A/N: I've been trying to tie up some loose ends in my life recently. Full disclosure - I originally started writing this as a Secret Santa gift for 3andastra3, as she loves the Graf/Alfred dynamic. I quickly realised that the Graf was an incredibly difficult character to write, and failed to finish the piece. Recently, I gave it another try. I want to gift this piece to 3andastra3 along with a sincere apology for taking so long time to fulfil my Secret Santa to her. Happy (much-belated) Christmas, 3andastra3!
"(On the similarities between Alfred and the Kaiser's page) It's no coincidence, Krolock is very anti-authoritarian. His interest in Alfred makes that evident. Alfred himself is interested in the mysterious - not to mention, love; the vampire bite is a metaphor for the sexual act. 'Alfred's soul already belongs to me.' For Krolock wants to say that Alfred has long since left the world of Professor Abronsius, because he finds the lure of Krolock's night world more fascinating."
- Michael Kunze, book and lyrics, Tanz der Vampire
He hears the boy before he sees him.
The night air is thick with snowflakes, muffling sound and sight alike beneath a star-speckled sky - yet the voice that carries through it all is earnest, steady, clear as the ringing of ice. The castle looms ahead, a mere twenty feet away - his sanctuary, his kingdom, awaiting the return of its ruler - but the voice stops him short, and the Graf glides to a halt, silent as a shadow upon the freshly fallen snow.
Curious, that any mortal traveller should wander so close to his domain at this hour.
Curiouser still, that said mortal should call out with such ardour, without fear for his life, for the wolves that howl in the depths of the forest and the vampires rumoured to dwell within the mountains.
And most curious of all is the boy's gentle, barely discernible accent, the inflections that mark him as a foreigner to these parts.
"I'm here, Professor! I'm right here! Where should I go?"
The snowflakes ripple and swirl, just a little way down the mountain, disturbed by an unwelcome presence - and then a figure stumbles into view with a crunch of boots-against-snow, hunched against the cold and laden with suitcases, his face obscured by the motheathen scarf wrapped clumsily about his shoulders.
Foolish child, he muses. The boy seems oblivious to the danger - or else, too intent upon finding his beloved professor to care that he might be eaten alive by wolves if he continues to shout.
The Graf sighs, the sound carried away by the wind. Such devotion. Such naivete. How easily the young forget themselves, in desperation to please their elders.
How long has it been, he wonders errantly, since a foreigner had stood - naive, unknowing - on the threshold of his domain? There had been another. Long, long ago now. Another foreigner, though this one had been a Kaiser's page, not a Professor's assistant, who had stood before the castle with similar cries of desperation upon his lips, pleading, sobbing, screaming for the girl he had lost...
The Graf shakes his head. The memory makes his unbeating heart ache with the kind of pain and regret that only very particular victims can induce. God loves to taunt him.
He turns his face to the snow. He sweeps the heavy weight of his cloak over one shoulder; an unconscious shield against the unforgiving memory. Let the boy-traveller be ravaged by wolves, if that be his fate.
The Graf must return to his domain, to the safety of a place where guilt and regret are contained, barred behind the gates of a graveyard. Where the darkness embraces him like an old friend. And where he has a son to care for, a ball to prepare, an imminent seduction to plan...
He will not think of the boy again.
That is, until the boy falls in love with his sternkind.
The Graf decides - poised upon the roof of the little inn, watching the two young mortals through a crack in the wood as they whisper together over a steaming bathtub - that God has a cruel sense of humour.
He has travelled here with one purpose and one purpose alone; to extend an invitation to his sternkind, as he calls her, the girl with fire in her eyes and hunger in her heart for the very things her parents pray she will be delivered from. For months, he has watched her from afar, called to her in the depths of night, longed for the taste of her blood. Now the time has come to reveal himself, and if she be willing, sweep her away with him at last.
Yet the boy - that boy, the foreigner, the one from the snow - has crossed his path once more. And there is no mistaking the look on the youth's face as he gazes, open-mouthed, at the pretty girl before him.
The Graf is no fool. He has seen that look before, on the faces of so many other clumsy, inferior men who sought the affections of his victims. And every time, he has seen that look darken, turn bitter with the sting of rejection, as their beloveds come running to his arms instead of theirs. He tastes victory with every sip of their blood.
There had been one exception, of course - a French page boy who had not turned bitter, who had instead remained true to his love, until the very end and beyond - but the Graf does not wish to dwell on that. Some memories are, simply, not worth the pain.
Besides - there is no reason to assume that this boy, young and naive as he is, might share any similarities with a page boy from eighteen-thirty. For this boy is clearly a student, with his suitcase full of books labelled for Königsberg University. He has the slender, delicate look of one who has grown up eating very little and working very hard, with a mop of dark curls framing soft, timid features.
Sweet, his son would probably call him. Sweet, and unsullied by the darkness of life.
Those eyes are, at present, fixed upon his sternkind as though she is an angel sent from Heaven itself, his shoulders hunched with shyness as she whispers conspiratorially to him. The Graf resists the urge to leap down between them and send the boy running, screaming, for his beloved professor - though the thought is a pleasant one. For he is clearly in love. Desperately, pathetically in love.
The Graf digs his nails into his palms.
The student might not resemble the page in looks, but he seems set upon following in his footsteps nonetheless. For he is one of those rare mortals more deserving of his victim than the Graf himself, monstrous creature that he is, will ever be.
That is why God has placed such a boy in his path again, surely. To torture him, as he always does. To cut open that old wound again and coaxe the guilt, the regret back to the surface.
You killed a page boy, good and pure and loving as he was. Now, will you kill an innocent student too?
If only he could be more like his son. His dear, cruel, fanciful son, who danced through his immortal life as though the mere concept of guilt was a mystery to him -
- And inspiration strikes, at that moment.
Of course. Herbert will take care of the boy.
Hadn't his poor son been begging for a treat ever since last year's fiasco of a ball, and the emancipated farmer he had been subjected to feed upon? Such a boy as this, well-mannered and properly educated...his son will jump for joy. And nothing brings the Graf greater happiness than his son's well-being.
The Graf draws a slow, calming breath. Already, he feels as though a great weight has been lifted from his shoulders.
Herbert will seduce the boy, bite him, ruin him. Innocent blood will not be on the Graf's hands.
Not this time.
"But - but your Papa!"
The boy's plaintive cry pulls the Graf from his thoughts, and he blinks back to the present, returning his gaze to the pair of young lovers below. The boy is blushing crimson at whatever his clever sternkind is suggesting, and the Graf crouches over the lip of the roof, eyes narrowed and fixed upon the boy's face.
His sternkind deserves so much more than this lovesick fool.
But Herbert...Herbert will simply adore him.
A/N: More to come.