He was slipping.
Alfred knew that much whenever he dared to steal a look at his sire these nights; every time, he felt that all too familiar flutter in the bottom of his stomach, which quickly had him averting his gaze.
Well, what did you expect, you fool, he told himself fiercely whenever he slipped, you're the one who lets him kiss you.
It wasn't by any means the same thing as before his turning, and there still was more of avoiding and denial than there was surrender. Yet he could tell it was not very far from becoming just that, and more. His new vampiric hunger was a formidable thing, and the more he gave in, the more he burned.
Still, it would have been one thing if Johannes kept enticing just that part of him. But he was also being... well, not nice, but pleasant in his own strange, menacing way. And he was just that the night Alfred finally decided his book was done.
Only, this also introduced him a problem he had not thought of beforehand: now he had nothing to write or work on anymore.
He was mulling over this fact in the library, and hour or so after sunset, when Johannes arrived.
"Good evening, Alfred. How goes your night?" he asked with a faint smile, like he did almost every night.
"Same as usual", said Alfred fixing his eyes on the first page of his manuscript before him. "I finished my book."
"Did you now? That is good news. Does it mean I finally get to read it?" Johannes inquired as he halted next to the table.
"I suppose", Alfred allowed, although he did feel a bit worried His Excellency was going to butcher the end product, and then him. So he added, "I don't know if it's any good, though."
"Why wouldn't it be? You're a bright young man and you have worked hard on your book", Johannes said calmly as he collected the pile of sheets in his strong, bony hands.
"But what am I supposed to do now that it's finished?" he dared to speak it out loud, this odd feeling of emptiness that had come over him when he had realised he had nothing more to add or to fix.
"Write another book. I have no doubt you can do it. And once you are finished with it, I will tell my solicitor to make sure it is published", he said as though he was answering the world's simplest question.
Alfred blinked in surprise, though perhaps he should not be quite so astonished at the idea. It was simply a logical thing to do now that he had endless time in his hands.
Then he cleared his throat and cast a look at the pile in the hands of his sire.
"It's my first book. Please be gentle with me", he said. As soon as he realised what he had just said, he felt mortified and wished he could sink through the floor. And as if on cue, Johannes gave him a toothy, menacing smile.
"Aren't I always?" he asked in a smooth, friendly voice and briefly grasped Alfred's chin between his fingers. The touch was too soft to be called anything but a caress. Alfred closed his eyes and bit his tongue. Would he ever stop acting like a damn fool when it came to this man?
He was still trying to check himself when the Count moved away with the manuscript. He took seat in one fluid motion, crossed his legs and fixed his eyes on the front page.
"Now, if you'd be quiet for a bit", he said pleasantly before starting to read.
Alfred knew he was going to spend more time reading the manuscript than just "a bit". Still, for a while he couldn't help but sit there and watch the Count in anxiety. After all, the first impression could tell a lot. If the beginning was not good, the chances of the rest of being readable were slim. However, his sire's face was inscrutable, and even through their mental bond he could get nothing.
"Do you want me to read this or not, Alfred? If you keep doing that, I shall be quite distracted", Johannes said suddenly without raising his eyes from the text.
"I'm not doing anything", Alfred said defensively, though a shiver passed down his spine when he thought what his sire might mean by "being distracted".
"Yes, you are. And if you can't stop it, I recommend you remove yourself from this room. Go and read a book. Or take a bath. You look untidy", Johannes said calmly, but with the faintest hint of a command in his voice.
Once again Alfred was glad he couldn't blush. Otherwise, his face would instantly have turned bright red. Instinctively he tried to smooth down his hair, as though that might somehow help. Insecurity throbbed against his skull; he still hated the idea of looking less than decent in the Count's presence. Krolock himself was always sharp and immaculate, and even in the nude he lost none of his dignity or command...
Realising the perilous direction his thoughts had taken, Alfred was quick to stop it. He almost groaned out loud.
Johannes raised a dark, quizzical eyebrow and directed him a piercing stare. As always, it made Alfred feel like the older vampire picked up much more than what he was willing to share.
