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What Belmont Holds

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She collapsed against me, skin cool from the evening breeze. The golden leaves rustled in the forest, tiny chuckles from the spirits who applauded our efforts. 

Love welled up inside me for this stunning woman. She was mine and I was hers. The future seemed limitless as the stars that danced alongside the tree limbs.

“Don’t think I’ve forgotten,” my lover said softly. I grinned. She would never forget an unanswered question. I knew that of course, but the diversion had been sweetly successful.

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” I teased, stroking over the hair she so often hacked impatiently at, stating it grew too fast and was just in the way. The thick waves were the softest thing in the entire world, somewhere between the thinnest cotton and the cheek of a baby.

“Liar,” she admonished, rising up on her elbow to give me a stern look. “You let me ramble about my childhood, now I want to hear about yours!”

“Oh that,” I said off-handedly. “Something about my earliest memories?”

“Actually I wasn’t that specific, but sure, let’s start with that!”

I had to laugh because I knew exactly which one it was. “That’s easy, it was my mother yelling at my father.”

“Which father?” she asked me with a snicker.

“Well…” I said and started to remember.

Mama. Crisp but warm, like the flavour of the applesauce she fed me on a tiny metallic spoon. Her laugh is bright, sparkling, and melodic. The attachment to her is so strong, like a current that pulls from all directions to return me to her arms. She is steady as a rock and so good at listening to me. She taught me to love unconditionally.

Papa. Musky and comforting, like the scent of warm hay in the sunshine and fresh dirt tilled. His laugh is boisterous and wild, rolling through the house just as he does. He is my favorite when I am a child, letting me get away with everything and always on my side when I want an extra story or one more cookie. He taught me love is compromise and patience.

Tată. Quietly constant with an aura both mysterious and beautiful like fog drifting over a field in the still morning blue. His laugh is low and enchanting like a tinkling of fairy’s wings after the rain. I didn’t appreciate him as much until I was older because he wasn’t traditionally ‘fun,’ but there is no one more devoted, tender or vulnerable. He taught me to love despite fear.

The memories come quickly to me now. Tată’s blonde hair is like the wheat in our fields. What it looks like caught in the mid-morning sun as he laughs at Papa’s attempt to make pancakes. The smell of the burning oil and the smoke from the pan.

The chase around the table I am seated at, as Papa tries to smack Tată with the rolling pin. The distinctly smug note in Tată’s voice as he mists to my side to exclaim that it was just like a Belmont to fumble through a basic task like cooking.

“But you are teaching me to cook?” I say earnestly. “And I am a Belmont.” The soft gold eyes that meet mine with a love I can see all the way down to his soul.

“You are right, of course, my mândră (beautiful, source of pride),” he agrees quietly and straightens up. “Care to learn today, Belmont?” he asks in a tone that is less soft but distinctly playful.

When I look up to see if Papa will agree, there is a smile playing on his mouth that means something but I do not know what. “Going to teach me a lesson, Alucard?” he asks and Tată coughs lightly.

“Let’s start with a fresh pan and go from there,” Tată says softly and Papa is suddenly very cheerful. The memory blurs at the edges like a warm cookie crisping with sweetness.

Mama hanging the laundry on the balcony, her body a slim line against the blue sky. Her ginger hair gleams like there is a secret fire inside of it.

A clothesline, the mid-morning breeze, the endless view of the forest from three hundred feet in the air. The castle is home now, an endless, fascinating space filled with questions, artifacts, books and horrors. 

I am not old enough to explore it on my own but often my parents will spend whole days in a room, clearing it out of anything that might be an issue before welcoming villagers in to store grain, or set up looms, or pack it with lumber.

The castle’s main floors and part of the second floor are open to all. There is an enchanted ward on the stairs and the rest is ours. We live on the third floor and these three floors are all I am allowed to wander.

The basements are magically sealed and I have heard Mama say that it might be best if it stays that way. When I ask why, I am told it is not safe. The floors above us are also warded, but we do go there. I will never go there alone until I am much older.

Days like today, Papa, Mama and Tată are exploring and cleaning and I am allowed to come with them. “Mama, may I look over the edge?” I ask and she smiles at me. 

Her smile is everything to me; a warm hug when I am lonely, a welcome mat when I am scared, a kiss when I fall asleep at night. She takes my hand and together we rise up into the air on a wide disk of ice, looking over the sharp edges and turrets of home. 

