or arguing, or coming up with the most creative insult that they can for each other. It’s just a different kind of battle. Sypha attempts to be the peacekeeper in the sidelines until they both turn their attention to her.
When spring comes, they will leave, he decides. When spring comes.
Outside their room, the ghosts skitter around the castle while the wind moans through the halls. Alucard wonders if they will follow him, and thinks he could live with that, so long as he is with them both.