"Silent Night"

Silent Night
by Laura W.

           The stars were so brilliant. Hundreds, on almost the longest night of the year. Klaus drew in a lungful of brittle air and let it out again through his nose, watching as it condensed in a ghostly whirling cloud that lingered a fraction too long before it dissipated into the night. Cold, and profoundly still. It felt as if the entire city was asleep, though it wasn't yet midnight.
           It shouldn't have been so quiet. It wasn't usually. He decided to watch just a little while longer; surely someone would appear on the street, alone and distracted by the desire to get back into the warmth. An easy target. He hadn't much time; Lucard had given him a curfew of midnight. But he could be quick about it, if he had to, and it would take only an instant to teleport back home.
           Klaus sank his hands into his overcoat pockets, and leaned against the stone barrier. From his vantage point, he could see both the deserted street of the popular night-café district and the winding cobblestone lanes of the lower suburbs twelve meters below. It would be easy to fly up or down and be at someone's throat in a moment—that is, if there were anyone there. With a sigh, he turned up his collar, and walked southeast, following the curve of the river. Down in the valley of the old suburbs, the water moved with a drowsy, dreamy calm, showing only in green satin glints the reflected light of the moon.
           Impatiently, Klaus glanced up at the sky. Ten minutes 'till midnight. But it had been weeks since he'd had any blood; Lucard had been working night and day to make sure that the proposal would be ready in time, and he expected Klaus to help. At least he'd allowed him to sleep a little, but every time he'd begun to dream Lucard had shaken him awake and given him another stack of papers and another long list of things that needed to be finished. On top of that, there hadn't been any dinners together, any talks, any nights out. Klaus had wanted Lucard to come with him tonight, but he'd refused, barely looking up from the business book he was reading. Klaus scowled. He didn't see why he had to be back by midnight when Lucard clearly didn't care if he was there or not. But the other vampire's temper was short enough already, of late, and Klaus had no desire to be punished again. He would be certain to be back at the castle by the specified hour, if only just.
           When he found himself looking down at the roof of St. John's church, he stopped. He hadn't realised that he'd walked so far from the café district. No one would be at the cathedral at this time of night, especially not when it wasn't even a Saturday. Annoyed with himself for having paid so little attention, he was about to give up in disgust and go home when a faint sound of music drifted up from the dark sanctuary. …The pipe organ? What on earth?
           All at once, he realized. Of course, that was the reason no one was out on the streets. It was Christmas Eve. He hadn't had time to pay attention to the date in the past few days, and, anyway, Lucard didn't care whether or not it was Christmas—although, in retrospect, the rush to prepare the proposal was probably in anticipation of the upcoming holiday. Everything shut down for Christmas—not even Dracula could stop that from happening.
           Without thinking what he was doing, Klaus swooped down into the churchyard. He immediately regretted it; he'd forgotten about the rose garden. The bushes were nothing but bare branches and thorns this time of the year, but wild roses had a way of hiding among cultivated ones, and he did not want to come across a patch of those when he had only a few minutes to get home. Still, almost against his will, he drew cautiously closer to the windows of the church and looked inside. Yes, the benches were filled, and it wasn't dark inside at all; everything glowed with the spreading light of a hundred single candles burning as each one touched his flame to the wick of his immediate neighbor. The organ seemed to take a breath, and then the song began again, this time with the voices of the congregation joining the low, sweet notes.