I can see the Belmont hold, it’s training grounds and the stream of people going back and forth from the sellers' shops. Our village is spread out around it in structured lines. Mama clucks and I can tell it’s disapproving. I have heard it when I come in muddy from playing in the Hollow. 

“I’ll have to talk to Greta about the path to the river,” she says. “It needs the ford widened or else the river will rise and flood in spring.”

Aunt Greta is the head woman and our family works closely with her to make the village of Belmont safe and prosperous. She frequently joins us for dinner and often helps with the clearing of the rooms. Greta is family and I love her. She lets me hold her warhammer when I visit, smells like linen and pine and has a laugh that swoops over you like a songbird. 

Today is market day and she wanted to make sure that the tanner and the candlemaker set up on opposite ends of the marketplace. I hadn’t been there but apparently there’d been a scene last time. I still hear the adults chuckle about it sometimes. 

There is a flurry of bats beside us and Mama widens the ice disk. Tată materializes beside her, hair pulled back, sleeves rolled up and a small streak of dust on one knee. “Fancy meeting you here,” Mama teases and I feel a happy warmth when Tată strokes her cheek and leans in for a kiss.

The time will come when I’m embarrassed by their affection but today, under the autumn sky, I am only happy that my family loves each other and me.

Hey!! Come on now!!” The laughing bellow comes from behind us and I turn. Papa is standing on the edge of the balcony, hands on his hips, dirt streaked over his cheek and jaw. His shirt is off and he is sweating. “Where is my kiss?”

“Here!” I call, waving happily. Papa’s grin widens. “Well, come on then!” he cheers and the ice disk descends. I am excited and I jump. I can hear it in the gasp of Tată, and then I see it on Papa’s face. There is a split second of terror, a fierce determination and then amazement in his expression as I span the gap, landing safely in his arms.

“Just like a Belmont,” I hear Tată murmur and I smile.

“Damn right,” Papa says proudly and hoists me on his shoulders.

“Trevor, language,” Mama says reprovingly and I can see she means it.

“Yes, darling,” he says agreeably, turning his head to peer up at me through his shaggy brown hair. “Always listen to your Mama, okay?”

“Okay,” I agree and mean it. At this age, there is no question for me and really, why would there be? Everyone listens to Mama. 

Which reminds me of the time I didn’t.

I liked to read about monster hunting since I was a child, carting books back to the castle to read by the light of the wall torches in my bedroom window. How many times Tată floated up into the window and scared the life out of me, giving me a forbidding stare as he ordered me back to bed.

As I grew older and was allowed to wander on my own I would spend hours in the Belmont trove, touching the skulls and magical items, unrolling scrolls that cracked at the edges with the movement. Mama would quiz me on the magical spells as we set the table for dinner and Papa would ask me monster trivia as we split the firewood. 

Tată was always hesitant. I thought it meant that he didn’t think I could be a monster hunter. I should have known better but it created distance between us because of a child’s angry insecurity. He was patient with me; choosing to give me my space but never wavering in his love or care for me.

Then the attacks came. We had no warning and for the first time in my life I woke to the sound of roaring and screaming. Tată knocked and opened my door like he was inviting me to breakfast. But he’d never worn this to breakfast. 

The black coat with the gold trim, the swooping cap like the oncoming night, the incredible crimson shield with the roaring lion, and the impossibly long sword that hovered at the door like a watchful hound. I had never seen him like this and I was afraid of what it meant.

It was rare for him to take his shirt off, and half the time I forgot about his chest scar. He told me it came from an argument over someone precious and it’d been an accident. It would be a few more years before I met his father and his mother and even longer until I would hear the whole story. 

“You must come with me,” he told me and I started to cry. Whatever was happening it was terrifying, and suddenly my bed was the safest place in the world. “Mândră,” he knelt by the bed, face earnest and worried. “I need you to be brave. I need to take you to Syph--to Mama, so I can go be with Papa. He and Greta need my help.”

“Mama is alone?” I asked, suddenly concerned. “What about the baby?”

“They are both fine but they need you. Can you come with me?” he held out his hand. My Mama and my baby sister needed me. I would go. 

