A/N: Tanz Der Vampire doesn't belong to me.
Warning: slash and homophobia
Monsters and Manners
Chapter 1: Pushed
As a child, scraping a living from the harsh streets of London, Alfred Cooper never would have dreamed that he would one day be doing something so utterly foolish as vampire hunting.
He wasn't even entirely certain that he believed vampires were real.
Alfred shivered as the wind cut through his thin coat. The scarf, wrapped around his throat, wasn't heavy enough and his hat didn't cover his ears. While his clothes were good and warm for English weather, he felt like an icicle in the fierce cold of the winter in Transylvania. He was thankful for the mittens he wore, but his feet were wet inside his shoes from the inches of snow on the ground.
Still, onward he walked, following as closely as he was able to the back of the professor.
"That fool who couldn't keep his mouth shut, " Professor Abronsius said, "The one who mentioned the castle when none of the others wanted to admit it, you remember? He told me that the lord of that castle is a count." He looked over his shoulder at Alfred and narrowed his eyes. "That means I don't want to hear a word from you unless he speaks to you first! Understand?"
"Yes, professor. Of course." He had learned that rule long ago.
"Excellent. You just keep in your place and be silent. Your opinion won't be wanted, so don't give it."
"Yes, sir." He knew he wasn't to talk to people above his station – the professor had always made that very clear. Even if the count did turn out to be a real vampire as Professor Abronsius suspected, Alfred wasn't important enough for someone like that to bother with.
"The count is also rumored to have a son, a young man who appears to be somewhere near twenty years-old or so." Professor Abronsius stopped walking and turned to face Alfred with a dark frown and shook his umbrella at Alfred. "If I catch you even once making eyes at the young lord…"
"I won't! On my word, sir!" Alfred was quick to defend himself. "I've been very good about… that."
"Excellent. Make sure you keep being good and remember what I told you - boys who oogle other boys go to Hell." He turned on his heel and started marching his way up the path that led to the castle in the high hills. "This count is likely to be an ancient vampire and if he thinks you are perversely corrupting his son, he will likely have you hung from the highest rafters, so you keep to yourself."
Alfred's gut churned with shame as it always did when Professor Abronsius felt the need to reprimand him about his unnatural leanings.
It had been years ago when Professor Abronsius had needed to tell Alfred that what he felt was altogether wrong. They'd been traveling through a town where a circus troupe had set up for a show. Alfred had been staring a little too long at a barely dressed trapeze artist. When Professor Ambronsius commented that Alfred had good taste in women for such a young man, Alfred had made the mistake of commenting that he thought the lion tamer was lovely, too.
Professor Abronsius had dragged Alfred away from the circus with a pinching grip of Alfred's poor ear and, back at the inn they'd been staying at, he'd spent a full hour explaining exactly why such disgusting thoughts were entirely wrong.
Alfred did try to be good. He tried so hard to stop himself from staring at other boys. It was almost like he couldn't stop himself from such evil and Professor Abronsius had made it clear that doing so was quite evil. It must be evil for, lately, every time Alfred found himself noticing a handsome face, he felt a horrible mix of shame, guilt, and disgust at himself.
Determined not to anger the professor, Alfred hurried to catch up. "I do like girls, professor. Honestly." Sarah was about the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen and his heart beat faster just looking at her. Why, he didn't know what he'd do if she ever allowed him a kiss.
"Good, you just keep thinking like that and maybe you'll turn out normal."
If Professor Abronsius felt the cold at all, he didn't let it slow him down. The professor, so happy to be close to his goal, was nearly running even though the falling snow made the ground slick underfoot. He was so excited that he didn't even both to see whether or not Alfred was still following after his earlier warnings.
Cold and tired, Alfred followed the professor up the trail towards the castle. The daylight had faded before they reached the castle. The castle slowly became visible as they drew closer, a mammoth structure that looked as old as time itself. It was ancient with strength enough to survive more centuries to follow, from the looks of it. It was huge, bigger than anything Alfred had ever seen. He didn't want to go there. He was scared, but Sarah was in there and he was sure she would need help. Even though he knew he didn't stand a chance of ever winning her heart, he wanted to help. She had been kind to him and there had been precious little kindness in his life. She didn't seem to want anything from him, but she had been kind regardless and had spoken to him so gently. He would save her if it was the last thing he did.
