Alfred’s heart pounded as he and Sarah rushed through the woods, eager to put distance between them and dozens of hungry vampires. He couldn’t describe what he was feeling—fear? Anger? Elation? They’d all blended into some form of adrenaline, giving him the burst of energy he needed to keep on running. Only when Sarah stumbled did Alfred slow his pace; still he kept hold of her hand and led her through the woods.
He stopped at a clearing to catch their breaths, and when he turned to Sarah, she threw herself into his arms, burying her head in his chest.
“Sarah…” he couldn’t help but say somewhat reverently. It was finally over. He basked in the warmth of her embrace for a moment before pulling away. There was a strange expression on her face, and Alfred couldn’t help but frown.
“Are you all ri—,” his statement ended in a gasp as Sarah, with a speed he did not know she possessed, lunged towards him and sunk her teeth in his neck.
Alfred gurgled as blood filled his mouth, the attack leaving him defenseless and writing on the snow. The cold slowly seeped into his limbs. From his throat, he could feel the burn of Sarah’s bite, immense pain thrumming across his body as it seized and twisted.
He could not fight the pull of the darkness. As he faded away, he heard faint whispers…
Alfred jolted awake, breathing heavily. He looked around wildly, and recognized that he was back in Count Von Krolock’s castle. Bringing a hand up to this throat, he immediately noticed that there was no wound; his neck didn’t even feel bruised.
Was Sarah unable to turn him into a vampire?
He squinted, and realized that the curtains were drawn—meaning sunlight...sunlight that didn’t burn him. Burying his face in his hands, he tried to stop himself from shaking. What was it then? A dream? A premonition? But it had seemed so real…
Still in a daze, he watched as Koukol stumbled around the room, sneering at him, mistaking his distracted stare for a frightened glare. Offended, the servant once again spat in his soup before leaving.
Alfred didn’t bother with the food, remembering how awful it had tasted, and even the knowledge that it was just a dream couldn’t stop his stomach from churning.
Throughout the day, Alfred couldn’t help but notice that everything was happening in exactly the same way as his dream. From the failed staking and the discovery of the library, to Herbert’s manhandling and the Count’s solemn reminiscing by the graveyard.
Even as they were running through the forest, Alfred couldn’t help but note the similarity in the way they stumbled into the clearing.
Still, it was a shock when he’d turned to face Sarah, and she sunk her fangs into his neck.
There was a burning pain, then darkness, then…
Alfred all but jumped off the bed as he startled awake, heart beating loudly. He breathed heavily and buried his face in his hands.
What was it that the professor always said?
Once was a mistake, twice was a coincidence, and thrice…
It was a pattern.
After his brief existential crisis, where he fretted over anything and everything he knew of science, Alfred got up from bed and approached the open window. He could still remember the burning in his limbs, and the thirst that clawed in his throat. Closing his eyes and basking in the light of the day, he asked himself, what now?
Doing the same thing over and over would be the height of idiocy, he thought. Perhaps he simply needed to do a bit of experimentation. His palms grew clammy at the thought of changing things.
Well he didn’t have to do anything drastic. Maybe just small changes first.
He stared at the Count as he slept in his crypt, and wondered what would happen if he went through with the staking. Yet with all his blustering, he couldn’t find it in him to drive the stake into his heart. Alfred opted to instead try and intercept Sarah just before the ball. It ended with him as an unwilling participant in the ball, and Professor Abronsius saving them himself.
He still ended up bitten on the forest floor.
Alfred tried to stay put, after finding Sarah daydreaming about the Count—and his sponge—in the bath for the sixth time, but there was a strange magic in the air. He turned around for a moment, and then when he looked back, he could have sworn the castle moved him somewhere else.
The young man barely arrived in time for the ball, and it was there he realized that what constituted as a small change for him, didn’t necessarily mean it was small for the universe.