Sometimes I would forget how strong Tată really is because he is always so careful and deliberate about how he touched all of us. But when he hefts me with one arm and we streak down the hall and up the stairs, I remember. It is like being carried by a warm mountain.

When we pass through the ward the energy crackles and I can hear the baby crying. Mama is murmuring and the roar of the monsters is dulled considerably here. “Sypha,” Tată says softly and I can hear it in his voice. I am too young to understand what that emotion really means but I hear it in my own voice now, when I speak to my beloved.

We dart down the hall to the open door and this room is not one we spend much time in. I remember setting it up a long time ago. There are blankets, water, medicine, dried food and weapons. I am older now and I understand this room. It is a haven.

Mama is sitting on a pallet, robe parted as the baby rooted for milk. She looks up at us and I can see her relief. “Oh thank goodness; come here, sweetie,” she says and when I reach her, I sit beside her, drawing in the scent of her body. It is a comfortable familiarity that calms my nerves and draws me into this space. She strokes my cheek and tells me it will be alright. I believe her.

When we look back at the door Tată is gone and I can hear Mama’s breath stutter. I know she is worried, and I know that she would be with my fathers, but she can’t be. She is with us. 

“It will be alright Mama,” I tell her and she looks at me with a smile.

“Of course it will be,” she says and tells me I cannot leave this room. We will wait for them to come get us. She suggests that I try to rest. As I lay down and close my eyes, I can hear roaring that will visit me in my nightmares for years.

I don’t sleep long. There is a shrieking unlike anything I have ever heard. It’s awful and I can still remember the feeling of it peeling courage away from my bones in long, fleshy strips. 

“It’s alright,” Mama says softly, stroking my back. “It’s just the harpies.”

My dread mingles with my excitement. Harpies! I have read about those in my wanderings of the Belmont trove! I ask Mama if Papa and Tată will remember how to kill them. Could I see one after they have? Her laugh is low and amused, like a mug of hot cider cupped in my hands and wafting up warm steam to kiss my face.

“I think there will be plenty for you to poke at tomorrow, don’t worry.”

There is no chance I will sleep now. The prospect of seeing monsters in the flesh, not just skulls, preserved remains, or sketches in a book, is enough to keep me pacing the space impatiently. I want to leave the room and go down the hall. There is a balcony there and I could watch the battle.

Mama is firm. No one is leaving the room. We discuss how harpies fly, how they hunt, what weapons will bring them down. I ask her if Tată will fly after them, if the Morning Star, or the whip would be better. There are periodic explosions now, and I desperately want to know if it’s the Morning Star. I know that it can blow up monsters but I have never seen it. 

There is a shudder through the floorboards and the sound of shattering glass. It is close, somewhere on this floor. Mama tells me to come hold the baby. But when I turn back to her, I can see her. She means to protect us, and I remember what Papa told me only two weeks ago.

Your mother is fine but she is weak. Remember how long the baby took to arrive? She needs to rest from that. Can you help bring her things and keep her in bed? She cannot do any work right now and she’ll try. We need to make sure she doesn’t.

My mother does not have the strength to fight whatever this is. My mother and my sister need me. I look over at the weapons and I debate it. My magic is simple but it is strong. Depending on what it was though…

Mama says my name, more urgently now, and I can hear the low growl at the end of the hall. “I can smell you,” the dark chuckle comes and I stop breathing. “So it is true; Dracula’s bloodline has spawned.”

I don’t understand. Dracula was a vampire lord that my parents killed. What bloodline? “Come away from the door,” Mama whispers to me and I dart to the weapons, selecting a scabbard with five silver daggers. If that is what I think it is out there these will have the power to hurt it.

I back up toward my mother as the steps come closer. “Get out of the way,” Mama commands me and I almost listen. I am so used to doing what that voice tells me. But I am a Belmont and I will protect my family. The doorknob is turning and I ready my blade, using my magic to heat it to scalding.

“Step away from the door,” Tată’s voice is so cold, so measured and calm that I actually shiver. I’ve never heard him speak like this and it scares me almost as much as whatever was out there with him.

“Tepes. Well hell, I was hopeful my troops might have kept you busy.” A sigh and a step away from the door. “You know I won’t be the last to come for her.” The voice slithers through the wood. “I am not the only one who wants his return and her blood is the gateway.”

“So is mine,” Tată says quietly. “Come take it; if you dare.” There’s another sound now, someone on the stairs and coming quickly.