And that was his cue to get out. He scrambled up on his feet and hastily made his way out.
For whatever reason, Johannes soon decided he needed to teach his fledgling some hand-to-hand combat, and so he dragged Alfred outside into the woods one fair autumn's night. Alfred was hardly very enthusiastic about the idea, but there was no refusing his sire when the man made up his mind. So, reluctant as ever, he followed the Count to a small clearing deep in the forest.
"Honestly, I don't get the point. Do you expect me to get into a lot of fist-fights?" he asked reluctantly as he watched Johannes neatly fold his overcoat on the ground – the only concession to practicality he was going to make as far as clothing went.
The Count cast him a dark look.
"Alfred, nothing could please me more than sparing you from such trouble, and I assure you that in my presence you are safe. Few even among our own kind would be foolish enough to challenge me in an open combat. But I may not always be able to protect you, Alfred. What if your prey doesn't comply easily to being bitten? You're not as strong as I'd like you to be, but if you at least know some self-defence, you may avoid being staked through the heart", said Krolock seriously and rolled his shoulders, as though some kind of a seasoned brawler about to throw himself into a fight.
The younger vampire shuddered at the idea of stakes. Then, considering Krolock's words, he felt rather bleak.
"So that's it? I can't fly, or do anything else interesting, and I'm not even strong. Am I always going to be a disappointment no matter what I do?" he asked glumly.
Johannes looked unfazed.
"Don't be such a child, Alfred. No one needs these abilities to be interesting, you least of all. And the only thing that disappoints me right now is that petulant tone which doesn't suit you in the slightest", he said, calm and infinitely patient. "Now, if you are quite finished complaining, let us begin."
Seeing Johannes was not going to pay heed to his objections, Alfred sighed wearily in surrender.
"All right, then. But for the record, I still am not sure this isn't useless", he commented, which merely earned him a sharp glare and a wave of something that felt like a warning. Knowing he'd have it easier if he just went along, Alfred shut his mouth and tried to focus on what his sire was trying to tell him.
It turned out hand-to-hand combat and self-defence were not as simple as he had expected. Apparently, he didn't even know how to stand right, and Johannes kept correcting his form, until they both were growing quite frustrated. At that point, the older vampire groaned under his breath and glared at Alfred.
"If you won't learn otherwise, let us try a different method", he said impatiently. "Close your eyes and focus on me. Perhaps you're more receptive when I'm inside your head."
"Do I have to?" Alfred asked reluctantly, but his sire just lifted an eyebrow, and that was enough of an answer for him.
Alfred sighed and closed his eyes. For a while, he was too tense to really feel anything. However, the quiet of the wood around them eventually helped him to relax a bit. Johannes often had him just listening to the sounds around them when his mind was being "too loud".
And then he did feel the Count. The sensation still unsettled him, because it made him feel so small and exposed and defenceless. He was certain his sire was going to rummage through his brain and laugh at all the parts he found stupid and wanting.
"Focus, Alfred!" Johannes said, both with his voice and his thoughts. Alfred gritted his teeth and the tips of his fangs dug into his lower lip.
It took some time, but eventually he untensed again, and then he could almost see what his sire meant. Now he was reaching out of his own mind, and for the briefest moment he was with Johannes, and he could feel his body… no, it was not Alfred's own body, but his sire's! And then he was overwhelmed, because never once had he imagined how it would feel like to be so tall, or so old, or so strong.
He gasped out loud and his eyes flew open. He met a pair of sharp, blue eyes.
"Why on earth must you always get hung up on the most irrelevant things? Just when I think you're starting to get it..." Johannes groaned and rubbed a hand wearily across his face.
"Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but we can't all be so grand and perfect and prance around gloating about it!" Alfred snapped back.
His sire narrowed his eyes and nailed Alfred on his spot with a hard stare.
