Dracula throws the golden man into wall, hard enough to break it, revealing the room on the other side.
Nails against the wood, against stone, footsteps merciless as a death toll, blood in the burning halls; Dracula is the monster from the stories after all.
He stalks into the room, his cloak furling behind him, seeking his prey. The kind of snarl only things not-quite-human-anymore make emanates from his throat.
The moment he crosses the threshold, that snarl morphs into a gasp, and, as if it were some magic barrier…everything looks different.
His cloak falls softly, quietly like a hand on his shoulder.
This dhampir, this man, up until now has been Alucard. The reverse of him. The thing meant to destroy him and stop his war. A hunter of vampires that is himself a vampire—(or half of one at least). No, not a vampire hunter. Just Dracula's hunter. All he has been is another thing in Dracula's way.
But this thing sitting against the bed, failing to catch his breath, golden hair falling about his face…looks different.
A little boy is gasping, leaning on his wooden sword just to stay up.
"Father, do you think we can stop? I need a break."
Vlad laughs, and the sound is warm. His hands fall to his sides and his smiles, stepping up to his son.
"Of course, Adrian." He puts his hand on his shoulder/ruffles his hair. "You've done well today.
He is…so small.
This bed. A bookshelf. A wardrobe. A desk, with charts and maps. A basket of toys in the corner. All too small. Too dusty.
The window is letting too much light in.
On the wall, a painting of a family. Too happy.
…a boy, hurting, beneath the bed.
Not a hunter, or an annoyance, or an enemy. Not a mindless, heartless, thing. Not an other. Not a him or an it to be disposed of, but a living, breathing, thinking, hurting you.
A very specific you. A you with a name. A you with whom Dracula had shared so much of his life. A you who perhaps knew Vlad more than anymore else. Not a him or an it to be destroyed, a you that he needed so desperately to keep alive.
Not Alucard; the thing meant to destroy him.
"It's your room."
His fingers, a moment ago poised to claw at this man, curl gently into a fist, hiding his nails.
The rest of the castle was drenched in bloodshed. The rest of the castle was full of war. The rest of the castle had turned itself towards it's master's deeds, destroying itself in a pointless fight, just like him.
But not this room. He had protected this room from all the blood. He dare not bring it with him.
The heavens turn from hazardous red to delicate blue.
Both of them stare up into the stars. Not the real ones—though they are here to guide them too. The ones on the ceiling. The ones they played under, read under, the ones this golden man once dreamed under, the ones he used to learn their names and places in the sky when he was but a child. The rich blue like a spell, putting the warriors into a trance in the middle the battlefield.
—(But this isn't the battlefield, and that's why the war must stop here)—
The blood is clearing from Vlad's view. It has been a long time since he's seen the world without the blood.
The room has been empty for a while, but the boy it belongs to is here now.
And, in his proper place, all at once this golden man is that fragile thing again. That thing that could break if Vlad held him wrong. That thing Vlad, more than anything, wanted to keep alive, to protect, and who he would die for before he ever saw him get hurt.
Barely perceptible, Vlad is shaking.
His hands are no longer claws against the walls. He sees them for what ugly, monstrous things they are. Ugly, monstrous, because of what they've been doing. He crosses them over his chest, as if to cage them; as if trying to keep them from hurting anything, ever, anymore. As if to feel his own heartbeat, and remind himself there is still something living there.
This is the boy who he played cards, and chess, and swords with. This is the boy who asked about the myths in the stars, and the ones in our hearts. This is the boy who he bounced on his knee, and read to, and comforted when he cried, and on very special occasions sang to sleep.
Adrian is trying to stand, and for a moment his father sees a tiny thing on wobbly legs reaching for his open arms.
"I-I'm killing my boy."
Dracula steps to the painting—(though he can barely feel his feet)—where an echo of his wife sits on canvas, holding that infant golden thing.
He remembers her now. He wasn't sure he did before.
"Lisa…I'm killing our boy." His voice is soft and cracked and breakable itself. "We painted this room. We…made these toys…"
He was never one for sentiment, never grew attached to objects…but as he looks around at this room, and the things in it, those moments are flickering through his mind now—(is this what they mean when they say one's life flashes before your eyes? Had he really forgotten so much? Had he really forgotten what life was?)—and the blood seems so obscene now.