“Easier to take it from your newborn, then from you,” the voice hissed threateningly. A light footfall at the end of the hall, near Tată. I tense. Is it an ambush?

“You’re full of shit,” Papa’s voice interjected. “She’s our daughter and believe me when I tell you, you will never touch her.”

“The Belmont.” The voice is scornful but even I can hear the unease. I grin. Papa is fearsome and the most famous monster hunter alive. This vampire is dead meat now. I still remember my triumph and my certainty as I charge forward, grasp the doorknob and fling it open.

“Run while y--!” I start to yell. He is so fast, so horribly fast. I am dangling from claws that rip into my throat. I am terrified and my mother is yelling that she cannot focus her magic. My Papa’s face is like the day on the ice disk when I jumped, roaring at the vampire who holds me that he will kill him. But Tată's face...

“Silence!” he thunders and the hallway falls quiet. Even I stop struggling. He drops his shield, hands Papa his sword and unhooks his cape. “Look at me. I am unarmed and I give you my word I will go with you. Just do not hurt the child.”

The vampire’s breath is hideously vile and I gag when he speaks. “You’d sacrifice yourself for Belmont’s whelp? Your Father must be hiding his face in Hell.”

“You have my child in your hands,” Tată says. The vampire growled. 

“Do not lie to me, Tepes. I do not smell your blood in this fleshbag,” he shook me and I couldn’t help my whimper.

“Stop!” Tată said, a sharp note in his voice as he took a step forward. “I do not lie; that is my child, but not the child you seek. I will not give you either child, but I can give you myself.”

“Your word?” the vampire asked eagerly and Tată nodded.

“I give it,” he said simply.

I am dropped unceremoniously with a clatter and the scabbard jabs me painfully in my chest. The silver glints at me and I blink; something worming its way through the fear and horror. Something important. Something about the daggers.

“Go to your mother,” Tată says gently as he turns away. 

Vampires. Silver hurts vampires. The vampire skirts around me and I look up. Mama is calling me, my sister is crying now, and Papa has moved to let Tată pass. I cannot believe this is happening. I cannot believe we will let Tată be taken without a fight.

I will not give Tată up, and I will not live without him. Even now I can remember how certain I am of this; how profoundly distressed I am in that moment. I cannot imagine a world where he has to die for me.

Mama has shown me how to use my fire and Papa has taught me to throw a blade. But Tată; Tată taught me stealth.

I am calm as I stand, quiet as I pull the blade. They are almost past Papa now and I have no time to heat the dagger. I will have to send a bolt after it and hope it is enough. 

The silver slips into his shoulder without a sound and his roar echoes down the hall. When he turns, his face is a distorted horror like nothing I’ve ever seen, not even in the books that Mama says are too scary for me and I had to sneak off the top shelf. My courage fails me even as my bolt finds its mark, scorching the side of his face and burning his clothing.

He makes it three steps. The Morning Star wraps around his waist, even as Tată’s bats shriek. The swarm passes over the vampire and solidifies in front of me. “Go!” Tată orders me, soft but firm and I scramble into the room. 

Mama is weeping, furious, and the relief on her face is painful when she sees me. She’s made it partway across the room but cannot return to the pallet where my sister is wailing. Her weakness is terrifying, and I drag the pallet to her, helping her lie down. She gives me a shake, not hard but more like frustrated relief. When she hugs me, her arms are quaking.

“Mama, please, Mama, rest; I am alright, I am safe,” I tell her and she finally rolls to the side. There are sounds of snarling and thuds against the walls that shake the floors. I move my sister beside her, helping Mama to position her to nurse. 

“Alucard!” Papa shouts, and there’s a horrible ripping sound that turns my stomach.

I startle and shift toward the door. Mama grabs my wrist, fatigued but deadly serious. “Stay here!” she says so sharply that I automatically start to tear up.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean--!” I start to say when I hear Tată grunt heavily and a distinct clatter.

“Come here you, ugly son of a bitch!” Papa snarls and I wait for Mama to tell him to watch his language, but suddenly there is a hideous crimson mist that surges through the door. It moves hungrily toward us and I shriek, fumbling to stand so I can use my magic.

“Trevor, go, I will--!” Tată shouts and I can hear the naked fear, somehow even more terrifying than the menace within two arm’s lengths of me.