"Alfred, if you will not cease obsessing over your insecurity and this maddening issue of inferiority, I shall throw you into the top of that tree and leave you there", he said, dead serious, and flexed the claw-like fingers of his hand as though to emphasise the point. Alfred gulped. He had no doubt his sire would go through with his threat.
"Fine", he uttered and took a deep breath. "Let's try again."
It took some more time, but then at last, when tension had left his body again and his mind had gone still, he could hear Johannes.
"Finally! Now you are getting it", he said, sounding pleased.
"So now I know how to stand?" Alfred asked cheekily, and was glad to see that his own position did indeed mirror that of his teacher.
"Barely", Johannes said with a soft snort. "But we are getting there."
The younger vampire nodded, silently satisfied that he was not a completely hopeless case.
However, his joy was not to last long. When Krolock began to explain some simpler ways to counter an attack, he began to feel just as confused as in the start.
"You may be small, and not particularly strong, but you are quick and agile. You should use that to your advantage", said Johannes, and then proceeded to explain how to turn a stronger opponent's size and strength against them. Alfred had hard time following the lecture. He was more fascinated by the lethal, feline grace that his instructor was emanating with every movement. The sense of fascination was so strong, he did not even feel desperate for very long for knowing he would never have any hope in defending himself against such a sophisticated fighter.
"Alfred, are you listening anymore?" Johannes asked suddenly and gave his fledgling a critical stare.
"Um", said Alfred and averted his gaze.
"Well, let's see if you've actually learned anything. I'm going to come at you, Alfred – try and block me, if you can", he instructed, and then, before the younger vampire even had a chance to collect himself, he was already on his back on the ground.
That was about how it went for a while. It was a good thing he was undead and could not be injured. Otherwise, he would be covered in bruises after tonight, and about as stiff and achy as an old man. Johannes gave him no mercy, though Alfred suspected his sire was not even coming at him with his full strength or skill.
Yet though time and again he found himself on the ground, or thrown against a tree, or sprawling face first in a bush, he also began to see the animal beauty in it. And the vampire part of him stirred, growing more and more captivated by the Count, and before he even knew it he wasn't trying to avoid attacks anymore.
"Damn it, Alfred, this is not a dance", Johannes growled at him and caught him against a tree in yet another demonstration of how he might put a stake through his fledgling's heart. And the Count was so close, and in the middle of this exercise Alfred had fallen more and more under the rule of his instincts, and his near-constant thirst had changed into a veritable hunger… he made no smart comments, because the only sound he could manage was a soft growl under his breath. Without a thought of he pressed himself against the Count and kissed him as though he would die if he didn't.
And that was how it went on for a long moment, rough and mad and more than just a little beastly. There was an instance he was convinced it would end in an impetuous tumble in the trampled undergrowth, and he certainly was aroused enough, but Johannes still retained a degree of self-control. In one rough movement he pulled back, and he looked more predatory than ever, hair in disarray, face whiter than snow, and eyes blazing like wildfire. His hands were like claws and somehow even his fangs were pronouncedly sharp and white.
"You won't make this easy for me, will you?" he asked in a low, rough voice, glaring at Alfred as though the young man had just done something quite outrageous.
Alfred was panting, mostly because it felt right and his undead body certainly recalled this, rather than because he needed the air. He didn't know what to say, nor was he certain his voice would have obeyed him. So he just shrugged.
Krolock groaned out loud and seemed to shake himself. The young man could practically feel him bristling.
"Nine Hells, I must have been out of my mind when I turned you", he muttered and straightened himself.
"Finally we agree about something", said Alfred, although it sounded quite pathetic with his thin, trembling voice.
His sire threw him a burning glare.
"Careful with your cheek, Alfred, if you are not sure you want to see what it might cost you", he said in a truly threatening voice.
For once, the young man decided sometimes it's just better to shut one's mouth.
Johannes took his time reading Alfred's book. He was not generally a slow reader, but apparently he was going through the text with all the possible care. When Alfred tried to tentatively ask for what his sire thought of it, Johannes would thwart his questions every time.
