Chapter Three: Anachronism.

The man produced a pen and a pad of paper from inside his trench coat—would it be too much of a stretch of the imagination to call it a greatcoat?—and began to jot down notes in a bold and flowing script.

There was something anachronistic about her Dracula, now that Seras allowed herself to think about him. She had already decided that his face was ageless, but the full picture he presented seemed lost in time somehow. His trench coat really was more of a greatcoat—well trimmed with slight ruffles around the shoulders—and beneath it he wore what looked like a well-tailored, three piece suit; the collar of his white shirt peeked out, bound closed by an intricate and antiquated tie. And the sense stretched beyond his wardrobe; he bore himself with an elegance and composure that the world had not seen in ages. Even his writing seemed dated.

"Where shall we start?" he asked after jotting down some elegant and illegible notes.

Seras felt oddly invigorated in that moment; all day she had been battling both her mind and her body, but those concerns seemed strangely distant now. In the company of this man she hardly knew—her own, personal Dracula—she felt suddenly at peace. "The characters," she replied after a moment. "The paper is a character analysis, after all."

The man nodded, his ebony locks just brushing the tops of his shoulders. His elegant script bled from his pen as he spoke, "Dracula, Jonathan Harker, Lucy Westenra, Mina Murray, Doctor Seward, Arthur Holmwood, Quincey Morris, and Professor Van Helsing." Each name he listed came with a different intonation, a different verbal caress; some sounded deadly, others sounded almost fond. It was curious how clear his like or dislike of a character came across in their name alone. "Am I forgetting anyone?" her Dracula asked, looking up from the table.

The name came to her lips instantly. "Renfield," she supplied, oddly disappointed that he'd forgotten one of her favorite characters.

"Ah, yes," he grinned darkly, his grim amusement reflected even in his partially obscured eyes, "the lunatic."

"Renfield wasn't crazy," Seras stated firmly, a frown pulling at her lips. "If anything, you could say he was the only sane character in the entire novel."

Her Dracula's eyebrows raised a little and that patronizing smile he did so well curled at the corner of his lips. "Oh?"

She took a deep breath and sought to put her theory to words. It wasn't always easy to explain the dynamics of Renfield's character, and it was only made harder by the fact that she could never fully explain why she even liked him at all. Licking her lips, she plunged ahead. "Try to picture the story from his perspective: he's nothing but a solicitor in a foreign land, and while he's probably already lost and dealing with culture shock, he finds out that his client is a vampire. How does a normal person fight off a vampire?" Seras shook her head. "They don't—that sort behavior is for main characters alone. So Renfield was faced with a choice: he could either fight Dracula and die, or he could pretend to be what Dracula needed. The choice was clear, so Renfield acted the part of a crazy henchman, nothing more. The man did what he had to in order to survive the situation: he played along."

Her stranger raised a brow, even as he jotted down more notes. "How do you know it was an act?"

"He was a very eloquent 'lunatic' for one," Seras smiled. "And for another, a fanatical follower who's given the prospect of immortality in exchange for loyalty would not have tried to warn Mina that she was in danger. That scene doesn't feel like a change of heart or a betrayal to me." She struggled to find the right words for her argument, wanting the stranger to understand how she saw things. "After all, why would Dracula kill his only ally, even a disobedient one? Because he realized that Renfield had never been under his spell at all."

He didn't comment, his brow never lowered, but his hand never stopped moving either. "And how is it that the others are crazy?" he pursued after several moments.

"Dracula could have chosen his victims at will once he got to London, and yet he insisted upon hunting the only people who seemed equipped to fight him," she replied, "Lucy clearly invited the wanton wildness that ended up resulting in her death, and the others were all too easily convinced about the supernatural world they had been raised to believe didn't exist. I understand that each character was written to reflect a certain Victorian ideal or vice, but when you really look at them as people they all come off a little unbalanced."

Her companion nodded. "I can see how you would get that feeling, but did you ever consider that Dracula would not have worked as a villain if the protagonists had never come to believe in the supernatural?"

Seras found herself frowning at her companion once more. Impulsively, she reached out and snatched his pen away. "Dracula wasn't a villain," she told him firmly, "he just wasn't the good guy, either."

The man stilled, frozen in place as the words washed over him. Then, slowly, his brows furrowed and his jaw tightened, confusion radiating off him as he cocked his head slightly to the side. "How do you figure?" he asked, snatching his pen back.

The sudden seriousness of her stranger intrigued her—what was going through his mind to cause such a reaction? "Dracula was a vampire," she said plainly. "Drinking blood and killing people is simply the nature of the beast. I mean, we don't blame carnivorous animals for killing their prey, do we?" She shrugged once more, idly drumming her now empty fingers. "The only reason a vampire's actions are seen as evil is because they were once human and still retain those features, so it adds a shade of cannibalism to the equation, but still… you can't blame them for surviving the way instinct dictates they should," Seras insisted. "Dracula certainly didn't have to antagonize the other characters so much, and he definitely could have chosen other, more easily accessible victims, but nature prevented him from simply choosing not to drink blood altogether. I think it's too much of a stretch to call him a villain based solely on circumstances that were completely beyond his control."

