Thank you all for reading; 900 or so hits each day, and about 200 individual readers. That's what kept me writing. Thank you for your support, and now...the finale. :)*
x x x x x x
The train trip had been fairly uneventful. They'd transfered to another train, and within a few days, were waiting in northern France for a boat to take them across the channel. Abraham had needed to renew the bond with his vampire as they waited, but even with the bond extremely weak, the vampire had been so obedient, so cautious, Van Helsing hadn't worried overmuch.
They'd also managed to feed the vampire a decent meal. It had taken more openness than Abraham had liked, but the two doctors had gone to a medical school, under the guise of visiting other countries and learning about their medical facilities. With a dutchman and an englishman, it seemed plausible. They'd asked a doctor to save blood after surgeries, and then told him why, in absolute confidence.
He'd insisted on meeting the vampire, and that had not gone well. As he walked around the vampire, excitedly inspecting it, Dracula had grown more and more agitated. Abraham didn't know why the vampire had felt so threatened and become so angry, but he'd pulled the doctor away a bare second before the vampire would have lashed out.
At least it had gotten the vampire a full meal. Afterwards, he'd returned to sulk in his coffin the rest of the night, his angry and betrayed emotions too obvious to Abraham. The sheer roiling boil of the monster's emotions made the thoughts fragmented; always difficult to read, they were now impossible, too varied and too fast. The man felt some guilt, but he wasn't sure why the vampire had reacted as it had. Trying to speak to it had only caused the monster to hiss at him, and now he was ignored even while sitting outside its coffin.
Before long, it was time to load the monster onto the boat, and he regretted not having a chance to speak with it first. But the monster had remained uncommunicative until the sun rose, and the loading would occur during the day.
x x x x x
Abraham was NOT happy about putting the vampire down in the cargo hold. It was in no condition to mesmerize anyone into allowing the coffin to be stored up top, and the cargo hold was strictly off-limits to the handful of paying passengers. It was to be an 8 hour journey, the steamer sturdy but built for volume, not speed, and they would arrive in London well past sunset. This meant the vampire would be down in the hold, alone, in a coffin, on the open ocean, and awake, for at least an hour. But there was nothing for it, no other ship would be arriving any sooner, and delaying the full bond was too risky. It was a powerful tiger being held by a very thin leash, and an insane tiger at that. Binding needed to happen as soon as possible; the vampire had told Abraham, and the blood bond confirmed, that he would have far more control over the vampire afterwards.
There was nothing to do but wrap the chains around the coffins, and pay a bit extra to have them unloaded at the very first. He did get the captain to allow him down in the hold and to check on how they were stowed; a large tip had the coffin carefully handled, no scratches or chipping occuring, and then placed close to the door and with nothing stacked upon it.
After that, it was merely a matter of waiting.
x x x x x x
Two hours passed, the ship beating slowly towards England and home, the vampire sleeping soundly, the bond "dead" to Abraham.
And then, RAGE. FEAR. HUNGER. CONFUSION.
Dracula was awake, though the sun was hours from setting, confused and disoriented on the swells of the ocean, fearful and furious, and there were screams coming from the cargo hold.
Abraham and the captain arrived at the door simultaneously, the captain unlocking it but refusing Abraham entrance as he rushed to see what was occuring. As soon as he was out of the bright light from the open door, he began screaming and cursing himself, the original voice having settled to sobs of fear and pain.
And laced through it were the snarls and roars of a furious creature.
As the sailors stood in shock, Abraham pushed past them, racing into the hold to find his monster.
x x x x x x
The coffin was open, a sailor beside it, alive and awake, but with a great gash in his arm, swearing weakly. The captain was unhurt, but he had focused the beam of his lantern into a corner of the hold, and furious red eyes glowed back out at him. Abraham pushed in front of the captain, moving to the vampire, trying to soothe him.
Confusion, fear, panic, it rolled off the vampire in great waves. He'd found a small corner between the curved hull and a crate, and managed to wedge himself into it. As Abraham approached, the vampire simply shoved himself farther back into the crevice, snarling and snapping.