"I shall not review it until I've read the whole thing", he said and gave Alfred a long, hard look that felt like some kind of a command. Alfred grumbled a little bit on how bossy and irritating the older vampire was, but it only seemed to amuse the Count.
"Still", Alfred said after a moment, "I wish you would tell me if I'm any good."
They were returning from a hunt at this time, slowly walking through the dark, cheerless woods. Winter was getting closer again and it was making Alfred feel a bit nostalgic. Only a year ago, he had been on his way to this wild land – and to Johannes.
But now he was not lost in the wood, or freezing to death, or being hunted by a pack of hungry wolves. He was walking side by side with the man who had started as an adversary and then become so many other things. And himself – he was undead, too, and his body was full of fresh blood. The way it glowed and throbbed inside him felt a bit like an actual heartbeat.
At first, he thought Johannes wasn't going to answer. The older vampire had been quiet for a while now, and he generally did not take goading well. But suddenly he spoke.
"You are a decent writer. I imagine you have it in you to become even better", he said at length, glancing down at Alfred. The younger vampire could not help but gloat silently for a bit; he didn't think Johannes would spare him if the manuscript were rubbish.
The Count narrowed his eyes slightly and added, "Though I must say, you take my opinion far too seriously."
This sobered Alfred's mood.
"Well, it's not like I have anybody else's opinion to ask", he pointed out softly.
"Indeed. It's a dreadful thing", Johannes agreed and let out a small sigh.
"It's not that bad. And... I didn't exactly have anybody before I met you, either. Not in the way I wanted", Alfred pointed out. This made his throat feel tight, so hastily he went on an attempt to lighten the mood, "Not to mention, you would just hate it if I did not pay heed to you and your opinions. They are far superior to everyone else's, so of course they should be observed with utmost solemnity."
A faint smile appeared on the Count's features.
"Insolent, but correct. I am glad you are finally starting to come to grips with this fact", he said with the familiar lofty arrogance that was so infuriating and attractive at the same time.
And there was that tremor once again, rising from the slowly burning coal of desire that refused to die. The fresh blood inside him glowed with heat and urgency, making this need even more difficult to resist than normally. Alfred buried his nails in the palms of his hands, struggling as hard as he possibly could. He shut his eyes tightly and waited for the feeling to pass.
But then a strong hand gripped him by shoulder and turned him, so that he and his sire were face to face. Alfred opened one eye cautiously, and then quickly shut it again. Krolock looked perfectly eerie in the dim starlight; had Alfred been a living man, he would have run for his life at such sight.
"Why do you push so hard against me, Alfred? I can feel your want", he asked in a low, smooth voice. Alfred kept his eyes closed, knowing full well that the Count was looking just as enticing as his voice sounded.
"Because it's the only thing I've got left", he uttered in a thin voice. He quickly decided against trying to explain what he meant – talking was difficult enough as it was.
"But what does it earn you except frustration and discomfort? Is that how you wish to exist – punishing yourself while provoking me?" asked the Count.
"Provoking you?" Alfred asked in a thin voice.
"Yes. You do it constantly and it is quite wearisome for me. However, I hold back because I want you willing. But don't think for a minute that I enjoy this denial, or that it's easy to fight the instinct", said the older vampire in a menacing voice.
"Well, do you think it's any easier for me to feel your craving?" asked the younger of the two, surprised to hear himself so defiant, and so he also dared to open his eyes again. But Johannes only raised an eyebrow.
"That is my point exactly, Alfred. Why do you fight back?" he asked, very much bringing the conversation back to its starting point.
Alfred looked at the Count in frustration. There was no winning him in a debate. At least some things never changed.
But the man had decided to play dirty. He leant down slightly, bringing his face closer to Alfred's.
"I can feel your frustration, and it's not just because I'm annoying you. I know you want me. You are curious to know what it would be like now that we're both vampires. And you can find out any time you like, Alfred; there is no need to keep on tormenting us both in this way", he said in his most alluring voice, so soft and smooth that it made Alfred shake with something dark and hungry. The fresh blood made it only worse.
