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Painting's Reverie

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Sighing, Adrian stepped back, cracking his neck and flexing his paint-covered fingers. Though it was late at night, he’d finished it, the painting he’d been working on for weeks. An accomplishment, even moreso since he’d almost lost interest in his hobby--grief had been an overwhelming force, and even now it clung to the back corners of his mind like persistent cobwebs.

He was doing better--Greta, his other friends, and his therapist helped immensely in their own ways--but the painting was like a physical reminder he could still finish things, still enjoy them.

The painting itself was one of the more detailed and complicated he’s worked on. He had wanted to make it as realistic as possible, a life-like portrait of two people, even though he didn’t base them on anyone he knew in his life. Creating them, and thus the painting, had been difficult, but the results were something which flooded Adrian with a warm fondness.

The painting depicted a couple, both looking out to the viewer. One, a man made of strong, rough shapes, cloaked in fur and spattered in mud, with a terribly gentle look on his face--love and trust--leaning heavily on his partner. The second figure was a woman, sharp and soft in turns, blood on her skin and worn robes, confident in her stance and clever in her eyes.

It sounded ridiculous, but Adrian had fallen in love with them.

Grief does strange and awful things to people, Adrian knew it, so he probably wasn’t actually in love; He was lonely. Knowing isn’t the same as feeling though, and Adrian felt such affection for the two he created. They were monster hunters, he imagined. They protected who they could, helped those who needed it, and even if they’re sometimes brash or gruff, they cared, deeply. Their strong sense of duty, and loyalty, and compassion kept them moving, and they loved each other with all their hearts.

Adrian was probably projecting, or something. Creating two people who he could imagine loving him unconditionally and protecting him from himself, holding him when he needed comfort. He would have to ask his therapist. Maybe.

For the moment, since the painting was done, Adrian made sure to clean his tools and place them away, then take himself up to the nearest bathroom to clean himself.

His parents had left him with a lovely place, technically a castle since it was built with fortification in mind, and it was large, though in summer months it was mainly a tour spot. For the moment, as leaves fell and cold swept in, Adrian was alone. The space was too large for one man, so he kept himself in one small area; All he needed was places to sleep, eat, and work, though he’d made an exception recently with the spare room for painting. While in the bath, Adrian tried to sweep away thoughts of the large, empty spaces in the castle and focus his thoughts on the warmth of his bath, the scents of bergamot, sandalwood, and vanilla, and the little flame dancing of the candle on the nearest countertop.

In that way, Adrian managed a good soak, calmed himself, and got out only when the water became too chilled. He went through several more rituals just for the comfort of them, then slipped out with his long nightshirt and a housecoat on over his underwear.

Somehow, his feet were inexorably dragged back to the painting. He sat on a little stool pulled in front of it, wondering what it was which so captured his attention, his interest, his love.

“It’s odd, isn’t it?” he said aloud to the room. To them. “It’s odd I’ve given you names, that I… I’m so attached. I’ve painted people before. Drawn them. Imagined stories for them. It’s off though, how real you feel, how I think of you both.” Adrian closed his eyes with a huff, and looked back up wistfully. “But you won’t tell anyone, will you, Sypha? Trevor?”

They could not. But it probably didn’t hurt to look.

So Adrian sat, watching their eyes, imagining the way they would glance around, how they held to each other, the way they would stumble forward, considering their injuries-

Wait. Adrian stood abruptly, ignoring the clatter of his stool. The painting, the people! They did move.

Tripping over himself, Adrian walked backwards, unable to take his eyes off the two peeling off--stumbling out of?--the painting. They looked exactly the same, but with so much more depth; The dim electric lights made the blood look even more red.

When they stood in front of the painting, no longer in it at all, though still clinging to each other, they stopped. Adrian opened his mouth to take in a breath, but found no words to use it. His heart beat furiously, his hands clenched tightly in his housecoat, but nothing came to mind other than static. His eyes roved their forms, hungrily. A large part of his mind wondered if it was insane. Or asleep.

“What happened?” the man--Trevor?--asked. Sypha, if that’s who she was, shook her head.

“I’m not sure. Are you okay?”

She hadn’t looked at Trevor; Her question was aimed at Adrian.

When he didn’t answer, Sypha frowned and said, “Alucard?”