Mama will not let me go and I can smell the vampire now. Someone is screaming, a high-pitched childish sound that I abruptly become aware is my own voice. “Duck!” Papa bellows and I drop like a stone, covering my mother and my sister in the huddle of my body.

“Take a breath lover,” she said, stroking my cheek and I snapped back to the moment. That was a long time ago and it was over now. I stretched uneasily, a little embarrassed at how pulled into the memory I had been.

“Sorry about that,” I said. “Anyway, it was fine. No one--.” She covered my lips with her hand and shook her head.

“A breath, remember?” she said and took one to demonstrate, removing her hand from my mouth. I couldn’t help it and grinned. She wasn’t going to let this go until I followed suit. I inhaled the evening and her scent, the two a comforting familiarity. 

“One more time,” she said, matching it to mine.

This breath was easier, calmer and the terror of a helpless, small child faded into nothing. “Okay, that did help, thank you,” I said and she smiled.

The smugness only crept in after the joy. “Of course it did,” she said smartly and I rolled my eyes, reaching down to smack her ass. “Rude!” she shrieked and tickled me. I yelped and twisted away, the cold air a frosty bite as the blankets shifted with me.

“Hey, come on now!” she moaned. “Blanket thief!” It took us a moment to get rearranged and a promise on her part not to tickle. I sighed, content to let my hand stroke down her spine.

“So you knew Tat--I mean Alucard, was Dracula’s son after that?” she asked and I nodded.

“I suddenly understood why he’d been so reluctant about my training. He didn’t want me to associate him with his father.” I smiled, remembering. “It was a shock of course, but he was Tată to me first and Dracula’s son somewhere after ‘maker of the best pie in the world.’”

“Did that change when you met Vlad?” she asked and I could hear the curiosity in her voice. 

“No actually, what changed was how I saw what he’d done.” I shrugged. “We’ve talked about that.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “But surely you looked at Alucard a little differently? You told me you like your grandfather.”

“I do, and I love my grandmother. I can understand burning the world down for her.” I kissed the top of her head. “For the woman you love.” She kissed my chest and we were silent for a moment.

“But trying to kill your son,” she murmured, unhappily. “I want to understand it.”

I sighed. “I know what you mean.” 

I thought about what words there were to explain it. “He never excused it and he never justified it. Neither he nor Tată ever apologized to each other when the family talked about it. In a way, I think they’d said what they needed to already. When they were talking, it was about history that had been allowed to rest. I can’t believe that they never apologized, but I never saw it or heard about it.”

She was quiet again and we watched the stars together for a moment. The moon was barely a sliver, a scrap of white satin that glimmered in the dark water of the sky. The stars winked back at it, as if inviting the moon to play.

“If it’s alright, can I ask if anyone ever tried again for your sister?” she said quietly.

“To tell you the truth, I think that is why Vlad returned to the castle when he did,” I said. “Once people knew he was alive and had no intention of resuming his reign, there was one more attack to capture him; an ill-advised attempt at persuasion.”  

I couldn’t help the satisfaction that crept into my voice. “Word of what happened to them ensured that there was never another attempt.”

I could hear the bewilderment in her tone. “But how would Vlad have known?” she asked. “How could he have possib--Isaac!” The triumph of puzzling it out was evident in her voice and I chuckled.

“You got it,” I answered her. “You can thank Hector too, actually. It was his idea to see if the castle was still occupied.”

“Right, right, first the emissary and then the visit, wasn’t it?” She looked up at me, green eyes shadowed in the dim light.

“Yes, precisely. I remember Tată was very hesitant but Mama urged him to consider it. She said that they could have sent an army of night creatures from the beginning if they had wanted to.” 

I remembered the intense conversation at the supper table that evening and being excited by the idea of seeing actual night creatures at an age where I was young, but I might be allowed to fight them. My younger sister was shrieking about wielding the Morning Star and the baby was happily throwing applesauce on the floor.

“Papa insisted on Greta reaching out to the surrounding villages to confirm possible support in an emergency, before they sent the emissary back to Styria with an invitation. They came to visit us a few months later. Isaac is a fascinating man and Hector is disarmingly sweet.”

I had to laugh. “I think Papa held out suspicion the longest, but he lost to Hector and Cezar. There wasn’t a dry eye in the castle when he realized Cezar was alive...well, undead, I guess.”