Her own Dracula's fingers tightened around his pen, as though he were struggling with some internal battle, but he wrote nothing down, and when he spoke his voice came out smooth and level, if a bit dark. "And what he did to the Harkers, how do you explain that?"

She shifted slightly in her seat, trying to get comfortable now that she was genuinely interested in the conversation. "Like I said, he wasn't necessarily a good guy—I just don't think he was evil."

"Lucy's turning?" he fired at her quickly, his pen slipping uselessly to the table as he let it go.

She watched the pen roll in a careless arc across the table and raised a brow. What was the man across her thinking? What was the significance of all these little reactions? "He obviously had a preference for young, female blood," she licked her lips and studied her companion, trying to push stray thoughts of her dream away, "just like anyone would have favorite foods. I won't claim that what he did to Lucy was a nice thing, but again, I think it's all down to nature. Vampires have to reproduce somehow, don't they? Instinct, pure and simple."

He tapped sharply at the table between them, demanding, "What about the murder of your beloved Renfield?"

"Ah," she smiled faintly, "unfortunately that one I can't refute. Renfield's murder was an expression of all-too-human rage—but Dracula had been a warrior in life, and that sort of corporal punishment wouldn't have been uncommon. I can't say that the crime was deserving of such harsh punishment, but Dracula was from another age and those human echoes of his life could never fully be erased from his character."

The man blinked slowly and his fingers lifted to his temple as though he wanted to take his glasses off. "I think you're wrong," he mused carefully. "It's a wonderful argument, and perhaps not wholly untrue, but quintessentially wrong, nonetheless."

Seras shrugged. "Evil is a point of view, I suppose."

He nodded, the ghost of a smile pulling at his lips. "Yes, I believe I'm starting to remember that now."

Where before he had filled her with apprehension and fear, her Dracula now filled her with curiosity. Who was this man across from her—that was the real mystery she was trying to unravel as they spoke of good and evil. His every action was a mystery to her, his thoughts only hinted at by the tones he spoke in; she could no more guess his thoughts than she could his motivation, but she was intensely curious. Without even really trying the man had presented her with a riddle, a puzzle to put together, and she couldn't stop herself from getting trapped by the idea of his secrets. Whatever misgivings she'd had about the man where slowly vanishing in the wake of her curiosity. For better or worse, she wanted to know more.

They talked until the harsh noonday sun slipped from the sky, and by the time Seras knew it was dusk, her body came alive. Instead of being overwhelmed by the sharp clarity of her senses, she found herself strangely at ease with them, no longer feeling ill now that the cool touch of night was upon her. She couldn't really explain it, it was almost as if she were sensing everything much faster than before and so the fastest part of the day, noon, had been too much information for her to handle, but night was just her speed.

And with the passing illness came a desire she couldn't understand—a hunger that had nothing to do with food—but she knew it had everything to do with the man across from her. All the people in the café reminded her of chalk impressions—dull, flat, and sketchy around the edges—whereas her Dracula was like an oil painting come to life—full, rich with color and intricate details. He stood out from everyone else, more vibrant and commanding and, as though he were a lodestone, she couldn't help but be drawn to him. She itched for something she couldn't name, the echo of a taste on her tongue and the ghost of a touch sliding around her waist, but she knew he could give it to her. The wanting plagued her for several long and torturous minutes, growing more intense as the sun slipped further and further below the horizon, and when she finally thought it could get no worse, fate decided to prove her wrong.

"I'm afraid it's grown much later than I intended to stay," he said to her, tucking the pen and paper back into his coat. "Perhaps we can get together another time to finish this discussion?"

Seras felt suddenly panicked, like the room was closing in and there was no escape. She was trapped, rooted to the spot and unable to move as she watched him stand and stretch out his tall and powerful form. "Tomorrow?" she offered desperately, ignoring that she would have classes to attend.

His hand reached out slowly, caressing the side of her face with silky lightness as he studied her. And as his fingers stroked the curve of her cheek, he smiled, and there was just enough of a touch of cruelty to it that it almost gave her pause. "Perhaps," he agreed lightly, noncommittally. And then he left her; turned that powerfully body away and walked out of the building into the waiting night.

She felt the lack of his presence so keenly that it was nearly a physical pain—this sudden separation between them was like a knife in her side: twisting ever more viciously with every second that went by. And then, suddenly, it stopped, and like a lifting dream, her mind cleared.

Seras felt the tremors start in her hands and spread up her arms until, in a matter of moments, her whole body was shaking. What had just happened?