He wasn't approachable, so Abraham turned to the captain, attempting to stop this mess before it became worse. "Your man tried to rob the remains in the coffins. Those chains, the ones you saw wrapped around the coffins?" Abraham's eyes glared out, as his foot kicked a small metal stick and he stooped to pick it up, never losing his focus on the captain. The lockpick he'd found was brandished in his face. "The damn fool picked the locks, opened the coffin, and I've no doubt started pawing over what he thought was a dead body!"
Accuse, accuse, don't let the damn captain get his verbal feet under him. "Thanks to his greed and your inability to hire honest crew, you've got an injured employee, and my vampire, which WAS peacefully sleeping, is now a frightened mess." He whirled to point at the sobbing sailor, who had recovered enough to be working his way to the ladder. Abraham almost tied a quick bandage on the bleeding arm, the doctor in him crying for him to do so, but the vampire needed him more and the fool wasn't dying. The ship's doctor would be sufficient.
"Get that bastard out of here, keep everyone away while I try to calm the vampire and get him back in his coffin. And I WILL be staying with him, as I clearly can't trust your crew not to harass him." With that, he reached out, wrenching the lantern from the man's hand. Abraham's eyes glared colder when the captain paused, unsure, and he shouted the man out of the hold. "GET THAT THIEVING FOOL OUT OF HERE. AND LEAVE. YOU ARE FRIGHTENING MY PROPERTY, WHICH *YOUR* FOOLISH SAILOR WOKE UP. YOU'VE DONE ENOUGH DAMAGE. NOW LEAVE!" His voice was furious, echoing, and every sailor up at the top knew exactly what had happened. Abraham had intended it so.
He could also hear the voices of his companions, and Arthur pushed past the crowd gathered at the door, then began to come down into the hold. Abraham stopped him with a raised hand. "Arthur, he's simply too upset. He doesn't even recognize me yet. Please, I'm in no danger, but stay back, and keep the others back."
Dracula's furious snarls were fading to confused whimpers as Abraham returned. He sat on the floor, within sight of the vampire, but far enough away that Dracula did not see him as a threat. With the lantern beside him, he was also clearly visible to the crowd waiting at the door.
The last thing he wanted was bullets flying about the enclosed hold. He was too likely to be injured, and if he was injured, he might well loose control of the beast. Better to show the deadly monster as more of a frightened kitten, and thus, he began putting on a bit of a show for the watchers.
"Shhh...shh...it's alright, you're safe now." He pushed that reassurance down the bond, trying to soothe the creature. "Shhh...he's gone...shhh..." The whimpers slowly died, changing to muffled sobs. Awakening on the ocean in the middle of the day had the monster confused, its mind not properly working, and it was operating entirely on instinct. And as vampires, or at least this one, seemed to fear the ocean, that fear was what Abraham was feeling. "Shhh...come on out...don't cry...come on...you're safe..."
The soft voice and gentle coaxing was having its effect. The others in his group were giving him looks that seemed to imply they thought he was mad, but the sailors and the captain were less frightened and angry and more bemused.
"That man is gone. He won't hurt you. You can come out of hiding...it's alright...you're safe..." To his surprise, the sobs were slowly easing, and the eyes began to dim to a more normal soft red. The fear resonating down the bond relaxed, the vampire seeing for himself the absence of the men who had frightened him so, and only his master in front of him.
A whine. The great, proud Count actually whined at him. And slowly, ever so slowly, side pressed against the metal of the ship, the vampire crept out. Abraham shifted slightly, feet falling asleep as he crouched, and the vampire jerked backwards. Those in the doorway gasped in unison, but the vampire ignored them, frightened and hopeful eyes on its master.
The fear was dying in the vampire, but the confusion remained. And need...it needed him, needed him for protection? Abraham kept the amazement off his face. As the vampire became more and more lucid, he felt another fear; that he would abandon the vampire because he had bitten the man who opened his coffin. Dracula didn't remember doing so, being still mostly asleep when it occurred, but there was blood in his mouth and blood on the floor, and he had seen the injured man. Abraham recognized this fear in him, and acknowledged it.