“How did that happen again?” she asked me.

“The hammer, remember? He wanted to know if he could have it back.”

“Right, right, he was worried about leaving it because that part of the castle wasn’t secured?”

“Yes, although it was essentially sealed off. The walls in the hallway had crumbled and they just left it, boarding over the gaps.”

“No one heard the yips of the dog?” she asked with what sounded like pity. This time my smile was tender. She was such a soft touch for animals, even re-animated ones apparently.

“Hector explained that he basically hibernated. Night creatures can do that for centuries if they stay out of the light and burrow somewhere. We aren’t sure where Cezar nested, but he must have heard Hector’s voice. Thank goodness for Isaac or I think Hector would have broken his neck trying to get to him.”

“I understand that,” she said softly and I winced. The loss of her wolfhound was still fresh and I was sorry to remind her. I didn’t say anything but I held her a little more firmly.

“When was the last time you were home?” she asked me and it was a bittersweet slide into the memory.

The air is cold and my mount snorts impatiently. The drifts are light fluff but they are deepening. I know I am close to Belmont now and I want to be home. There is so much I want to tell my parents. There were ports of call that smell like salt and limes; burning sand and lush palms that shielded you from the midday sun.

Perhaps I am most excited by the people I’ve met and the magic I have learned. I cannot wait to share it all. But right now, I want to see the castle, touch the books in the library and smell the sweat and timber of the training rooms. I want to hear my Papa’s laugh, feel the peaceful aura of Tată, and the world that could always be held in my mother’s arms.

I am older and wiser than I was when I left, and I understand that what I have in my family is special. I have seen many families in the village, and now, in the world. Some of them have made me ache with gratitude that I never doubted how loved I was. Some of them have made me shine with joy that there is more than just my family who love so fiercely.

I’ve been able to see the turrets of the castle for miles now, spun with snow like the glaze on the donuts Mama would make for Yuletide. I hope she is planning to make them this year. I have tried twice to make them while I was gone, and both times they simply were not as good.

I wonder if Papa and Tată would roast the pig together again; Papa sweating and grumpy, Tată pristine and calmly reasonable. I grin. It is hardly fair, really. As a dhampir his energy is significantly less depleted by standing by a bonfire and turning a spit. 

On the other hand, I’d noticed Papa just liked to grumble when working alongside Tată; it was something of a love language between them. I swear I could almost smell the roasting meat but that isn’t possible, the village is too far away still. 

We plod along in silence and the sun stretches toward the horizon. It’s overcast and cold and I desperately want to be home now but I should not travel at night. “Maybe another hour?” I ask my horse and she huffs unhappily. 

I look around, debating. There is a cave nearby if I am where I think I am, but it will require me to leave the main road. I won’t risk the ankles of the horse unnecessarily. I dismount, tie her to a tree behind a small rise and set off. 

Fire magic is handy when all the wood available is wet, and the torch I have made is cutting through the gloom nicely when I hear him. The bouncing echo off the rock hollow and deep. They are in the cave I am making my way toward.

“Bloody hell Alucard, I told you this was a stupid idea! They’ve probably all already arrived; warm, cozy and eating Sypha’s stew while we are out here freezing our asses off because you were worried the kids might get caught in the storm!!” My breath catches and my grin spreads like a blush from a slap.

“Oh please Belmont, I distinctly remember you leaping up from the table and saying anything was better than this ‘fucking waiting.’” The mimicked accent is priceless and I bite my cheek to keep from laughing. “Besides, who had the emergency gear already packed?”

“And who had the horses brought around before I even had my cloak?” Papa retorts with disgust.

“Well at least I was trying to make haste on the blasted road before the snow really started falling!” There is a distinctly displeased note in Tată’s voice. “You just had to go back for ‘one thing,’ before we left and don’t think I don’t know it’s the wine that’s been clinking in your bag the whole way!”

There was a poignant silence and I am about to clear my throat when Papa’s voice broke the peace. There’s a sensuality in it that makes a blush rise to my cheeks. “Well if it’s just us and the wine, I say we make an evening of it, lover.”

I don’t care how old I am, I’m not old enough to think about my parents fooling around. I shuffle forward loudly, stomping my feet and muttering about the snow. 

