A/N: Inspiration for the chapter: ISON - Helios
Alfred was startled from his reminiscing some time later. Once more, he was being lifted and moved, and he groaned, because he had been perfectly comfortable curled up on his side and his head in Johannes' lap.
Even so, the arms holding him were tireless and steady as ever. He decided he could have comfortably slept here for ages.
"Will you join us?" someone asked nearby.
"No. I need to take care of Alfred", came the answer. Alfred made a low sound in approval. Maybe this was not such a bad development after all.
Some five minutes later, he was lowered on what felt like some sort of a mattress, and then a voice commanding: "Open your mouth. You need blood."
He obeyed, and sweet, reviving blood was poured in his mouth. At first he was much too focused on the sensation of finally being able to feed properly to notice, but eventually he became aware he was drinking from a blood bag. How Krolock had something like that in his possession, he didn't know. And at any rate, other things were more pressing right now.
Last of his dizziness and nausea vanished with blood and strength returned to his limbs. Warmth and clarity flowed through him and he even felt like he could sit up if he so wanted. For a minute he just lay there, relishing this sensation and the knowledge he was safe... that Johannes was all right.
He opened his eyes and looked at the Count. He was seated on the edge of the bed and was studying Alfred with an inscrutable expression. His long dark hair was tied back in a loose French braid, probably because he had expected a confrontation with Dracula. He was wearing a dress shirt and trousers, which was unusually casual for him, but a full suit would have been inconvenient in a fight. They were in what looked like a small, plain hotel room and Alfred guessed they would be staying here for the day before... well, he didn't know what the plan was. Where would they go from here? He was scared to even think of it.
"I'm glad you're fine", he stated softly, aware that his face must be shining with silent adoration. No matter the conditions, he'd always be happy to see the one he loved. And, for all he knew, beyond this moment another parting could be waiting for them. He wanted to take with him as many good memories as he could.
The Count turned his face away, but Alfred did see the way he was frowning.
"You're such a fool for letting Dracula get to you, Alfred. You should have known better", he scolded. Alfred couldn't feel very regretful, though – not when all had turned out so well, and the man he loved was here with him.
"You're right", he agreed in any case, "But you are just as foolish for coming to get me. He could have killed you."
"Don't be absurd. You're mine, and I will not sit by and watch anyone taking your life, or using you to their nefarious purposes", the Count scoffed.
"You still think that? That I belong to you?" Alfred asked softly.
Now Krolock looked straight at him, his blue eyes so irritable and offended and familiar that the younger man wanted to laugh. He still was Alfred's "Count Cranky".
Some things never changed.
"Of course I do. You made a deal with a vampire, and vampires do not forget", Johannes answered and gave Alfred one of his most supremely arrogant "I have no time for this nonsense" looks that the younger vampire nearly let out a hysterical little laugh. It was odd how something like that could make him feel such tenderness.
They were silent for a time and just stared one another. There seemed to be a thousand unsaid things between them, and Alfred didn't know where to begin.
"To be honest... I didn't really care what he was going to do to me. Him killing me was my best case scenario... at least until you arrived", Alfred confessed at length, regarding the older vampire warily.
"And why would you think that?" the Count asked in annoyance.
"Because... I was tired and lonely. And I was hopeless. I felt I didn't have anything to live for anymore", the younger one said softly.
"You little idiot", Krolock snapped and glared at him. "Really, how many times do I have to tell you that you are mine and your life is mine to end? You're not allowed to try and get yourself killed!"
"I didn't think you'd care", Alfred said, surprised at the vehemence his beloved spoke with. It implied feelings that he hadn't thought existed.
"I will tell you when and if I consider us to be done. Then – and only then – you may seek death. Until such moment arrives, you belong to me, no matter where you go and what you do. Do you understand?" Johannes growled in a low voice. Incidentally, the tone sent a shiver down Alfred's spine. It was a little embarrassing how easily this man could render him helpless.
And it almost distracted him enough to miss the obvious: that Krolock had told him they were done. Yet he knew it was hardly that simple with this man.
Trust Johannes to make things complicated and change the rules wherever he could.
"That is not very reasonable, you know", Alfred managed at last in a shaky voice. "To expect me to hold my end when... when..."
He couldn't finish the sentence.
"I believe your take expired long ago already. But I never said mine would", Krolock simply said and let out a small huff. Alfred frowned; it was strange to think Sarah had been dead for so long now.