Adrian shook his head. Sleeplessness was the most likely cause. He’d finished his painting and breathed in paint fumes, and all his bad night of sleep caught up to him. He stepped back, once, ready to go to bed and lay down, to stop his brain from tormenting him. Trevor and Sypha stepped forward, faster than Adrian expected.

“Sypha,” Trevor muttered, “something’s not- His eyes…”

“I see that.” She frowned.

“Wait- his teeth-”

“I know, Trevor.”

“What happened, Alucard?”

Then they were right in front of him, smelling like dirt and looking more injured than Adrian had expected. Well, he hadn’t expected to come face to face with them, not like in real life, not in whatever his imagination had conjured up. But a small, warm hand reached out and cupped his cheek. If Adrian had been frozen before, he was a doll, then. Only one part of his body moved, and it moved as if pulled by strings; His hand came up to his cheek, the one Sypha touched, and he placed his own hand on top of hers.

Skin. Chilled from the snow in the painting--maybe--cracked like in cold weather, but human-warm and alive.

How could a painting change? Become real? People couldn’t just step out into the world--except, apparently, when they could.

“Alucard,” he mumbled.

“Yes?” Sypha said.

“Your name,” Trevor grumbled back, forehead creased.

“It’s… not mine.” Adrian shook his head, stepped back, away from the two.

They were real, but they weren’t anyone he knew. Couldn’t be. They didn’t even know him. He tried, desperately, not to feel the sting in his heart when Sypha’s face fell at the distance between them, when Trevor narrowed his eyes. Adrian had to set things straight.

“My name is-”

“Adrian.” Adrian stared at Trevor, stunned into silence again. “Adrian Țepeș.”

“...You, know me?”

Sypha nodded her head firmly, but Adrian could only shake his again.

“No, that isn’t possible- None of this-”

“What, like the fact you’re human?” Trevor interrupted. Sypha hissed his name, but Adrian only felt confused.

“What else would I be?”

He didn’t get an answer, as a sudden animalistic shriek turned their attention back to the painting, where a monster now stood, one clawed hand reaching out through the portrait.

“Go!” Trevor had his back to Adrian, hand grabbing the sword on his hip. But Adrian couldn’t move.

“Alu- Adrian, please. You have to run.” Sypha was also facing the creature, ice cracking into shape above her fingertips.

Had Adrian done this? Summoned a monster from his painting because he’d imagined them as hunters? They were injured because he’d painted them as such, and now they were forced to fight, again. Trevor’s hands shook and Sypha panted each breath, blood and dirt still cloaked them both. Adrian shook his head, though neither of them saw it.

“No, I- this is my fault I can’t-”

“Fight?” Trevor interrupted. “Can you?”

Adrian could not, and his face burned in shame.

“We’ll be fine,” Sypha promised. “But you need to go, to hide. It is easier to fight if we are not worried about you.”

If he wasn’t in the way. The creature’s head poked through the painting, two limbs scratching along the stone floor as it let out another screech, long teeth on display and spittle flying from it--bulbous eyes fixed on the humans in the room.

Adrian did not need any more cajoling; His mind went into fight or flight mode, and he ran.

Down long halls, far from his usual rooms, Adrian pushed himself. Half remembered paths took him to a place with a large, solid wardrobe, and he squeezed himself inside, ignoring the tourist signage in the room to not touch anything. Once in the dark, pulse echoing in his ears, Adrian had time to think.

The painting he made had… spit out both of his characters, Trevor and Sypha, as real people. They knew who he was, but thought he was strange somehow? Adrian had made them monster hunters, and so a monster followed after them. They were fighting it, both already injured, while Adrian hid in a dusty wardrobe.

Putting his head in his hands, he breathed. What else could he do? That thing had been twice his size with claws and teeth and an obvious penchant for blood. ...But his two pain- people, the two he just met, but whom he had loved for weeks, were fighting. His gut roiled.

They sent him away to protect him, but what if Adrian could get help?

Yes, it would be impossible to explain the sudden presence of a monster--something which shouldn’t exist--but at least he could say two of his friends were injured by an intruder… “That would work,” he murmured.