"They lurk within," the professor struck a hand on Alfred's shoulder. His eyes, when he looked at Alfred rather than the castle, were glittering. "I'm finally here. Finally I'll be able to complete my research." He let out a little chuckle. "And then we'll see what that Van Helsing fellow has to say about who the expert in this field is."
"But how do we get in, sir?" Alfred didn't fancy climbing the stone walls, but the large entrance was barred with a heavy iron gate.
"You are going to crawl in, of course. Then you'll open it from in the inside. There must be some sort of mechanism." He gestured to the bottom of the gates where, indeed, there was a very narrow empty space.
Alfred looked at the professor with wide eyes. "But… I'll never fit."
"I didn't bring you along for your witty conversation, Alfred! Make yourself useful!" He gave Alfred a hard push on the shoulder that sent him staggering towards the gate.
Resigned, Alfred got on his hands and knees and felt them numb almost at once. His trousers were as wet as his socks, now. He didn't have a choice, though, so he started to try to get through the opening under the gate when it very suddenly rose. He found himself staring at a pair of polished black shoes. Alfred looked up and saw a man, tall and grand with a cape that billowed around him in the wind. The man stared down at Alfred with a raised eyebrow.
Alfred scurried back and jumped to his feet as the man strode out the door. Alfred dashed to stand behind the professor, because that was his place. It was one of the first things the professor had taught him – when there were important people around, Alfred was to stand behind the professor to show that he knew where he belonged. He was glad for the shield that gave him when the tall man smiled.
"Greetings," the man studied them carefully. "I am so very pleased to have visitors, you are quite welcome in my home."
Alfred was more than happy to stay half-hidden behind the professor and even took hold of the back of the man's coat, though he knew the professor would later reprimand him for such behavior. It was a welcome reminder that he wasn't alone, that Professor Abronsius, who knew so much about everything, could surely deal with whatever trouble should arise – even if that trouble came in the form of a huge noble who, if the professor was right, was a monster. Alfred listened as the two men made small talk and said nothing. As he'd been earlier reminded, his opinion was not wanted in such conversations. Alfred was so well used to being ignored while the professor was having conversations with other gentlemen that he was utterly shocked when Count Von Krolock inquired about him. No one ever asked about him.
Alfred started and found Count Von Krolock watching him from where he peered over the professor's shoulder.
"He's just a boy, your Excellency," the professor said, absently. "No one at all of any consequence. He's my assistant, Alfred."
And then Alfred found himself the sole object of the Count's attention as Professor Ambronsius moved away and stepped behind him. There was a hand on his back and Alfred was shoved forward and found himself standing not four feet away from the supposed vampire.
Alfred had never really believed in vampires; they were only in stories and if the professor chose to believe in them, that was his affair. Alfred never questioned him on his beliefs or his research as his duty lay in doing as he was told. He carried things and fetched, he ran errands and anything else the professor needed to be done. He didn't need to believe. But… with Count Von Krolock looking at him so very intently, Alfred couldn't deny the skin so white it looked as if it had never been touched by the sun. He couldn't deny those long fingers, each one tipped with a claw-like fingernail. Alfred still wouldn't swear that the man was a vampire, but he also couldn't quite bring himself to say that Count Von Krolock was entirely human.
Alfred felt like a piece of cheese left out for the mouse and tried very hard not to shake. The man was tall and broad at the shoulders and wore such finery as Alfred knew he would never be able to afford even if the professor began to pay him for his work.
"Good evening, Alfred. My compliments. This," he raise a hand and gestured towards the door of the castle. "Is my son, Herbert. I'm sure you'll get to know each other quite well."