"Maybe the vampire in me wants it", he said in a thick, trembling voice, "but the human that still lives knows it's never so simple."
"Knows, or believes?" asked Johannes pleasantly. "I must wonder why you still insist on being so afraid of everything."
"You may have turned me, but you didn't change me", Alfred said, regaining some of his defiance.
"So you keep telling me", he stated in a low, smooth voice. Then he leant closer again and captured Aflred's chin between his thumb and index finger. Even such a small contact made a violent shiver run down Alfred's spine and he could not help but stare back at the bright blue eyes that seemed to be endlessly deep.
"There is no need to make yourself suffer in this way, dearest Alfred. Say you want me, and I will make you forget about all this misery", he whispered, so soft and tempting that the younger of the two almost succumbed right there and then.
But somehow he was still able to hold on to some vestiges of restraint. He closed his eyes again, as that helped a little bit.
"You said it would... it would bind us. What if I don't want that? What if... I want... somebody else?" he uttered in a barely audible voice. Not that he actually had such hopes or intentions. He suspected if he did, he would just be comparing them to Johannes and finding himself disappointed. However, he couldn't say he wasn't curious about how his sire would react to such an idea.
He didn't need to wait long for a reaction. The Count snarled aloud and his hand moved like a lightning to the back of Alfred's head, grasping his hair in a tight grip, although it was not enough to hurt. It actually felt like the temperature around them dropped several degrees.
"In that case, I would not recommend bringing them under my nose", said Johannes in a silky, ominous voice that was not much more than a whisper.
Alfred opened his eyes and stared back silently. So his sire was jealous. He didn't know if he should feel unsettled or flattered – or maybe both.
"I was not planning on it", he said in a small voice, but the hand still did not release his head. Of all the irrational things he could feel, there was a strange rush of excitement. His former lover did not usually act so possessive, but some dark, vampire part of him liked it alarmingly much.
Johannes moved just little closer, so that their faces were only inches apart. Tension hung so heavily in the air, Alfred could feel each hair on his body standing up. He couldn't have moved even if he wanted.
One long, bony finger brushed across his ear and then his cheek. There was just a hint of a scratch as the older vampire pressed a sharp nail against his skin. Alfred gasped out loud and closed his eyes, desperately trying to stay calm and collected.
Then a silky, alluring voice, speaking straight into his ear, and yet he also felt like it was inside his mind at the same time.
"Have care, Alfred. I tolerate many things, but not rivals."
The Count pulled back again and once more began to walk, as if nothing had happened. For one long moment Alfred stared after him in bewilderment, before the younger of two vampires finally willed himself into moving.
He surely could not have guessed that a simple request for some feedback would lead to a jealous claim on his affections!
To be continued.
A/N: Here's a new chapter at last! I swear I'm not intending to abandon this story - I've just been having a dreadful writer's block with it. Still, recently I finished the bit with combat training in the woods and that was very entertaining to write. I hope you enjoyed it as well!
Thanks for reading and reviewing!
Calimera - Thank you! I'm glad you liked the chapter. :)
Pouty Herbert is amusing as always - but then, he's entertaining no matter what he's doing. I hope to write a few scenes from his POV some time soon.
The "vampire training" continued to fascinate me, hence this chapter. I can't particularly see Alfred as a very powerful vampire, and I think he generally doesn't think of it, either. In this chapter, it's more of a case of insecurity: for a moment he feels like he's disappointment even as a vampire.
Anyway, things are getting more interesting for them - let's see how long Alfred is going to be able to hold back! Krolock certainly has revealed his cards in that regard. ;)
ghostwritten2 - In my opinion, what's the point of writing a vampire romance if you don't explore the dark and sensual side of it? But I'm glad if I've managed to invoke those things in this story! And you are certainly right - Alfred is such a romantic at heart, the relationship has to have some element of sweetness in it.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and their further probing into the territory of this bond!
FayReadsStuff - Thank you! I'm glad you've been enjoying my Tanz stories! :)