Since he hadn’t heard much nearby, Adrian deemed it safe to leave the wardrobe. With quiet steps, helped by his chilly bare feet, he crept out of the room and down the halls again. There were a few exits, so he chose the closest and headed for the stairs which would take him to the ground floor. An explosion of some sort had him speeding up, heart pounding in his throat. The sounds of battle from far away held so much of his attention he didn’t notice the creature behind him until it growled.

Adrian made the mistake of spinning around, his mind awash in numbing terror as the dark fur stood up in a pointless attempt at intimidation; He was already about to drop to the ground.

Luckily, he didn’t, instead jumping at the roar it let out and fleeing from sheer panic. Adrian wondered, somewhere in the back of his mind, if he could escape. The creature was fast, crawling along the floor and occasionally jumping to walls. More than once, Adrian was forced to change directions to avoid running into the thing, and he got the distinct sense he was being toyed with. Several turns later, a little servant’s door proved to be Adrian’s salvation; It was one meant to blend into the walls, leading from the servants passages into an unremarkable room, and it was barely half Adrian’s height.

He flung the door open and squeezed through, still shuffling quickly into the corridor as the creature behind him shrieked and reached arms inside, swiping blindly. When Adrian found another door and exited the corridor, he made sure to listen carefully before stepping out. He held his breath and pressed his ear to the door.

More battle sounds, shrieking coming from above and below--meaning multiple creatures fuck--but nothing from the room.

With unsteady hands, Adrian pushed the door open. His breathing was uneven, his lungs burned, and a feeling of dread swept through his system. He was going to die, he knew it. Or at least, that’s what his body told him. He couldn’t die until he got help for Trevor and Sypha--he owed them that. His feet throbbed, and he noticed they were cut, something on his flight away must have scraped against them, like rough stone or some broken glass maybe. A quick look showed no debris, so Adrian decided to move on--he couldn’t waste time with murderous monsters running around. Pulling up his housecoat collar and taking a deep breath for the lingering scent of vanilla, Adrian tiptoed towards the door.

A peek out into a hall, all clear. Moving silently towards stairs, again. Adrian kept his ears trained on the sounds moving throughout the castle. It sounded destructive, but that was the least of his worries.

Actually, with the sound of rapidly clacking claws, Adrian’s worries came skidding around the next corner, right in front of him.

He screamed.

Loud and long, his voice burst into the air, unfortunately catching the monster’s attention. It growled, salivating as it advanced on him.

Adrian backed up but the creature followed, looking just as terrifying as its identical packmates. A swift pounce and Adrian fell to the floor, hearing some fabric tear. The creature’s opened mouth hovered over his face, opening to get a taste. All Adrian could do was raise his arms as he tried to push back with his feet. He wouldn’t make it.

Then it was gone.

Adrian blinked as he saw it shoved against the nearest wall, pinned with huge icicles. Blood dripped along them as the creature struggled. With limbs like wet noodles, Adrian crawled away; He noticed Sypha standing in the doorway, blue light haloing her hands and hair.

“Alu- Adrian, are you alright?” Adrian didn’t know.

Trevor came skidding into the room only a second later. Once he slipped past Sypha, he twisted with impressive skill and muscle, throwing out a chain to whip the creature. Upon contact, the creature screeched and bubbled grotesquely, then exploded in a fountain of gore.

The smell was awful, like burned hair and iron and too many things Adrian didn’t want the words to name. Dark red and fleshy peach chunk sank to the stone floor. Adrian heaved, held it back once, then turned over and heaved once more, adding his own bile to the stench.

Hands pulled his hair back, while a forearm levered under his armpits to lift him higher up and out of his own sick. Quiet voices murmured to him, patting his back as he gained control over his own spasming diaphragm. Then he was led away from the room, Sypha on one side and Trevor on the other, each supporting him.

“Adrian?” He turned his head to Sypha, realizing that wasn’t the first time she’d called his name. “They’re gone now. You’re safe.”

Adrian nodded, words not forming in his mind.

“Why weren’t you hiding?” Trevor growled.

“Trevor,” hissed Sypha.

“He could’ve been killed,” Trevor insisted, and turned his attention back to Adrian. “That was stupid. You had no weapons, you weren’t fighting back. What the fuck were you trying to do?”

Adrian opened his mouth. A whisper came out, and Trevor’s brows pushed down lower, giving him an impressive glare. Adrian tried again after swallowing. “...get… to get help.”

“Help.”

“Yes.”