Alfred hadn't even noticed anyone standing there in the shadows until the other person stepped out into the moonlight. Herbert wasn't quite as big as his father, but he was still far bigger than Alfred. He was dressed with great style, like a preening peacock. Like his father, he wore a long, black cape, but when he spread his arms out at his sides and Alfred could see his clothes, he saw that Herbert was dressed almost entirely in pale gray with black lace at his shirt cuffs. His waistcoat had delicate embroidery done all over with white thread and his silver buttons were polished. He even wore fine white gloves. His hair was very long and so pale that it was nearly white, all of it tied neatly at the nape of his neck with a black ribbon.
Herbert was just about the prettiest person Alfred had ever seen, certainly the prettiest man.
As that thought zipped through his head, Alfred felt a sharp stab of shame. He shouldn't think like that.
Herbert was watching Alfred, eagerly, and when his father introduced him, he gave Alfred a funny look, like he was trying not to laugh. Herbert's voice was like a purr. "And finally, my boredom will be relieved." He very suddenly wrapped an arm around Alfred's shoulders and pulled him into the castle.
Alfred panicked and tried to squirm away, but Herbert was monstrously strong and kept a firm grip on him until they were in a grand entry hall. Alfred swung his head around and was a bit comforted to see the professor walking in behind them at the side of Count Von Krolock. Alfred slipped out from under Herbert's arm as quickly as he could and rushed back to Professor Abronsius who just kept talking with Count Von Krolock as if there was nothing unusual going on at all. He tried to follow when Professor Abronsius was led away to his chambers, but Count Von Krolock called to him.
What followed… Alfred didn't understand. He knew he was rather stupid, but he just didn't understand whatever Count Von Krolock was talking about when he'd spoken about darkness and desire and morality. Alfred was so pleased when Count Von Krolock dismissed him that he fairly ran out of the room. He was only pleased until he realized he was lost in the dimly lit halls of the castle and had no idea where Koukol and Herbert had taken Professor Abrosius.
Alfred wandered for a few minutes before he came across Koukol who was trying to clean. As a result of his deformity, Koukol couldn't stand upright. He stood bent nearly in half, and yet there he was trying to dust cobwebs out of high corners when it was hard for him to just stand on the ladder. It was no wonder the castle was a mess if they relied on poor Koukol to do everything. Alfred felt badly about his initial fear of Koukol. How hard life must be if something so simple as dusting was a terrible effort?
"Do you want some help?" Alfred asked.
Koukol looked at him, sharply, and seemed to be trying to figure out if Alfred was up to anything.
"I can help." Alfred smiled. "I do all the cleaning for the professor. I've had lots of practice."
Though he still seemed suspicious, Koukol gave his duster to Alfred and watched as Alfred climbed the small ladder he'd been using. After a moment, the chore was done and Alfred handed the duster back to Koukol.
"That was very kind," Herbert's voice made Alfred start. "Not everyone is polite to our Koukol." He paused for a moment and seemed to consider Alfred. "You're a very good person." Herbert waved a hand at Koukol. "Get some rest. You've been busy, tonight."
Koukol made a bobbing motion with his head and left without a word, though he did take a minute to give Alfred a puzzled look.
Herbert said, "I thought you might need a hand to find your chambers. Father is a little preoccupied and may have forgotten that you don't know your way around." Herbert was all smiles and motioned for Alfred to walk with him. "The professor is safely in his own room, so you needn't worry about him. I'll just have to see you to your bed." He kept glancing at Alfred as they walked. "Perhaps I can bring you a drink before bed. I'm sure you must be the type to like it strong and… hot. Something to be savored in bed. Or maybe you'd like something to eat. I can give you a sausage. I have a very big one, long and juicy."
Alfred twitched. There was something about the way Herbert spoke that made Alfred think decidedly naughty thoughts. Here Herbert was trying to be kind and Alfred couldn't help but misinterpret Herbert's perfectly innocent words.
"I'm not very hungry, thank you." Alfred did know to use his manners when dealing with nobility, even if that nobility might be a monster. "Just tired. I can sleep on the floor in the professor's room; it's what I usually do."
Herbert put his nose in the air. "On the floor? If father found out I was letting a guest sleep on the floor, I think he'd beat me. No, you shall have a room of your own. I can help make you comfortable, there. We'll get a nice cheery fire going on the hearth. I'd be very happy to fluff your pillow."