"But it's not a very good deal if I'm not even getting anything out of it. Not to mention, you always told me I had every right to call it off. So maybe I should. You can't say something is yours if you don't even have it with you", he felt obliged to point out.
"But you are, aren't you, though?" asked the Count quietly. His eyes held him captive right where he was.
"... yes. Yes, I am. Always will be, too, as it looks like", Alfred had to admit. That was a truth he couldn't fight.
Another silence followed. Perhaps they were both just trying to grasp what it meant... how their fates were so intertwined even when they were apart.
At last, the younger vampire needed to speak again. He was afraid of what would happen if they were quiet for too long.
"If you truly think our deal is not finished... then why did you leave me like that when we last met?" Alfred asked a little anxiously. "Why did you just go without saying anything?"
The older vampire gave him a tired look and Alfred shuddered. What would he do if this reunion ended like that, too? He wasn't sure he could take it.
"Because you'd never have let me go had you been awake when I left. It was difficult enough while you were sleeping", he said and stared ahead with something so strange and ancient in his eyes that Alfred could scarcely understand it.
"Then why leave at all? Why not... you know, let me come with you?" the younger vampire asked, his voice soft and uncertain. At that, Johannes gave him a sharp look that had something almost pained about it.
"Because you turn me into something I do not recognize", he said and there was reluctance to his voice that implied this was not something he liked to admit. But he did say it and Alfred was not sure how to feel about this knowledge... it was as Herbert had said. He did have power over this man.
"Is it so very bad, then?" he asked, however. "Would it really be very horrible to just..."
"Just what?" the older vampire asked sharply.
"Just let go", Alfred whispered. "Because... I would be there for you. I would help you bear it."
The Count said nothing. The frown on his face deepened and he stared Alfred like he seriously wanted to scold the younger vampire for something, but couldn't come up with a valid reason.
Eventually Johannes sighed and wiped a hand across his eyes.
"In any case, thank you. I believe you saved my life... and Herbert's too, probably. I do not much care for what happens to me, but my son..." he spoke in quiet tones, until he suddenly fell silent and looked like some agonizing thought was on him. When he continued, his voice was nothing more than a whisper, "I can endure a lot of things in this world, but not losing him."
"What could I do? Do you think I could endure it if anything happened to you?" Alfred asked just as quietly.
"Alfred..." the older vampire sighed with weary frustration and looked straight at him again.
"I'm not going to apologize for how I feel", he said briskly, staring hard at the man next to him. "Whatever may be said of me, let it not be that I wasn't honest about things that mattered to me. You do matter to me, more than most things. And I just hope that one day you'll realize that what I feel for you is much truer and more constant than anything you deserve."
The older vampire's face became softer at that, the sharp edge of his frustration wearing away.
"I know that I'm not deserving of your love. I never was, and I doubt I'll ever be."
"It's not like I don't know that. But that never stopped me from loving you before, and I don't think I will any time soon", Alfred said quietly and placed his hand on that of the Count. Krolock did not pull back his limb, so perhaps it meant that on some level he... he accepted this.
"You'd do better if you didn't have such feeling for me", Johannes sighed.
"I would do better if I had never even met you. But here we are either way", Alfred said and looked at the one he loved. "Take me, use me, crush me under your feet and make me suffer. I don't care what you do – I can take it now, all of it. Just let me come home."
"Home?" the older man repeated, his eyes widening just slightly.
"Yes", Alfred said, squeezing the Count's bony fingers in his own. "Home."
Krolock remained silent for the longest moment, his expression unreadable. But finally he nodded.
"Fine. You may return with us. But if you do... I could make you very miserable", he said with a warning tone to his voice. "I... may never be what you want me to be. I have been in the darkness too long, Alfred. I do not recall the light the way you do."
"That doesn't matter either. I'm used to being miserable and I can deal with it", the younger one said and smiled. No matter how it would turn out, being able to return was far better than to continue existing like he had until now... and, perhaps, he could try and make the best of it somehow. Herbert had said he had faith Alfred could give a chase to Johannes, hadn't he?
He smiled tentatively and held the Count's hand a little tighter.
"Just... thank you. I can't tell you how much it means to me", he said, leaning some inches closer. There was this current in the air, and Alfred knew that no matter what Johannes said, something was still alive between them. Something even his reluctant lover could not deny.
"I suppose you're welcome", the older vampire said, his face not betraying what he thought.
Momentarily, Alfred hesitated. There was still one more thing, but he didn't know what Johannes might say.
