by Sarah T.

Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind;
Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,
Er faßt ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.

Gustav Helsing held tightly to Klaus's hand as the two walked slowly home from the cemetary. He knew that they should have ridden back with the others, but at the last moment he had not been able to bear the crowd and had slipped away with his boy. Klaus looked strange and pale in his black suit, and his little face, normally so bright beneath the springing blond curls, was all downcast. He was shivering a little, whether from the cold or from grief Gustav could not guess. It was a rainy afternoon, so gloomy that it might as well as have been night, and he could hear the water dripping steadily from the branches of the fog-drenched trees that lined the stately avenue they were walking down. He knew that they should get home for Klaus's sake, but he did not like to think of the emptiness and the silence that he would find there, now that Helen was gone. His throat closed up as he remembered again that final scene in the hospital, Helen slipping out of life as gently and patiently as she had lived, he grieving over his powerlessness to do anything to help her except hold her hand as night fell. He knew that that was something--the last loving look she had given him before her eyes had closed forever had told him that--but it wasn't enough. The irony was terrible. He had prepared her so well for the threat from the outside, when all the while an enemy within was consuming her, unchecked until too late. He'd been so busy with his research and his students, and she had always been too brave to complain...

A dark figure carrying an umbrella jauntily over his shoulder was strolling down the avenue towards them. Gustav, lost in his sad thoughts, didn't recognize him until they were nearly opposite each other and Dracula politely lifted his hat.

"Condolences on your loss, Helsing," he said conversationally as Gustav stopped and drew Klaus close.

"You," Gustav said grimly, "stay away."

"I believe I've as much of a right as anyone to take a walk, Helsing," Dracula answered with amusement. "However, I suppose I must make allowances for your grief. I'm merely going to a concert. It is mid-afternoon, after all."

"All the more reason to stake you now." Gustav reached into his coat.

Dracula laughed, casting his eyes to the heavens. "Really, Helsing! In front of the boy? You are in a vengeful mood today. Remember, it wasn't I who killed poor Helen."

Gustav stiffened and pulled at Klaus's hand. "Come on, Klaus, we're going home."

Klaus did not immediately respond. He was staring, fascinated, up at the vampire. The man was wearing dark clothes like theirs--was he coming from a funeral, too?--but with a difference. His draped around him with an elegance that even a child could differentiate from the stiff awkward fit of his own clothes, and they were of beautiful soft textures that the boy yearned to reach out and touch. He was not bowed down with sadness like his father. No, he seemed cool, poised, and self-confident, as if the incomprehensible sorrow that ate at Klaus's own heart would never touch him. The rain fell all around him, but he was still dry and warm, unlike Klaus, who was so sodden and chilled that his bones ached. The man's hair was the color of old gold and his eyes a light grey that pierced Klaus to the soul as they fell on him. He was beautiful, the boy thought helplessly, he was unearthly. Like a prince in the fairy tales his father read him, from one of the enchanted castles he had prayed every night lately that he might somehow find the way to, far away from all the unhappiness of his own life, where his mother might still be...

Dracula had noticed the little boy's intent regard and was smiling, his eyes studying the small face held so uncomfortably above the collar. "Hello, Klaus," he said quietly, courteously offering him a hand gloved in the softest leather. "I'm sorry about your mother."

Klaus dreamily started to move his own hand up to take the other's, but Gustav jerked him away almost roughly. "Klaus, this is Dracula, one of the bad men, the vampires, I've told you about. You must never, ever have anything to do with him." A little startled, the boy clung to his father, who picked him up and glared at the vampire. "If you ever come near him, Dracula--"

"Promises, promises," the other smiled. "Good day." He replaced his hat, nodded to them both, and moved off down the street. After he had gone some distance, Gustav, who had been watching him grimly, let out a sigh and buried his face in the little boy's hair. So it was that only Klaus saw the vampire look back over his shoulder at them and smile again.

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