"I'm here...I'm not going anywhere...you were asleep, you didn't do it on purpose. It's not your fault, you didn't kill him. He's going to be fine, and you're safe. He's gone. " The vampire winced at that, and Abraham felt a jolt of worry flare up their bond. Still, fear and confusion predominated. The vampire resumed his slow crawl towards Abraham, finally freezing, pressed abjectly on the filthy, cold, wet floor, eyes shut, only a few inches from his master's feet.
x x x x x
Attempting to touch and soothe the vampire caused it, instead, to jerk back in fear, so Abraham kept his hands to himself, maneuvering the vampire by voice back into its coffin. "I'll stay here now...I'm not going anywhere. Just sleep safely until sunset." Once the beast was inside, he moved to replace the lid, heavy and awkward and solid, and the vampire's fear, which had banked down to a more complacent acceptance, flared again.
Abraham instead took a fairly uncomfortable seat on a nearby crate, waiting in the dank, odorous hold for the sun to set and the vampire to sleep and then wake again, but fully, not the frightened, drowsy confusion that Van Hellsing could still detect via their bond.
x x x x x x
Things still might have gone badly, but the others had the sense to go and get their pistols, wearing them openly. With a small crew on the ship, taking on five well-armed people and a monster was not something they were willing to try, and instead, they simply gave the hold and its two residents a wide berth. A bed roll had also been provided to Abraham by Seward, meant to cushion the hard slats of the crate he sat upon. Dracula's coffin was only a few inches away, and Abraham was surprised to see a thin white hand creep out, feeling about for him. It touched the edge of his coat sleeve, gripping it tightly. Peering over the edge, Abraham could see the vampire relaxing at proof of his proximity, and within moments the bond had died down, the vampire sleeping peacefully yet again.
It was sunset when the creature awakened. Slowly this time, unmolested, the red eyes blinked open. As the vampire awoke, the gaze slowly sharpened, then began searching about for Abraham. Once he was seen, the vampire continued to gaze peacefully at his master, his mind and body slowly awakening. It was several minutes before he woke up, and once he was fully awake, Abraham was able to detect a confusing series of emotions.
Gratitude, first and foremost, and relief that his master was there. Then concern. Not guilt, although Abraham had almost mistaken the vampiric emotion for that. Concern, worry, and the intent to conceal something from his master. He frowned at the vampire. "What is wrong? We're within an hour of England, and you're stewing. After today's events and a long afternoon in this dank hole, I'm not in a wonderful mood. Don't even consider lying to me, I'm in no mood for it."
The vampire crumpled a bit at this, then hesitantly spoke. "I...the sailor...I bit him." He winced. "I might have ghouled him, I don't know what I did as I bit him. If so, he's going to die and animate very soon. I need to see him, I'll be able to tell if he's...infected...or only injured." The vampire looked rather abashed and worried.
But Abraham placed no blame on him. The coffin had been secured, the thief had chosen to rob the dead on his own and had put effort into doing so. That the dead had taken exception to this and been too sleepy to react rationally was not the fault of the dead. The thief didn't deserve to be ghouled or to die, not for theft, but Abraham couldn't feel any pity for him. He had chosen a poor way to act, and the consequences were more severe than expected, but it had been his choice. And with the terror and confusion the vampire had experienced, he'd certainly suffered too, all for the greed of that sailor.
Abraham nodded, then moved to the ladder, calling up for the captain, that he needed to speak with him. As the captain's frightened face appeared, Abraham explained briefly what had happened, trying not to frighten the man further. "When the vampire was attacked, he bit the man, and vampiric bites can sometimes carry a contagion. I need to see the man and determine if he's infected before I can do anything about it. Now that it's fully awake, I can have the vampire check, and then treat the thief if necessary. If he's infected and I don't act quickly, he's likely to die or spread the infection." There was immediate refusal, and then Abraham required that the sailor be brought down to him instead. More refusal, more bickering. To Abraham's shock, the vampire moved close to him, crept hesitantly up behind him, and buried its face in the back of his jacket.
It was the first time Abraham could remember the vampire touching him; he hadn't realized how cold the creature was, but he could feel the chill through the jacket as much as he could feel the vampire's hesitation in this behavior through the bond. But the touch seemed to soothe the creature, and its clearly timid and withdrawn behavior caused the captain to clearly re-evaluate how much of a threat it truly posed.
Permission was grudingly granted to inspect the patient, and then the vampire was to remain in their rooms until the ship docked. The men would need to be working in the cargo hold, preparing to unload, and would not do so with the monster in it. Abraham nodded, relieved at the chance to possibly avert a disaster with that sailor. If the thief was ghouled, he'd be able to isolate it and destroy it before others were bitten. He turned to his monster, pulling away from the cold face.
