When the Well Runs Dry
One night, just as Count von Krolock was waking up, Alfred pounded at the front door of the castle. He'd tried being alone with Sarah, but she left him without a moment's hesitation as soon as she could. So Alfred followed her back. He was never one who could stand being completely independent. He was starved and exhausted, and when Herbert opened the door, Alfred was shaking from head to foot. He couldn't speak to explain, and a single tear rolled down his cheek. Herbert opened the door to find Alfred shaking from head to toe. He pulled Alfred into his arms faster than Alfred could blink. The former student sank gratefully into the embrace.
Alfred and Herbert stood there for quite some time after the door slammed shut. Herbert whispered, "Oh, I knew you'd come back, Alfred. I just knew it!" Alfred broke down. He was forced to admit that Herbert was comforting.
She didn't even glance back for a second, Alfred thought. It was only when a sympathetic sound escaped Herbert's lips, (followed by a gentle kiss on the forehead,) that Alfred realized he'd spoken aloud. He took a deep breath, and pulled away from Herbert.
"I'm sorry, Herbert. I shouldn't... I mean… thank you."
Herbert gave him an understanding smile and said, "Come, Alfred. You're starved, he put his arm about Alfred's shoulders and said, "and it's nearly dawn." They walked together to the cellars. An empty casket next to Herbert's was waiting for Alfred. He climbed eagerly inside, and didn't even flinch when he saw Herbert tuck himself in. Herbert wanted to laugh to himself about it, but he didn't dare. He couldn't bear to upset Alfred further.
Herbert and Alfred spent several nights together. Alfred was still a little uncomfortable the whole time. Herbert would find reasons to touch him, and he never did stop calling Alfred "darling", or "mon Cherie". One night, Count vonKrolock asked Alfred to follow him to the library.
"I need to have a word with you about my son, Alfred," Count vonKrolock said, shutting the door as they stepped into the dark, dusty room. Alfred couldn't bring himself to say anything, so he just nodded. The count found a chair and sat down.
"Herbert is very fond of you," vonKrolok said, once he was comfortable.
"I know," Alfred said, clearing his throat. Count vonKrolock merely scoffed. Alfred took a step toward the chair in which the count was sitting and said, "I do! I can see it when he looks at me. And... well, you've seen the way he fusses over me." The count smiled, and as he nodded, he said, "And I am sure you understand why we are having this discussion?"
"Sir?" asked Alfred, blinking. The count sighed.
"He's my son, Alfred! I cannot have you toying with his emotions again!" His voice was quiet and dangerous.
Alfred gulped. After a long moment, he said, "I never had any intention of hurting Herbert. I mean, I was human then. And now, well, he knows I loved Sarah. We're… we're friends, sir." The count was about to speak, when the door opened and Herbert walked in.
"I heard what you said, mein Freund. Is it true? You loved Sarah? Past tense?" A grin spread across Herbert's face as he spoke.
Alfred gulped again, and started to stutter, "Yes, past tense. Now, don't look at me like that!"
"Come now, mein Freund, you are not still frightened of me?" asked Herbert, raising his eyebrows, the very picture of innocence.
"I was never afraid," said Alfred, a petulant glare on his face.
"Yes you were."
Then Herbert turned to his father and said, "He really was," matter-of-factly. The count covered his mouth to stifle his laughter and snuck out of the library. Alfred returned to the matter of Herbert's expression with a stuttered "Herbert, stop! I mean it!"
Herbert took a step toward Alfred, asking, "Why?" Alfred sighed and walked backward as Herbert continued his advance.
"What could you possibly still have to worry about? It isn't like I'm just using you." Herbert's tone was that of a patient parent reasoning with a child.
"That is the problem, Herbert. You're in love with me." Herbert's hand caught Alfred's, but he pulled away, saying, "Besides, I still need to adjust. Or did you forget I didn't choose this life?" Herbert sank quickly into his father's abandoned chair.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that," Alfred said after kneeling next to Herbert.
Herbert's face was buried in his hands. He slowly lifted it and said, "I would never have forced you into this, you know."
"Wouldn't you? In your room before the ball—"
"I couldn't help that! You found me before I'd had any blood, Alfred. I was famished, and you were right there. Sweet, compliant, scared. No blood is tastier than that of someone you love. It was irresistible! Intoxicating! Surely you understand?"
"I'm irresistible?" Alfred asked when he could stop his mouth from hanging open.
"As if you didn't know." Herbert said, grinning.
Alfred was blushing and stuttering again, "But I didn't know." Herbert chuckled warmly and shook his head.
For some time after that, Herbert and Alfred were quiet. It was Alfred who broke the silence.
"Yes, I understand. I need you to understand that just because I'm not pining over Sarah doesn't mean you should… make advances."
"But you know I love you," Herbert complained.
"And I care about you. But Herbert, it isn't love." Herbert nodded. They were both quiet for the rest of the night. After that night, Alfred noticed a change in Herbert.
Alfred watched Herbert every night for weeks. Herbert would not speak with him. When Alfred greeted him in the evenings, Herbert would smile and nod, but it simply wasn't the same. This was Herbert calm and indifferent, and too much like his father for Alfred's comfort.
One night, Alfred decided he had enough, and knocked on Herbert's door. When Herbert opened it, Alfred immediately said, "Are you angry with me?"
"No," said Herbert, tilting his head to think before he spoke. Alfred walked into the room, turned to face him.
"You've been distant lately. I was worried I hurt you," Alfred said. Herbert was grinning again. He circled Alfred when Alfred stopped walking.
"You missed me," Herbert said. He looked and sounded like a child who'd just uncovered a secret. Alfred blushed and scoffed several times. Herbert stretched out his hand and caressed the former student.
"Well, I liked our chats, Herbert," Alfred reasoned, trying to ignore the chills that followed Herbert's hands and the distracting smirk on Herbert's lips.
"You missed me, Alfred. Admit it," Herbert said, chuckling. There was something animal in Herbert's voice.
"Yes, alright? I missed you. I mean, Professor Abronsius is dead. In the entire world, you're the only being who cares about me! I didn't even realize I knew what that felt like until I met you!" Herbert stopped. He was facing Alfred and letting a hand rest on his shoulder. Alfred lowered his eyes for a moment. When he looked up, there was a question in Herbert's face. Herbert was leaning in to Alfred.
"Yes," Alfred whispered, only dimly aware of the source of his voice. Herbert wrapped his arms around Alfred and kissed him softly.
"Oh!" Alfred said when they pulled apart. He couldn't say anything else, because Herbert leaned in for another kiss. Herbert was gentle and passionate. Alfred wanted it to go on forever. The sweetness of Herbert's kiss, of his arms pinning them together and eventually holding Alfred upright was almost more than the former student could bear. A sharp ache filled Alfred's chest, and he thought he would die again, until he slid his mouth along Herbert's jaw and up to the shell of his ear and whispered, "I love you, Herbert."
"Darling," Herbert murmured. It was all Alfred needed to hear.
The lovers did not join the rest of the vampires in the cellars that morning. They drew the thick curtains around the bed closed before the sun could stream in. Herbert hovered over Alfred, letting his hands and lips roam of their own free will and nearly begging Alfred to do the same. The whole day passed in love-making, until Alfred was so delirious that he babbled incoherently. He caught the words, "love," and "always," when he spoke them, but it wasn't until the sun set, and the rest of the castle began to rise that Herbert said, "You're the only man I've ever really loved," and Alfred suddenly understood what it was he'd said that night.