He screamed as Sarah bit him in front of the crowd. His tear-filled eyes tracked from Sarah’s hungry gaze, to the Count’s smug expression, and finally to Herbert’s strangely regretful look. The ballroom floor was cold, and Alfred whimpered as he pressed his cheek onto the tiles.
Upon waking in the count’s castle the eighth time, Alfred threw the crucifix and felt some satisfaction watching it break into pieces against the wall.
The sound made the professor jolt awake, looking around wildly. “Wha—my boy what have you done now?” he asked eyeing the broken crucifix.
Tears springing onto his eyes, Alfred did not bother to answer the professor. Instead, he grabbed his coat and fled from the room, gut churning in anxiety and frustration. He ignored the professor’s repeated calls of his name and made his way to the other side of the castle, as far away from anyone he knew.
Alfred wasn’t certain he knew how long it had been since he found the balcony overlooking the gardens, and had fallen into a restless sleep after about an hour of sobbing, but when he woke, the sky had turned dark, and his bum had grown sore from sitting in one position too long. He brushed himself off as he stood.
He leaned on the balcony ledge, breathing in deeply and letting the cold wind sink into his bones.
It seemed that small changes wouldn’t break the cycle. But what was it that caused him to go back over and over to the start of the day? Was it Sarah’s bite? Or…
He eyed the balcony ledge apprehensively.
What if it was his death that caused the reset, and not necessarily Sarah’s bite? He leaned over the railing, checking how far from the ground he was. His stomach made a small flip as he looked down; if he fell, there would be no doubt that he would die.
How would he know for certain if he did not try? Science was all about…experimentation was it not? He needed evidence to support his theory.
Treating his potential death as a science experiment was not helping his nerves whatsoever.
Alfred closed his eyes and steeled himself.
He brought one of his legs over the railing and had to pause as his hands trembled. He exhaled shakily and yelped when he heard a voice from behind him.
“Oh darling! I’ve been looking all over—what are you doing?”
Alfred, one leg over the balcony railing, looked back guiltily at the younger vampire, who was staring at him in horror. “I know how this looks like,” he tried to raise his hands placatingly, but when he realized he might overbalance, he quickly grabbed onto the railing with both hands.
“Well,” Herbert said gently, as if speaking to a frightened animal. “It seems to me that you’re trying to jump off the balcony.
“You’re not wrong,” Alfred muttered, and almost fell off at Herbert’s sharp, “Pardon me?”
Alfred didn’t understand why the count’s son looked so aghast. “L-look. This is all just for science.”
“Science?” Herbert said flatly.
“There is something I must know. You have nothing to worry about.”
“…Darling, you have one foot over the balcony railing, moments away from plummeting onto the ground. How can I not?” Herbert was approaching slowly, and Alfred wasn’t sure if he should continue talking to him or just jump off and get it over with.
“None of this even matters,” Alfred said dismissively, and turned his back onto Herbert. As he leaned forward, a strong arm snaked around his middle and pulled him back. He was pressed onto a firm chest, and Alfred felt a flush rise to his face.
“Alfred,” Herbert said quietly, and the young man startled when he realized it was the first time he had ever heard Herbert address him by name. “If you are…weary of life—,”
“It—it’s not that.” Alfred grew frustrated. He didn’t want to die, but he needed to know if it was just Sarah’s bite that caused the reset or not. But then…if he didn’t loop back after jumping off, where would that leave Sarah?
Herbert, who likely sensed his hesitation, gently pulled him back until both his feet were firmly on the balcony. Alfred took a shuddering breath as tears pricked his eyes. He was just tired…he’d already been stuck in the cycle for a week…what if he spent months, or even years stuck in this cycle?
The vampire rubbed his arm in a soothing manner. Though logic stated that Alfred should shrink away, he couldn’t help but lean in a little, if only to absorb the comfort offered by the vampire.
Alfred allowed himself a moment before he shook his head and pulled away slightly. He worried that Herbert would prevent him from doing so, but the blonde simply let him go.
“Are you feeling better?” Herbert asked.