“By getting yourself almost eat-”

“Enough Trevor.” Sypha had her own serious face, though she softened it for Adrian, her hand rubbing his back. “Adrian, we appreciate your intentions, but we were equipped to face these demons. You were not. It was reckless, and you could have been injured, or worse.”

“Definitely worse,” Trevor grumbled.

“We worried about you.”

Adrian looked down at his feet. Shame blocked his throat. “I… I’m sorry.”

Sypha sighed. “Well, it’s fine now. And you’re safe.” Trevor grunted.

“...Why…?” Adrian cleared his throat and stopped walking, forcing the other two to do the same. “Why do you care?”

For one moment, Adrian berated himself for asking. Maybe they would remember they shouldn’t--they only thought they knew him, after all, and he’d proven himself to be trouble.

“Oh, Adrian.” Sypha turned her body, putting both her arms around Adrian’s waist in a hug. “Of course we care. We are all companions, are we not? Trusting each other and taking care of each other is natural.”

Even Trevor grunted, patted Adrian with the arm around his shoulders, and said, “There are a few things I have questions about, and you are a bastard, but you're our bastard.”

A shaky laugh was startled out of Adrian. So he bit back with a little sarcasm, “Thank you, I’m so honored.”

Sypha sighed, but in a fond way. When Adrian looked down to her, he noticed her shoulder, and the claw wounds there. Actually, since he was looking, both she and Trevor appeared to have numerous injuries which Adrian didn’t remember painting, which meant they received them while protecting his home. Two conflicting feelings gave Adrian a twisting in his heart and heat behind his eyes.

“I’m not sure I understand everything which has happened,” he said, unsure, “but you mentioned the creatures were gone?”

“I… had to burn your painting so they wouldn’t come through. I’m sorry,” said Sypha.

“That’s alright. I think. If there’s nothing there to look for, we can use my supplies. Both of you are… incredibly injured.”

With minimal protesting and some thanks, Adrian took them to his kitchen; Some time along the way, he helped to hold them up rather than the other way around. With both Trevor and Sypha seated on chairs, Adrian took the job of readying the first aid kit and some clean water and cloth. Sypha and Trevor, when he finished and turned to them, were removing their clothing. Which made sense, of course it did, clear access to wounds was best. Still, Adrian felt himself flush along his neck and ears as they helped each other, trying not to raise their arms too high.

“May I assist?” he asked.

"Please," Sypha said, inviting him forward by holding out her sleeved arms.

So Adrian helped, gently peeling cloth from their wounds and over their heads, each brush of their skin to his leaving Adrian tingling and warm all over.

He was overreacting; It wasn’t like he’d been deprived of hugs or other kind touches in his life. So the way his heart sped up and his eyes strayed to them like magnets to iron had to be something else. Probably. Or he’d been living alone longer than he’d thought. But he didn’t want to think about his parents when two strangers friends - when Trevor and Sypha needed his help.

Sypha had gone down to a base layer which was only black, uncovering her arms, shoulders, and parts of her upper back and collar bones. She swore she had no wounds on her legs, and Adrian was inclined to believe her, if only so he could keep himself together.

Upon Trevor’s insistence, Adrian helped treat her first, cleaning her wounds before allowing her to spread disinfectant. He had to show her the gauze and skin glue, but she quickly got the hang of it, placing pressure on the wounds easiest for her to reach. Adrian promised to help her with the others before moving on to Trevor.

Trevor… removed everything.

Not his undergarments--for which Adrian was desperately relieved--but his weapon holders, armor, shirt, pants, all of it. He had wounds on his arms, legs, abdomen, everywhere, it seemed.

“How the fuck did this happen?” Adrian murmured, mainly to himself. Still, Trevor snorted.

“That’s what happens when you fight monsters. Not all of us have magic or advanced healing.”

“Sypha has advanced healing?” Adrian focused on the cloth, cleaning off each of the larger wounds carefully, taking dirt with the blood and worrying over it.

“No- ...Oh. Right.”

“What?”

Trevor shifted, and Adrian gripped his arm firmly to keep him still, applying pressure to a wound right across the back of his shoulder. “Nothing.”

“Bullshit,” Adrian grumbled. “You said something odd earlier too.”

“It’s- Didn’t you wonder how we knew you?” Sypha asked.

