Dawn made her cry, but there was no one to share the emotion with. Mary found a quiet corner in the seminary's library, not daring to stray far from her estranged father or his quiet companion, and wept silently to herself, head buried in her raised knees.
It was all too much. The horror of last night, the ruin and wreck of her home and her roommate and best friend, contrasted with the prosaic scene before her now. Books, their cozy leather and paper odor, and morning sunlight streaming from high gothic windows. Her father's friend, an older priest with a wrinkled, grim face, brought her a cup of burnt, strong coffee, not commenting on her dirty, wrinkled clothes or the bloodstain on her tank top from where Lucy had taken hold of her.
The coffee burned her throat but she swallowed it all, feeling the heat and pain burn away some of the cobwebs in her mind and evaporated her tears. Setting the cup down beside her, Mary dried her eyes and face on the hem of her shirt, and stood up.
Whatever was happening, whatever was going on, she had to meet it head on. She had been terrified in her dreams for far too long; if things were coming to a head on the physical plane, perhaps she could bring an end to the horror that had shadowed her for her entire life, and had claimed the life of her mother. Her father—how could she keep calling him that after what he'd done to her?—was here now. However she felt about him, he must have answers.
Though she still felt the fear from last night as a bitter taste under her tongue, her heart beat faster with the promise of her long-held questions finally being answered. Mary squared her shoulders. At least that was something.
Her father was still asleep when she returned to the lounge area where they had made their makeshift—and completely unnecessary, in her case—beds last night, but the young man who accompanied him was awake, head pillowed in his hands, a half-empty coffee cup beside them. When Mary set down her own empty cup, the sound roused him, and he looked at her, offering an uncertain half-smile.
She returned the expression, but it hurt. She let it drop.
"Who are you, again?"
"Oh," the young man said, standing and quickly offering his hand, "I'm Simon, your father's assistant. Matthew—Abraham—Mr. Van Helsing has been like a father to me too."
"At least he was one to someone," Mary said, feeling her lips twist bitterly. She turned away so she wouldn't have to see the disappointed puppy-dog expression in Simon's eyes. Though she had never truly felt the lack of her father's love—her mother had taken her away when she was quite young—she couldn't stop the feeling of jealousy that surged inside her when she thought of the shameful secret that kept her father from being a part of her life.
Even that feeling confused her. Her father had done her a favor by ignoring his own better judgment in loving her mother; without that poor judgment, after all, she would never have been born.
Then again, if she had never been born then she wouldn't be in this horrible situation and neither would Lucy. Lucy…
The grief was so sudden and sharp that it drove her to a seat beside Simon at the table. She swallowed hard to stifle the tears.
"What does it mean? To be a vampire? What will it mean for Lucy?"
Simon shook his head, staring down at his hands. "I don't…really know. Up until yesterday, I had no idea they existed either. I think I learned about them just a few hours before you did, actually. All I knew was that Matthew—Mr. Van Helsing—needed some help. I followed him here and caught up with him when he was trying to get to you. I had no idea…"
His voice trailed away. Though most of Mary's pity was reserved for herself, she put her hand over Simon's and squeezed.
"It sounds like he means a lot to you."
"He does," Simon said, tossing a quick look over his shoulder before his voice hardened, "and that's what makes this all the harder. I trusted him…I loved him, and all this time he was keeping this secret from me. I never knew a thing."
"I'm sure he did it to protect you," Mary said, grasping at straws, knowing that her words wouldn't heal the wound that her father—dammit—had inflicted on the man, "he never told my mother either."
"I couldn't tell anyone," the weak voice from behind them startled Mary and Simon both, "it was my burden to bear. To tell anyone would to have been to invite trouble and misery."
Mary could comprehend the shock that prompted Simon's gasp as they turned to face Van Helsing. Even though she had only studied his face briefly before they collapsed in fitful rest at the seminary, she could tell that he had changed radically over night. His hair was now an ever-thinning shock of pure white, and his skin looked like a crumpled linen napkin. Even his bearing seemed more feeble; his hands were gnarled with arthritis and shaking slightly; this was not the same man who had fired the bolts of silver that saved her life last night.
"Good God, Matthew," Simon cried, leaping up to help his friend to a seat at the table, "what's happened to you?"
"Time is finally catching up with me, Simon," Van Helsing said, leaning heavily on the man as he took his seat, "my borrowed time is fast running out."
"Borrowed time?" Mary asked, curiosity prompting her to speak even though all she wanted was to slink back to her former quiet, undemanding—if sleep-deprived—life. Somehow, questioning the situation made it all the more real, and she could not delude herself that there would be simple answers to any of her questions.
Van Helsing's eyes flitted to hers, then away again, as though the contact hurt him. "You remember how I explained that I was using Dracula's blood to extend my own life?"
She nodded. "You mentioned it, but never fully explained. How does that even work? How long have you been using it? And how long can you go without it?"
Simon asked the last important question. "And what happens when the influence of the blood runs out?"
"Whatever dark magic it is in his blood that enables Dracula to remain alive over the centuries can be passed from person to person. My colleagues and I discovered this during our earliest hunts," the old man's voice grew distant as he entered into his memory. "One of my dear friends was injured badly in an altercation from one of the demons, but remained in the fight long enough to help extinguish the beast. Some of the vampire's blood washed over his wounds, and before we could reach him to attempt to help him, his cuts were already healed by the influence of the blood."
Mary shivered. What a gruesome discovery!