Like a spell clouding her judgment, continued exposure to the man had twisted her senses—fear had given way to complacency, complacency to desire, and desire to dependence. In a matter of hours he had become the center of her world, the answer to her every want, but now that he was gone she felt like herself again. Her senses were still of riot of unusual sharpness, but her fear and wariness had come back. How had she fallen so completely under the stranger's spell? It was sickening to think how utterly terrified she'd been of his leaving, how it had felt like her life could not exist in his absence. It was all so terribly frightening that she couldn't stand to be alone—she wanted nothing more than to curl between Pip and Harry so that they could shield her from the world for a little while.

But Pip and Harry were nowhere to be found. The apartment was just as empty upon her return as it had been when she'd left. Their rooms were empty and there was no sign that they'd ever been home at all. The silence and desolation that their absence cause pressed in on Seras, leaving her feeling isolated and a little helpless, like she had no one to turn to. She didn't want to go to sleep with that feeling pulling at her, eating away at her soul, but as the hours dragged by and still no Pip or Harry came to her rescue, it became apparent that she would have no choice. Even the stray dog from the night before would have been welcome company, but she saw neither hide nor hair of him, either.

She could only hope that sleep would grant her some reprieve.

But even in her dreams, there was no comfort to be had.

Her world was made of writhing shadows, dark shapes that slithered and danced with each other. And out of that inky mess stepped her stranger—tall and commanding, his eyes uncovered and his beautifully angular face framed by midnight locks that just barely brushed past his chin. His red greatcoat and suit jacket had been shucked, leaving him in a crisp white shirt, an expertly tailored charcoal vest, and matching pants that tucked into elegant, knee-high boots. For the first time, she could truly see the breadth of his shoulders, the tight trimness of his chest, the pure physical power that he held in check. It was intimidating; it was exhilarating.

Fear and desire warred within Seras, her mind and her body in direct conflict with each other. Even in a dream, she knew nothing good could come of this horrifically compelling man, and yet a part of her wanted him beyond all reason. And so she stood, still as a statue, as he approached her.

"I am the villain, you know," he murmured, his voice deep and self-satisfied. "It wasn't mere antagonism or even obsession that made me pursue Lucy and then Mina—there was really no reason at all, except that I enjoy watching people suffer." Her Dracula drew even with her, toe to toe, and wrapped his impossibly strong arms around her. "Mind you, it was never the women I wanted to see suffer; they were sweet young morsels that would have made fine companions." His head tipped and ducked until his words were brushing against the side of her throat, making her shiver. "No, it was the men I wanted to torture: those infuriating, Victorian men who were so full of their own idealism that they couldn't even grasp the concept of their own masculinity. They were barely men at all, and so I wanted them to suffer for it. But I lost myself in that bully's game, and they trapped me for it in the end."

He paused, drawing her closer, and her body thrilled at his touch even as her mind rebelled against it. His lips caressed her neck once more and in that instant he bit into her, his teeth unerringly finding the marks he'd made in the last dream. A moan echoed deep in his chest as he drew from her, the moan of a man who had been denied the pleasure for much too long. And yet, even in his fervor, he went out of his way to please her—he pulled at her blood in a steady rhythm, his tongue sweeping at her sensitive wound as his lips teased her skin, and though all of that should have hurt her, it truthfully felt like heaven. Some strange part of Seras enjoyed their power play, the way he overwhelmed and dominated her yet touched her so softly, and the way she found her own shuddering pleasure in his strength-stealing embrace.

After a short eternity, he finally drew his lips scant centimeters off her skin.

"Then I forgot," he rumbled, his words vibrating against her torn throat. "They poked and prodded me, tested and tortured, and I forgot everything: who I was and wanted to be, the things I loved and hated; I forgot the feel of a firm handshake and the pleasure of a soft woman; I even forgot camaraderie and animosity. But mostly, I forgot the intoxication of fresh, hot blood," his tone deepened, darkened, and his hold on her became undeniably possessive, "and the thrill of hunting for another mind that could handle the concept of eternity. They told me to be weary and obedient, they told me to be Alucard. And so I was, and probably would have been indefinitely if it hadn't been for you."

"Why me?" she breathed, feeling limp and hazy; her mind was starting to unfocus but she held onto his words with whatever strength she had left.

"Your youth, perhaps… then again, perhaps not." He held her tighter, as though sensing that she was slipping away from him. "You remind me of what I'm supposed to be, of who I was—when you talk about Dracula, I remember everything they forced me to forget." His tongue caressed the length of her neck and he fondly purred, "You bring out the monster in me."

She shuddered, her fear creeping back. "That's not a good thing, is it?"

He laughed, deep and free. "Probably not—but if I survive what's to come, I'll have a chance to be myself again."

"What about me?" she wondered faintly.

He pushed his bleeding wrist to her mouth. "I sincerely doubt you'll survive it."

A/N: Some of you may have noticed that there are now only three chapters to this story, instead of five—after much consideration, I decided to delete the original two chapters, as chapter three was a revision. It was confusing some people and there was really no reason to keep the original draft up.

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Disclaimer: I do not own any characters from the anime Hellsing or the novel Dracula, nor do I claim to make any money off this little work of fiction.