Alfred opened his mouth to tell Herbert that really wasn't necessary because the idea of Herbert spending any length of time in Alfred's room seemed somehow like a bad idea. Before he could say anything, Herbert said,
"Tell me about yourself. From the way you speak, I'd say you were English. Yes? However did you come to be traveling with a German scholar to Transylvania? Is Professor Abronsius your father? Or perhaps your grandfather?"
"N-no." Alfred swallowed hard and hugged the professor's case to his chest, as if that would protect him from Herbert's eyes. "No, we're not related. Not really. I… he found me at…" It was so hard to explain, but Herbert wouldn't stop staring and Alfred had the very distinct feeling that he wouldn't until he got a satisfactory answer. Alfred could lie, of course, but he just wasn't very good at it and tended to get all flustered when he tried to lie. "He took me in. I have no family." He really didn't want to talk about the poorhouse.
"You poor dear." Herbert put a sympathetic arm around Alfred as they walked. "Still, he is good to you, I suppose."
Alfred nodded. "Oh, yes. I work for him so he feeds me. He makes sure I have clothes." It was more than anyone else had ever done for Alfred and he was very grateful for every little kindness the professor gave him. "I've been with him since I was fourteen – five years, now."
"And how did you meet?"
There was no need to tell a stranger about things he wouldn't understand. How could Herbert - who dressed so finely, lived in a castle, and looked as if he'd never had a care in the world greater than what color waistcoat he would wear – possibly understand what it was to be poor? He couldn't know that Alfred had spent so long on the streets of London starving until some well-meaning soul had delivered him to the local poorhouse. He'd wished many times to die there. It had been a terrible place. He remembered people screaming as their families were separated, children crying for their mothers. He remembered long, long hours of work and sleeping on infested bedding. He remembered being so cold in the winter that he thought he might never wake up if he fell asleep. Everything and everyone was always dirty. Sickness had decimated the place on more than one occasion.
Alfred hugged the professor's bag just a little tighter. "He needed an assistant, so he took me in and gave me a place. I'm indebted to him. I'll serve him as long as I may, I suppose. He even taught me to read a little and how to speak German so I could help him with his work."
Herbert didn't look very impressed.
Alfred had been so pathetically grateful when the foreign professor had arrived at the poorhouse looking for a willing assistant that he had never looked too hard at the fact that Professor Abronsius had, in fact, bought him. There had been an exchange of money between the professor and the warden before Alfred was told that he was to do as the professor said in all things. Alfred had known, even back then, that no matter what the professor had asked him to do, it could never be as bad as the Hell that was life in the poor house.
Herbert stopped at a door. "This is your room. Are you sure you wouldn't like some help getting comfortable? Your clothes are wet, still. And just look at you shiver. You should take those wet things off. Mother always used to say it isn't healthy to sit around all wet. I can draw you a hot bath."
A hot bath sounded very nice, and he was still freezing, Alfred was fairly certain that Professor Abronsius would be a bit unhappy if he discovered Alfred was getting friendly with the enemy. And the idea of any kind of nobility – vampire or not – waiting on him like a servant was unnerving. So he thanked Herbert, but refused.
"As you wish," Herbert nodded his head and moved closer to Alfred. He moved so close that Alfred was forced back a step and pressed his back against the door to prevent them from touching. Herbert whispered with a sly grin, "Just call if you want me to scrub your back, darling."
Alfred's eyes shot wide open when Herbert winked at him before he turned and walked away.
Realization came to Alfred slowly. His mouth fell open and he stared after Herbert until he disappeared around a corner.
Flirting? Herbert had been flirting with him?
It was an entirely new experience for Alfred.
Alfred moaned in despair. "What have I done?" Professor Abronsius had warned him to keep away from the young lord or risk influencing him. Despite his best efforts, Alfred had somehow said or did something to make Herbert think… and now Herbert was…. "Oh, no!" Alfred tipped his head back until it banged against the door. "I've corrupted poor Herbert!"
To be continued…