"Could I perhaps ask for something?" he inquired quietly; the Count just lifted his eyebrows as an answer, and he continued, "Can you stay with me tonight? If you... if you'd be willing to grant me that, I promise I won't ask for more. Just for the old times' sake... for what we once had."
For the longest time, Krolock remained silent, just regarding Alfred with a blank expression. The younger vampire answered his gaze, and he knew he must look desperate. He even feared that might put off the tall aristocrat. When the seconds flew by and the younger vampire was already starting to panic and think he had made a mistake by asking this, his beloved's expression suddenly turned into a softer one.
"Poor, unhappy Alfred", Johannes said quietly, brushing a hand across his cheek. "I wonder what deed of yours was so evil that you were condemned to love me so unconditionally... so hopelessly."
"I don't know. And to be honest, I don't care", Alfred answered, his voice not much more than a whisper. It was no use trying to make sense of it – he never had been able before. This thing just... it just was. Like the sun rising in the east, the waxing and waning of the moon, the push and pull of the tides... so was his heart set with the man who had lived and died almost three hundred years before Alfred himself had even been born.
A joyless smile passed on the Count's face. Then he cupped Alfred's face in his hands and pressed a small kiss on his mouth. How strange it was, the way a simple brush of lips could hold a way to a place where all things were right.
"I will stay with you", Johannes said, studying Alfred's s face and searching his eyes, "but I will promise you nothing... and you follow me at your own risk."
Alfred smiled, wrapping his arms about his beloved's neck and moving so that he was half in Johannes' lap. This was where he belonged, and perhaps some day, he'd be able to make the older vampire accept that too.
Now, once again, he had some hope.
"I didn't expect you to promise anything", he said, his heart finally mending. "And I will follow you till the very end. I'll follow you to the flames of hell, if need be."
"That", Johannes whispered, leaning closer, "could just be what it takes."
Magda waited Herbert down the hallway. She was inspecting her nails with a slightly bored expression on her face, but she straightened herself when she heard him approaching.
"Well?" she asked him impatiently. It wasn't that late into the night yet, and they would probably have made a longer drive hadn't Vati decided he needed to get some blood inside Alfie. And for whatever reason, he hadn't been able to do it in the car. Able... or willing.
"We'll stay here tonight. Vati seemed too preoccupied with Alfred to even consider moving out before tomorrow", Herbert said as he halted to stand by her.
She made a face.
"I should have known", she said and shook her head. "I guess it means we should take the opportunity and go out. I've never been in Budapest."
"Oh, my dear, you are in for a treat", Herbert grinned, already going through in his head for the amusements he would have to show her. While Magda looked like she was intrigued, there was also something else that interested her.
"Herbert, how do you explain them?" she asked him. She didn't need to elaborate – he knew exactly what she meant. And it was only natural that she was curious. The thing between Alfred and Vati... not many vampires were capable of that.
"I don't know any better than you do. I suppose... I suppose they just love each other. Even if Vati has hard time admitting it", Herbert said and shrugged. He had known that for a long time now. Just as long he had been wondering why his father and Alfie insisted on making it so hard for themselves. Maybe that had been Vati's problem all along – comprehending that someone so good and gentle as Alfred could love him, the vampire him, so very deeply.
But tonight... tonight there had been something different. Alfred had been ready to give up himself for Vati's sake, even after everything he had already endured. They had been apart for a century and yet Alfred hadn't hesitated when he had a chance to deliver Vati from peril. The sound of distress in his voice when he begged Dracula to kill him instead still echoed in Herbert's mind, raw and desperate with the echo of humanity that lived in the lad unlike in any other vampire he had ever met. He was sure his sire wouldn't be forgetting about it any time soon, either.
Perhaps at last Vati had understood just how much Alfred loved him. And that no one was ever going to feel for him the way Alfie did.
Oh, he was going to be a fool about it. But even then, Herbert knew it was not going to be the same this time. For as he reached back through the closed door and sensed how his father was feeling, he knew Alfred's chase was already in full swing. He was taking back abandoned forts like nobody's business.
Magda let out a snort of laughter.
"In that case, the journey home is just going to be delightful", she said wryly. Herbert laughed.
"You have no idea, sweetheart. Those two are the worst", he said with no small amount of drama and rolled his eyes heavenwards. Magda sniggered.
"Shall we get going, then? Places to be, blood to drink, boys to seduce", he said to her and offered his arm in a most gentlemanly fashion. No sense in staying here while Vati and Alfred were busy romancing one another.