"Follow behind me, do NOTHING to upset the sailors or captain. We're going to see the thief that got bitten," and Abraham deliberately used "thief" instead of sailor, and sidestepped saying that the vampire had done the biting, aware of the audience still clustered at the door, "and you'll tell me if he's infected. You'll then be waiting with me in my rooms. Understood?" The vampire's eyes were wide, timid, as he nodded.
x x x x x x
The trip had been a disaster to him. The ocean was making him feel sick and dizzy, weak. He had been loaded while asleep, had no chance to prepare himself against it. In the hold, he was only a few feet from the water, not suspended above it on the decks. The confusion of waking to find hands on him, digging through his clothes, the terror of being so clumsy, stiff, unable to defend himself, the realization that he'd bitten a man, and Abraham might be so furious as to leave him...it was simply more than the tired vampire could handle.
He simply nodded, then meekly followed his master out of the hold, terrified of angering him and being abandoned.
x x x x x x
The sailor would be alright. His arm would be horribly scarred, and Abraham had no intention of asking the vampire to mend it. The radius had been cracked, and the ship's doctor reported that a few of the tendons had also been severed. The right-handed thief had just lost much of the use of his right hand, and would not be picking locks again for a very very long time, if ever. The waves of relief from the vampire were clear, and his steps were much less prone to dragging as Abraham took him towards the cabin the passengers shared.
Dracula whined briefly, and Abraham paused. He realized with a jolt of embarassment at his stupidity what was wrong; the vampire's coffin would be unwatched.
Damned if he was going through the charade of asking permission for this. He went with the vampire to the hold, watching him go down and fetch his coffin. It was heavy, taking two people to shift, but the vampire carried it as though it were made of papier mache and entirely empty. It was settled gently and lovingly on the floor of their room, and the vampire took a seat upon it. He was clearly tense as Seward, Arthur, and the Harkers were crowded in with him, and Abraham gently shooed them out.
He picked up the journal, the vampire's soft red eyes on it, the beast slowly relaxing more and more. After a bit, the vampire began to speak, and the topic was not one Abraham would ever have expected.
"You call me Count in your journal. Monster, beast, vampire, Dracula. Mina calls me Vlad." Solemn red eyes blinked at Abraham. "Those are all who I was. I am still a vampire, but I am no longer a powerful Count, but your servant. Dracula, the son of the Dragon, is a name suited for a warrior. I have left that behind to join you. Vlad...that is what Mina knew me as, when I courted her as a master. It is not who I am now, I have a master." The vampire shifted restlessly about on the coffin, reaching out the take the journal, then staring at it as he thought, mind clearly elsewhere. "I have no name that suits me. I do not wish to answer to Count or Dracula or Vlad, and vampire...it is not a name."
Abraham agreed, watching the much reduced creature as it sat before him. It had gone from lord to servant, from powerful and confident to timid, from independent to dependent. Everything in its life had changed, reversed abruptly and with finality. No wonder it wanted a new name, a new start to its new existence. But whatever name could fit the vampire? He pondered, looking down at the page, the first word on it "Dracula." With the journal upside-down, the name was hard to read, reversed on the page.
He blinked. Reversed. Everything else was reversed for the monster, why not the name? He sounded it out in his mind, rolling it across his tongue silently, then smiled at the brooding monster.
"Everything else is reversed. Why not your name?" At his confusion, Abraham grinned. "Come, now, Alucard. Any objections?"
The vampire was speechless for a minute, then smiled at his master, eyes warm with approval.
A new name.
The last shackles of his old life fell off him, and all he could do was look forward to his new life with a sense of joy and peace he had not felt for a long, cold, and lonely time.
x x x x x x x x x x
Wow. That's it. Done. Finished. The story after this is the first chapter of Unpredictable.
I can't believe I actually completed the story.
I'm going to go stare at the wall in shock for a bit.
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to all the people who read this, and huge THANK YOUS! to the ones that took time to encourage me and review the stories. I literally couldn't have done this without you.
I hope you all enjoyed the trip with me; and now, onwards with the other stories. :)