Van Helsing resumed. "It was not until later that we suspected that same healing power could apply to the aging process. In fact, it was during the capture of Dracula himself. One of the silver spears that we used to capture him went through Dracula's body and pierced my shoulder. His blood mingled with mine."
"The day after, I noticed that my hair was darker, thicker, and that I felt stronger, more vibrant. My rheumatism was less troublesome, and I began to suspect that the blood was fighting my body's natural inclination to age. I took," and here he paused, rallying his strength and short breath to finish the confession, "I used a leech and took some of Dracula's blood into myself to verify my suspicion. It worked, and I have been using it in increasing amounts ever since."
Mary sighed and shook her head. "Why do it? Why keep yourself alive to guard a creature that you had captured?"
"No one else knew the truth of what he was after my original colleagues died. No one else suspected the reality of the vampire curse upon this earth. It was my responsibility," his voice faded and his body shook with dry, wracking coughs.
"Clearly the strength of the blood is fading," Simon said, still pressing for an answer, "Matthew…what happens when it runs out?"
A beat of silence passed between them all.
"I suspect that I will continue to do as I am doing," the man's voice was wry. "I imagine I will die."
Mary stood abruptly, almost throwing herself backwards from the table. She didn't know her father, had no reason to like him, but for some reason, the idea of his death was horrible to contemplate. She put her hand against the end of one of the bookcases to steady herself as she listened to the conversation continuing behind her.
Simon's voice sounded as shaken as she felt. "What do we do, then? We have to get you more blood!"
"No!" Van Helsing barked. "No. My life is immaterial—let it end, if necessary! What we have to do is figure out how to contain Dracula. I spent my life in the pursuit of eliminating him and his kind from this earth…I will not see them return before I die."
"Why contain Dracula?" Mary asked, turning "Why can't we just kill him?"
Van Helsing sighed and shook his head. "There is no way to end his life. Believe me, I have tried. Silver, stakes, holy water, sunlight…everything that works to eliminate his offspring, he manages to survive! The icons of Christianity, which hurt and repulse an ordinary vampire, merely fuel him with a rage that makes him stronger. I devoted my life to finding a way to destroy him and eliminate his threat, but there is simply no way."
"And he wants me…" Mary swallowed, whet her lips, "he wants me because I'm like him?"
"Born with his blood," Van Helsing nodded, his voice low, "but not like the rest of his children. His blood is inherent in you, inextricable from your very being."
"That's what she meant," Mary said, leaning against the bookcase. "Lucy said I was his, and that's what she meant. I am. I belong to him."
"No," Simon's voice was strong and sure. "No you don't, Mary. I'm not going to let him take you. He will not hurt you."
"Well, we can't spend the rest of our lives in a church!" Mary cried. "We have to do something. Father will die without more blood, my best friend is one of his minions, and we all have lives to lead…we have to do something."
"And our lives will never be safe while he roams free." Van Helsing concluded, finally brave enough to meet Mary's eyes. She stared at him, tracing the familiarity of her own features in his face. It was a strange sensation, especially when she saw that he was doing the same thing.
"So we catch him again," Simon said, oblivious to the awkward tension in the air about him, "we trap him and kill the children he's made, then put him on a plane and head back to London. This time we'll make sure he never escapes."
Mary scoffed. "I know that I am new to the whole concept of vampires, but I'm almost certain it won't be that easy."
"It will not be easy," Van Helsing said before Simon could retort, "but it is in essence what we must do. I have hunted Dracula before, and for many years. He will be anticipating my strategies, so we cannot use those, but I have brought many tools that he is not familiar with. These may give us an advantage."
"Do you know why it is that the traditional methods don't work on him?" Mary asked, coming back to sit at the table. "What is he that makes him so special?"
Van Helsing sighed. "I have long wondered that myself. My initial suspicion is that he is the first vampire, the source of all the others. However, I have never been able to discover exactly where he came from—what magic or power created him, at what time. Without that information, we are as powerless as ever."
"There must be a way to find out," Mary whispered.
Van Helsing caught the expression in her eyes and shook his head, hand extending across the table to grasp at hers. "Mary, no…"
"But I could find out," she insisted, disregarding his unspoken warning. "He wants me, we know that. I could be bait, I could find out what I can, and then the two of you could set up an ambush. Then if I've discovered his secret, we can put an end to this once and for all."
"It's an unnecessary risk," Van Helsing insisted, his voice stronger than Mary anticipated, given his appearance, "we can capture him and take him back, as Simon suggests. I have done all this to keep you safe… I will not have you placing yourself in danger!"
Even Simon was shaking his head. "Mary, it's unnecessary, just like Matthew says. We can just capture him and make everything the way it was."
"Nothing will be the way it was!" Mary cried, slamming her fists on the table. "Don't you understand? He's always here!" She placed her hand on her chest. "Always. Even when you had him locked up, he was there. And here," she moved her hand to her forehead. "It won't end if you catch him. It will end for the two of you, but not for me. I can't…" her voice gave out, "I can't live like this anymore, constantly in fear. I won't live like this anymore. I will not fear the dark, anymore."
They were both silent, looking at her. She stared them down.
"Father," she said, stretching her hand across the table to meet Van Helsing's, "you've never been much of a father to me. But I need your help. I need this to end. My best friend is gone. My life will always be different, now. If you cannot be a part of it for whatever reason you choose, help me now. Help me, and then leave if you have to. I won't hold you. But you owe me this. Help me."
A lump of tears stopped her from speaking, and she swallowed it back down.
Van Helsing cleared his throat and looked down, faded blue eyes shrouded with tears.
"Very well, my daughter. Mary. I will help you."