“I did. I assumed it was because I painted the, well, painting you came from?”

“Hm. I’m not sure about that. But we knew you, Adrian. As Alucard, before we appeared here in this castle.”

“Which looks remarkably similar to Dracula’s castle,” Trevor said. He grumbled when Adrian held him still again, applying the glue. “Which you, which Alucard lived in, after the death of Dracula. His father.”

Adrian winced at the mention of his father, but kept his hands steady with a short pause. “My father… has passed. But I think I would know if he was ‘Dracula,’ or some reincarnation of Vlad the third.”

“The third?”

“Hold still please.”

“So, he wasn’t Vlad Țepeș?”

“He… was. Coincidence. Or maybe humor. I never knew my grandparents well.”

“Not that it matters much,” Sypha cut in. “We knew Alucard, Adrian Țepeș, a dhampir. You are Adrian Țepeș… at least as far as I can tell. We were confused because you are human.”

Adrian’s brows furrowed, his concentration split between the wounds he was mending and the thoughts running wild in his head. He figured he needed to say some of them aloud, if only to get them out.

“I believed I made the backstories for each of you,” he said. Trevor’s skin was warm against Adrian’s fingertips where he pressed skin together. “I imagined your names, your personalities, your skills… but never myself. Not as a monster hunter. Or monster.”

Sypha’s eyes flashed. “Do not say that about yourself. You are one of the kindest and bravest people I have ever met. Even now. You risked night creatures to find help for us when you knew you could not, and though you believed us strangers, you showed no hesitation in patching our wounds. I will not hear you speak ill of yourself again.”

Adrian blinked. “I didn’t mean… alright.”

Trevor chuckled, smirking at Adrian, but also looking over at Sypha with fond eyes. Yes, they were exactly as Adrian had imagined them. But still, how did they know him as something he wasn’t?

“I suppose,” he said aloud, “that not everything has, or needs, an answer. At least, not tonight. Trevor, I’m bandaging this up now. No fighting, no crazy stretches or lifting things which would stretch out these wounds. They need to stay closed to heal properly.”

“I’ve been injured before,” Trevor complained.

“Don’t listen to him,” Sypha said. “He needs the extra reminder. Thank you, Adrian.”

“No need for that,” he whispered, stomach feeling fizzy.

“I'll say it anyway.”

Adrian smiled. Once both were patched up, Adrian offered them some extra clothes to sleep in for the night. He had some of his mother’s and father’s things still. Walking into his room with the two from his painting felt impossibly surreal, like a dream, but giving them clothes felt so much so it crossed back over into feeling normal. Domestic. Sypha fit the nightgown well, and Trevor had to roll the pant’s hem up, but otherwise looked comfortable with that and the shirt.

Once more settled, Sypha turned to Adrian and said, “You’ve been helping us out, please let us return the favor.” And wouldn’t hear a protest on the matter.

She took his housecoat, which was dusty and torn, and sat him on the ottoman bench at the end of the bed. Trevor found his attached bathroom and worked out how to use the sink--probably from watching Adrian in the kitchen. He came back with a cup of water and a soaking washcloth. Adrian took his cup and drank the water, thanking Trevor, which got him a small smile, fingers grasping his briefly when Trevor took the cup back. Sypha stole his attention afterwards when she moved to wipe at his face with the cloth, starting with his mouth. Adrian remembered the sick which had probably dried just around it and on his housecoat and felt extremely embarrassed, but Sypha’s touch kept his head up.

Adrian closed his eyes, letting Sypha clean him. The swipes of wet cloth wiped away the last of his energy, and he felt himself droop more and more. A solid, warm body at his back kept him upright, and Adrian felt he could cry.

Sypha moved away, speaking so low Adrian couldn’t understand her, but he didn’t feel the need to try, either. He was so tired.

A light flared behind his eyelids, then warmth reached him. Seemed they lit a fire in the fireplace. Trevor and Sypha pulled in him then, and he grumbled as he went, slumping down gratefully once he was on the bed. The dipping on either side of him was confusing until he cracked his eyes open and saw Trevor there. So Sypha must have been the one curling up on his other side.

“Hope you don’t mind,” Trevor said, looking more shy than Adrian had seen. He shook his head best he could with it pressed to his pillow.

“Not at all.”

That night, and for many nights after, Adrian did not sleep alone.