Not in front of Adrian.
"It's our boy, Lisa."
With an exhale Alucard gets up, and it sounds like the world being crushed into a fine powder. The motion is not gentle…it comes with a cracking and all-too clear purpose, and now his steps are as calculated and foreboding as Dracula's were moments ago.
Vlad's hands are now too dangerous to let sit at his sides, so he uses them to cover his eyes…to hide his pain from the world, to hide the world from his pain. A feeble defense against the pointed intention in his son's own dangerous hands. Playing peekaboo one last time.
"Your greatest gift to me. And I'm killing him."
He hears Adrian's breath very close to him, but it is not that of a beast ready to pounce, it is heavy, like the world is sitting on his chest.
He takes his claws from his eyes to look into his son's face.
Vlad laughs, and the sound is cold.
"You mean to stake me?"
"You want me to."
"You didn't kill me before. You're not going to kill me now. You want this to end as much as I do."
"You died when my mother died. You know you did. This entire catastrophe has been nothing but history's longest suicide note."
And if he could hurt this boy—Adrian—who he loved more than anything, then:
"I must already be dead."
Adrian's eyes are not full of malice. He is not like anyone else that would try to kill the vampire king. Anyone else's eyes would not be soft; they would be solid and still, pointed and gleaming with with hunger and hate. Anyone else wouldn't hesitate, wouldn't be gentle.
Even now, Adrian's eyes are still full of sunlight; trembling, rippling, ripping sunlight.
It is not fear, nor anger that makes his eyes shudder. It is heartbreak. Imminent heartbreak.
Because he wishes he could save him. Because he knows he cannot.
His heart has been aching for a very long time, slowly coming apart, and it is about to shatter. This golden man is about to split his own chest for the sake of saving the world.
Once upon a time all the stories they told him ended happily, and families stayed together, and no one ever died. His heart must fracture, for he knows their own cannot.
How could Dracula ever try to take that sunlight from the world, when Lisa had brought it down to him from her place in the sky? He'd traveled the world in search of the sun...but his sunlight was right here…and if he couldn't see that then…
He closes his eyes. He opens them. A silent ask. A silent answer. They both know.
Alucard steps closer. And it is not to hold him tight—(no matter how much he they both wish he could just wrap his arms around him and cry, like long ago, and understand that after the rain everything would be better).
Now Dracula is the fragile thing. And they both know what he must do.
He is trying to be gentle. For love is the only thing that can be harsh in the kindest word, and gentle in the cruelest stroke.
That horrible cracking, crackling, squelching sound. Red drips from his chest along the golden man's sleeve.
It isn't death, really. It is mercy. Mercy on humanity. Mercy on Vlad himself. Death had already administered its kiss when Lisa died. And in his undead state Dracula had tried to spread that death to everything and everywhere else, in the world's most exorbitant suicide note.
"Son." The word is soft, rasping; the wind in a hollow house.
"Father." The word is a broken plea; the sun on the abandoned floorboards and dolls, wishing it could illuminate the family that once lived there instead—
And this hurts, yes, but even so, it is the love behind it that is more piercing than any stake.
Love has never been breakable. Love is what does the breaking.
There is something defiant in Alucard's eyes as he drives it in farther.
His heartbeat fills the room.
And, after much bending, the stake bores through, and the mirror breaks.
—(And for a moment Adrian could have sworn the sound came from his chest)—
Dracula does not burst into flame. Death, for him, is not an explosive show. It is soft whispers: he turns slowly to ashes, without any burn.
Vlad wants to wrap his arms around this small, precious, golden thing one last time. To say goodbye.
Adrian never looked at his father like a monster before, never backed away from his touch, but Dracula could swear the fear in his eyes now—(a little boy hiding from the thunder)—is the only reason the breath is leaving his chest.
Adrian is so, so tiny. (And after everything, he cannot bring himself to deliver the last stroke.)
Dracula's last thought, the sonnet of a dying monster, is not a curse, or a threat, but something very gentle indeed.
Lisa, Adrian…I'm so sorry.
The only thing left of him is a wedding ring.