“…Yes, though I wasn’t trying to kill myself because I felt sad or anything of the sort.” Alfred said quickly.
“Oh?” Herbert tittered, and circled around Alfred slowly, putting himself in between the young researcher and the balcony ledge. “Then do enlighten me, mon chéri.”
Alfred opened his mouth to speak, but shut it when he realized he had no clue how to explain what he was doing, or if he even should. Herbert crossed his arms and gave him an expectant look, lips pursed as he waited.
Well, if he looped, none of this would matter. Whether he told Herbert or not, in the next iteration, the vampire would never remember anyway.
“I’ve…I’ve been dying over and over.” Alfred mumbled, but it seemed Herbert still heard it, since he cocked his head.
“Oh darling! I’ve been dying everyday since I met you as well,” he simpered, and Alfred spluttered.
“That—,” he blushed, then had a suspicion. “You—you’re doing that on purpose!”
Both Herbert’s eyebrows rose. “Doing what?”
“This—this,” he gestured to the entirety of the vampire. “Purposely misunderstanding what I just said!”
“Well you can’t blame me darling, red is such a fetching color on you.”
In response, Alfred could feel his face heating in embarrassment, making Herbert grin.
“I—I am quite serious. I have been dying over and over, it’s been…” he counted back. “seven times now.”
Herbert narrowed his eyes slightly, but still kept his disarming smile. “You’re in distress darling, why don’t you lay down on my bosom…”
Alfred grew frustrated. “You’re not listening to me!” he snapped, and Herbert looked at him in surprise, then he turned contemplative.
“My apologies, Alfred.” Herbert said in a conciliatory tone, shocking Alfred out of his indignation.
“N-no, I apologize. I should not have shouted,” he dragged a hand down his face…he was just so exhausted.
There was a beat of silence before Herbert tentatively asked, “You say you’ve been dying over and over…what exactly do you mean?”
Alfred looked at him suspiciously, waiting for another innuendo. When Herbert simply looked curious, he spoke. “Tonight, at the ball, the Professor and I sneak in and try to save Sarah. She’s bitten before we get to her. We manage to escape the castle…but in the woods, she…she turns into a vampire. Then she bites me, and before I turn, I die…then I wake up back in the castle at the start of the day.”
Herbert gave him a stunned look. Alfred had never seen such an expression on the vampire’s face. When he said nothing more, the young man continued.
“I had thought it was a premonition—I had odd dreams the first time I woke.” Herbert twitched at that, but didn’t comment otherwise. “But when I went through the day, everything happened exactly as it had before.” Alfred rubbed the side of his neck, feeling Sarah’s phantom bite.
“I cannot say that I’ve ever heard of such a thing.” There was a thoughtful expression on Herbert’s face. Alfred’s shoulders slumped forward.
“But, that is not to say, it does not exist.” Herbert added.
“I—you believe me?”
Herbert shrugged. “Is it any more unbelievable than vampires in the night, drinking the blood of the living?”
At his words, Alfred felt the blood leech from his face, leaving him pale. In his desire to talk to someone about his situation, it slipped his mind.
“Um, I—,” the words got stuck in Alfred’s throat, and he tentatively moved back as Herbert stepped forward.
“Why so shy all of a sudden, my dear Alfred? Surely a vampire hunter such as yourself isn’t afraid of little old me?” There was a hint of mockery in Herbert’s tone.
Alfred swallowed down his fear to respond. “I—I do not aspire to be such. I’m just a research assistant,” he said weakly.
Herbert grinned, and the flash of his fangs was enough to make Alfred whimper. He moved backwards until his back hit the balcony window. The vampire was in front of him in a flash, all but pinning him to the glass.
Squeezing his eyes shut, Alfred sincerely hoped he still looped back after being killed by the count’s son. When moments passed, and no killing blow landed, he tentatively opened his eyes. When Alfred looked up, he saw that the vampire had a sly smile on his face.
“I have a proposal for you.”