"Lead the way!" Magda answered with a wicked glint in her eyes as she took his arm. Something told him the night was going to be something else.
Both for him and for Vati.
There would be no sun in their long, long night. But once again their family was together... and with Vati and Alfie and Magda even darkness was bright. Maybe Alfred could teach Vater to see that dark light, too.
They were going to be just fine.
Night turned to dawn.
Its ending could not be more different from the way it had started: he had woken up as Dracula's prisoner, but now he was drifting off in the arms of the man he loved. Maybe it was because there was only one single bed, but Johannes had allowed him to curl up against him, and went as far as wrapping his arms around Alfred.
The odd thing was, though they had slept together more times he could recall, this was only the second time he was about to fall asleep in his lover's arms.
"I love you", Alfred mumbled, his nose against Johannes' throat. A little while ago, his fangs had sunk through that smooth skin and the blood he had drunk still sang inside of him. There was a glorious, languid heaviness in his limbs, and in the centre of his chest, he felt like a ball of light was glowing. He was already home.
He didn't expect an answer. But this time, he got one.
"... I think... I think I love you too", it was whispered into his hair, so quiet Alfred almost did not hear it.
But he did. He did.
After a hundred years, after already giving up hope of ever hearing these words from this man... here it was.
Here it was at last. And now his healing was complete.
He looked up and met a pair of bright blue eyes. There was something he had never seen in them before: it almost seemed like his lover was fearful. Herbert had been right.
Don't overdo it, Alfred told himself briskly. Of course, he would have liked to weep in joy, but that was just the sort of thing to ruin the moment. And he didn't want Johannes to regret finally saying it out loud.
So he just kissed the older vampire, held him tight for a moment, and then put his face back against the Count's neck. He liked the way it felt. Now he could sleep... now he could dream.
That night, Johannes stayed.
A/N: So, here we are. This actually is the ending of this story. Yeah, I know - I'm bewildered, too. Because about half a year ago, I didn't think I was going to finish this story at all! But thanks to my lovely reviewers, GabsStories, ghostwritten2 and Kurosagi87, I was able to finally bring this tale to a close. I can't tell you how unreal it feels, and I'm actually quite sad to finish this, but on the other hand, this also feels like the most natural place to let it go.
A big inspiration for this chapter was the song Helios by ISON. Not necessarily in lyrics, but more so in the overall mood of that piece. There's just something so ethereal about it that, at least in my mind, seemed to fit the parts with Alfred and Johannes.
Speaking of the two of them, the conversation between the two is built around the skeleton I drafted back in 2012 when I was first writing this story. I expanded it and changed some parts, but bits and pieces of that original thing are still there. In fact, originally I meant to end Alfred's POV with Krolock's comment on how Alfred following him to Hell could just be the price of being with him, and then finish the story with some observations from Herbert to Magda. I was quite fond of that idea, but when it was done, it felt somehow lacking. And so I wrote the last little bit.
Reasons for that? For one, it had been such a thing ever since Strangelove, the way Alfred wished and dreamed of Krolock saying he actually loved him. He had already given up the hope of ever hearing it, but when I was thinking about this last chapter of Aphelion, I realized this is the place it needs to happen.
The second thing was, there's a theme about the ending of each separate story: every one of them ended with either Alfred or Krolock leaving. In A Deal With the Devil, Krolock left Alfred standing dumbfounded on that graveyard and in Strangelove, it was the heartbroken Alfred running away from the castle. In They Call it the Queen of the Night, Johannes left Alfred without a single word. So, it was clear that this story would have to end with them staying together. I hope it highlights how this is a beginning of something entirely new for them.
Once more, I would like to give my thanks for everyone who has been reading this story. My special gratitude is owed to nicknames mentioned above; they are the reason we are here. I do not know yet whether I will be publishing more Alfred/Krolock stories on this site, though I may have an idea for another story. But we will see about that!
Thank you for reading and reviewing!
ghostwritten2 - It seems more than plausible to me, to be honest! I mean, there's the whole thing about how he sings the same tune as Alfred did in the beginning of the musical in He, Ho, He (Reprise), so maybe he was aiming for Alfred just as much from the start? I did enjoy writing those scenes as well, and I think he really has no choice now than to let Alfred stay!
GabsStories - All the best luck with your exams, then! I'm glad if my story can help to distract you at least a little bit. :)