“Mândră?!” cries Tată’s voice but he is just a blur. Suddenly I am lifted, my torch falling into the snow as I am enveloped in arms strong and tender.

Home has found me.

“Alucard, for God’s sake put the kid down already,” Papa grumbles and I can see him over Tată’s shoulder. Silver shag and salt and pepper stubble frame a face marked with deeply carved laugh lines and a familiar long scar.

“In a minute,” my gentle captor mumbles and I realize he is very close to crying.

“Don’t cry, Tată,” I say and he sniffs delicately. “I am happy to see you too.”

Papa looks at the sky for a moment and I am very concerned by the twist of his lips. If they both cry, we’ll all start crying, and it’s a bad idea with the cold weather. “It’s cold,” I say instead. “Let’s go inside.”

When Tată draws back I have to blink and remember this is normal. It’s utterly shocking how little he has changed. With the exception of longer hair and a couple of faint lines across his forehead, he looks exactly like my very first memory of him. 

When I was with him everyday it wasn’t something I thought about. But now, after years have passed since I have seen him, it is a stark reminder that he felt the years very differently then I did. I am struck by the thought that he might very well outlive me. Would he care for my sibling’s children as he cared for us?

“What is it, mândră?” he asks gently, and the tears come now.

“I really love you, Tată,” I say, “and I have missed you, and Papa and Mama. So very much.”

“Ah, shit,” Papa says and I can hear the tears in his voice now too. Tată reaches for me and for him and we stand together, a trio of sobbing figures in the falling snow.

“Were your mother and siblings equally teary?” my lover asks me quietly and I smile.

“No, my sisters told me I looked unfairly fabulous, and what was I eating that made my hair so healthy. My brother clapped me on the back and asked me if it was true about harems.” 

I laughed at the memory. “Mama cuffed him for that and told him he was raised to respect women.” I was still grinning when I continued. “Which is very true and further reinforced by my sister's kicks under the table when he tried to bring the topic up at dessert again.” I shrugged. “Hardly his fault, I was equally horny and curious at seventeen.”

My lover sighed happily. “I can’t wait to meet them all,” she said and I knew she meant it.

“I’m so excited to have you meet them,” I told her truthfully. It was a merging of my past and my future; the introduction of my heart to my soul. “This time my older brother will be there too.”

It will be another week until we arrive, the dark outline of the castle against an endless blue sky. It will be sweetly poignant to see Papa and Mama moving a little slower, tiring a little faster, and to watch Tată, barely changed, tenderly care for them. 

It is equally touching to hear my niece call them her grandparents. It will be a shock again to see my sister and brother when they arrive, so much like Tată in their agelessness that the youngest of us, my second sister, looks older than those born before her.

My lover will clutch my hand reflexively when Vlad appears like an apparition in the doorway as the sun sets. When my beloved laughs with Lisa over the toddling of my newest nephew, I will look at her and think about our own children. Whether that might be possible and when.

But what will stay with me for all of my days, will be watching my parents together after supper in the drawing room. They sit together on the couch. Tată is ramrod straight on one end and attentively watching the baby use the edge of the low table to pull himself up. 

Mama is nestled into him and his arm is protectively supporting her even as he holds her close. Papa is lounging at the other end and close to the fire, absently stroking Mama’s legs that are propped upon his knee.

She tucks her feet under the edge of his tunic and he yelps. “Spent half my life avoiding your ice blocks and you still torment me with them!” he grumbles, but I note he doesn’t move them. Instead, he tucks them more firmly under his tunic and looks up.

It’s the look on his face that I will remember. It is the deep-seated joy of knowing everything you need is right there, and everyone you love is safe. When he looks across the table, I catch his eye and nod. He smiles at me and I smile back.

The warmth of that moment is something I carry with me always, held in my heart and brought out when the world is cold. The memory of my family, my home.

---

I know I've felt like this before
But now I'm feeling it even more
Because it came from you
Then I open up and see
The person falling here is me
A different way to be

I want more

Impossible to ignore
They'll come true
Impossible not to do

And now I tell you openly
You have my heart so don't hurt me
You're what I couldn't find
A totally amazing mind
So understanding and so kind
You're everything to me

Oh, my life
Is changing every day
In every possible way
And oh, my dreams
It's never quite as it seems
Never quite as it seems
‘Cause you’re a dream to me,
a dream to me.

-”Dreams,” The Cranberries