“I,” he brought one hand to his chest, “shall help you with your time looping problem,”
“You…will?” Alfred asked in confusion.
Herbert nodded rather gallantly, and the young man couldn’t help but ask, “Why?”
“You amuse me, and you must admit, this is quite the interesting phenomenon.” Herbert wagged his finger at him. “But do not get me wrong, my darling, I don’t work for free.”
“And…what do you want from this arrangement?”
Herbert leaned forward, and Alfred pressed himself back onto the window, hoping in vain that the glass would swallow him whole and get him away from the vampire.
“All I want,” Herbert grinned. “is you,” he pressed a finger to Alfred’s chest.
“M-me? What do you mean?”
“Your body would be nice,” Herbert said in a wondering tone. Alfred squawked and wrapped his arms around his chest, as if preserving his modesty. Then the vampire giggled. “But I doubt you’d give me that, so I suppose I’ll settle for your blood.”
Alfred gulped. “My blood? You want to kill me? Turn me?”
“Oh darling! You claim that you loop every time you are bitten. Surely you do not wish for Sarah to tear your throat open all the time? Surely you would want a gentler touch,” as he spoke, he brushed his finger at the side of Alfred’s neck.
Alfred squeaked, and jerked his head away. “This is madness!”
Herbert rolled his eyes. “What part of your entire situation isn’t madness?”
“I—if I loop, how would you even remember we had an agreement?”
Herbert hummed. “You’ll have to figure out how to tell me my dear. But you’ve managed to convince me of it today, there’s no reason you cannot do it again.”
If he felt a little braver, he would have rolled his eyes at the vampire. As it was, he could only manage an exasperated, albeit shaky sigh. “When you mean you’ll help me…”
“I have read quite a lot of books in our library,” he pressed his index finger to his cheek and pursed his lips. “Amazing what hundreds of years of boredom can do to you.”
Alfred stared at him, fear momentarily forgotten. “You’re over a hundred years old?”
Tittering, Herbert waved him away. “Perhaps you can ask me another day, I’m sure you’ll get to know me quite well while we’re researching your…condition.”
“But if I agree, when are you going to bite me? Just before the ball?”
Herbert tutted. “During the ball, my dear. You can’t expect my father to be the only one to have a lovely drink.”
Alfred took in a shaky breath. He could simply agree now, and back out later, Herbert would never remember. Still, perhaps he did need someone to look over books with him.
“Can you bite me now?”
The surprised expression on Herbert’s face melted into delight. “My darling, I thought you’d never ask! But the ball…?”
Alfred shook his head, and swallowed thickly. “This will be the first time I’ve…I’ve offered willingly. I’d prefer if the first time would be somewhere I didn’t have any eyes on me.” And though his suicide—attempted reset, he reminded himself in his mind—didn’t go as planned, he could at least test if Herbert’s bite would cause him to loop back as well.
Before he could lose his nerve, Alfred untied his ribbon and pulled back his collar. Herbert bent over him and rubbed his hands on Alfred’s arms in a soothing gesture.
“This won’t hurt,” Herbert said reassuringly. Alfred couldn’t help but shiver as the vampire pressed a light kiss to his throat.
“You don’t have to lie, Herbert.” Alfred murmured. “I’ve felt Sarah’s bite seven times now…”
There was a light hiss from the blonde as he heard Sarah’s name. He briefly removed his lips from Alfred’s throat and the young man almost jumped when he felt Herbert’s lips brush his ear.
“I,” Herbert whispered softly, “am not Sarah.”
Before Alfred could unpack that statement, he felt a light prick at this neck, followed immediately by a burst of warmth. Instead of the burning pain he’d associated with turning, he felt immediately relaxed, as if his limbs were turning into jelly. A different kind of heat pooled at his center as he felt Herbert lick at his neck. His knees buckled, and only Herbert’s strong arms were holding him upright. As he faded off, Herbert whispered something, but he didn’t catch it.
He woke up in his bed, heart pounding, cheeks aflame, and mouth dry.