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht
Alles schläft, einsam wacht
nur das traute hoch-heilige Paar.
           Silent night, holy night. It was as if the tones had the power to tighten a band of hot silver around his throat. Klaus didn't want to feel anything in response to that familiar sound of voices; he didn't want to even acknowledge that he remembered being one of those singers, in that very church, holding a hot dripping candle in one hand and shielding its wavering flame with the other, then tilting it down, just so, to offer the golden flickering light to his father. And Gustav's voice… perfectly suited to the simple tune, soft in the dimness and then growing stronger as the sanctuary brightened…
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht!
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
           Damn everything— All at once, Klaus wanted nothing so much as to hear his father singing the words—his distinct voice, as only one standing close enough to feel the heat of his candle-flame could hear it separate from the multitude. He drew in a breath, and it was hot and painful down his throat; it made a hissing sound between his tightly clenched teeth. The singing itself grew radiant as the last remaining candle was lit and the whole room filled with light. Some in the congregation turned to smile into the glow of the candles around and behind, and, for just an instant, Gustav's face was illuminated. He was there! Klaus felt sick. He squeezed his eyes shut, leaning his forehead against the rough white stucco of the church's exterior.
Lieb' aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Strund',
Christ, in deiner Geburt.
           The church bell began to ring in jubilant announcement that it was, in fact, now Christmas day, and Klaus shuddered with horror at the realization that he was late. He didn't even have a second to pull himself together; he needed to instantly—
           But nothing happened. Blinking in surprise and rising panic, he tried again—this time to transform into a bat. Nothing.
           He whirled around. It was, of course, Gustav, who looked almost as astonished as he felt.
           "Klaus, what are you doing here? It's dangerous for you to be out tonight; don't you know that?"
           "What—what are you talking about?" Klaus stammered. He'd meant to give the old man a disdainful glare, but—oh, damn it…
           "It's Christmas day. You have no powers."
           "No powers?" Klaus repeated stupidly. "You mean, I can't—"
           "Not on Christmas day. He didn't tell you?"
           For a long moment they stared at each other across the distance that separated them, each thinking of Lucard, and what he'd do. What would he do? After last time… A lump rose in Klaus's throat, and he broke eye contact to look up into the sky. Something cold dampened his lashes, and he blinked, and started to turn away.
           "Klaus—" His father's hand was on his arm, holding him there. "It's beginning to snow." He couldn't even feel the contact through his thick coat, but it still hurt his insides. As if somehow he knew, Gustav let go, taking a step back. "Let me give you a ride to the castle," he offered quietly.
           They both knew it would take him nearly an hour to walk—longer if the snow continued. But if Lucard saw him with Gustav… "I can't," Klaus mumbled, not moving. He wanted— He wanted to go home. To the cozy family room and hot cocoa in front of the fire, freshly baked lebkuchen and the smell of fir, the Christmas tree stretching up almost to the ceiling, decorated on top with the homemade star his father had shaped from a tin sauerkraut can when Klaus was too young to remember. Was his stocking hanging from the mantel as always, waiting, stuffed full of treats?
           Of course not. Why would it be? And he couldn't go home, even if he wanted to. Dracula was expecting him. He was probably waiting, arms crossed with annoyance, planning some new form of discipline that got worse with every minute he was late.
           "Come on," Gustav nodded toward the parking lot. "I'll drop you off outside the gate."
           It was humiliating, accepting the old man's help, when he… He could kill him with one blow, even without any vampire powers. Gustav knew it, too—knew the danger in opening his car door to one of Dracula's creatures, in driving alone with him through the empty streets with nothing but a stick shift and a few feet between them. But he offered anyway. Why? Because he's stupid, Klaus told himself. Stupid, and trusting. Wordlessly, he followed the other to the small cobblestone car park, to the silly red car whose doors weren't even locked. He didn't acknowledge to himself that his father could kill, too—that he kept stakes and crosses in the car—that he was, after all, a vampire hunter.
           Mercifully, the old man didn't chatter. He was as silent as Klaus as he started the ignition and slowly backed the 2CV around, then pulled into the road. It felt strange to be sitting on that funny, uncomfortable seat again, with the thin canvas roof overhead, the chill and the sound of the motor coming in at the hinges of the folding windows. Klaus was glad of the noise, of the roaring of the engine whenever they came to a hill, and of the dark. He wrapped his arms around himself and leaned against the vibrating door, pressing his cheek to the cold window. His father glanced over at him, but didn't say anything. Klaus shut his eyes. If he wanted to, he could pretend they were going home together after the Christmas Eve service, as always.
           They passed over the streets steadily, neither quickly nor slowly; Klaus could feel the movement, the speed, so much more immediate than in Lucard's limousine. He listened to the slight rattle of the window, to the repetitive jerking of the stick shift when his father changed gears. Then, faintly, above the drone of the car, he became aware of another hum.
           "Hm hm hm hmmm. Hm hm hm hmmm…."
           He darted a sharp look toward his father, but Gustav was concentrating on the road. Half-angrily, Klaus turned his face to the window again, biting his lip hard as the other actually began to sing under his breath,
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht!
Alles schläft, einsam wacht
nur das traute hoch-heilige Paar…
           If he had been human, he wouldn't have been able to hear. If he had been human, the sound wouldn't have brought stinging tears to his eyes. Klaus didn't understand its power, how it could hurt so much. The thought of what Lucard would say if he knew made him cry even harder, though he struggled to regain control.
           He gulped, half-sobbing, as the car slowed, then came to a halt, its headlights illuminating the grey stone of the defensive wall that surrounded the castle. Klaus and Gustav sat together in the dark, neither speaking.
           "We're here," Gustav stated, finally. Klaus didn't look at him. He couldn't let him see.
           They sat for another minute before Klaus fumbled for the doorknob and got out, his back to his father.
           "Klaus—" there was a catch in his voice, and Klaus couldn't stand to hear it, whatever he was going to say. Still, he paused long enough for Gustav to open his mouth and close it again, then simply wish him, "Merry Christmas." Klaus shut the car door, not turning, and walked away. After a few seconds he could hear the 2CV drive off.
           He was shaking as he reached the castle door, and not from the cold. If he'd had use of his powers, he could have teleported directly inside, without a sound; as it was, he had to creep in like some guilty teenager. It was nearly twenty minutes after midnight and he didn't have any excuse. If he'd done as Lucard had told him, it never would have happened. Now he'd be taught his lesson.
           "Alexander, I'm sorry—" he began as he entered the great hall. From the top of the staircase, he could see Lucard sitting facing the fire, his book in his lap. The other vampire didn't even acknowledge him.
           With a small sigh, Klaus straightened himself and went down the stairs to stand directly behind his master. Still Lucard didn't move. Klaus swallowed uneasily. "Alexander…" he whispered. He looked down at Lucard's fingers resting heavily across the page of the book. They were obscuring half the words.
           "Alexander?" Hesitantly, Klaus went around the chair and knelt next to Lucard. His head was bowed, his eyelids lowered; a sweep of golden hair lay where it had fallen over his brow. Exhausted. Peacefully asleep. Tenderly, Klaus pulled the book from beneath his fingers and set it aside, grateful, to someone.

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