Title: Under the Milky Way
Author: bnomiko
Rating: NC-17
Pairing(s): Trevor + Sypha + Alucard, Trevor x Alucard
Spoilers: through the end of S3 + through S4
Disclaimer: "Under the Milky Way" is performed and recorded by The Church. "How to Save a Life" is performed and recorded by The Fray. Castlevania is the creation and property of Konami. Castlevania (animated series) is the creation and property of Netflix. This is a not-for-profit fanwork and I do not own any of these characters.
Summary: After the events of Lindenfeld, all Trevor and Sypha wanted was to return to the closest thing they had to "home," but Alucard has not fared well in their absence. "You wanted to save the world, remember?" " He also needed it. He needed us." Post S3 + S4 animation canon based.
Archived at: http://www.phenixsol.com/Miko/FF/

* * *

Under the Milky Way

Ch. 12: Try to slip past his defense
Without granting innocence

* * *

She really could've slapped them both. Trevor for being an idiot and thinking this up, and Adrian for... well, actually it was all Trevor's fault, so he probably deserved a second slap. But in the end, Sypha satisfied herself with just the one.

"What was that for?" Trevor griped, holding his cheek as Adrian jerked away in surprise.

"This was the stupidest idea you've ever had! That went on for almost four minutes. And Adrian..." she continued, hesitating as she wondered how to explain it to him, or if she even should, "do you remember anything at all?"

The four minute span was concerning. And Sypha looked distressed. But as much as Adrian searched his memory, he couldn't remember anything specific that would account for her worriment. Unlike before, it wasn't a total blank at least - he recalled telling himself to relax, to concentrate on listening for Trevor's heartbeat, as Trevor had mentioned that before. He himself felt fairly relaxed... and a bit turned on, which was definitely unusual but not harmful. And Trevor looked like he had just woken up, hard on and all. Other than the new puncture wounds, and the slight bruising around the old ones, he didn't look any worse for wear. "Not... particularly?"

Sypha sighed. She really didn't want to upset Adrian, but he had to know. "At around two minutes, I went to touch your shoulder, to tell you to stop, because it seemed like Trevor's breathing had slowed to the point where it was dangerous. But your eyes changed color and you hissed at me. You even lifted your head, so I backed off so that Trevor wouldn't get hurt." She looked down at the brunet who was now staring back with wide eyes. "He absolutely could've ripped your throat out at that very moment, you idiot!"

"Sypha, I... I'm sorry," Adrian whispered, devastated. He bowed his head. "I wouldn't..." he began, then stopped himself, not even sure what he was trying to assure anyone of, when he clearly didn't remember what he'd done, or how much of a danger he'd actually posed. He gave Trevor an apologetic look as well. "Trevor, I'm..."

"Don't you dare," the hunter snapped. "Like Sypha said, this was my request, and you only did as I asked. I take full responsibility for anything that happened."

Trevor had only wanted to reassure Adrian, but the blond looked even more like a kicked dog after that last comment. Trevor sighed, wrapping his arms around Adrian's waist before he could slink away.

"No you don't. Don't start with the moping. Look, I'm the one who should be sorry; the last thing I wanted to do was upset you. For what it's worth, I enjoyed it..." and he glanced down at the slight tenting under Adrian's nightshirt, "and I'm guessing you did too."

Adrian would've probably glared at that observation, but he was too preoccupied with feeling remorseful. He really could've done some damage, even if he hadn't intended to - hell, he could've hurt Sypha too while he wasn't in control of himself! He opened his mouth to reassure the Speaker that he wouldn't try it again, but the only sound that came out was a surprised squeak that sounded way too high pitched to have been uttered by him.

Trevor really wished Adrian would ditch the horribly unflattering ruffled nightshirts that seemed to reproduce by themselves in the armoires - heck, even Sypha had taken to wearing them - but on the plus side they were short enough to show off his long legs nicely, and they were easy to get one's hands under... which immediately reminded him of the fact that Adrian didn't wear undergarments. Thank God for ridiculously tight, low cut pants! In retrospect, he probably should've asked first if it was okay, but Trevor was desperate to stop the other man from spiraling back into depression.

The squeak quickly morphed into a low, breathy hiss, as Trevor played his fingertips lightly over Adrian's arousal again. Trevor's own cock jumped in response. When had a vampire's hiss ever sounded so sexy?

"Trevor..." That was Sypha, concern coloring her voice, but the brunet barely heard her, all his attention on the flushed figure trying his best to not squirm in his arms.

"You can't tell me you were just going to ignore it?" Trevor murmured.

Adrian didn't answer, but yes, he'd been planning to do just that. From what he could tell, he didn't have much of a sex drive compared to the average human male, so simply ignoring it had worked fine up until this point.

"... If you're all right with it, I can help you take care of it. I, uh, have a pretty good grip."

Adrian's brows beetled up and down. He had no doubt about... Trevor's grip. The real issue was, did he actually want anyone touching him like that again? Unable to decide, or to even voice his indecision, the half-vampire just stared wordlessly into the hunter's intense blue eyes.

What Trevor saw in his expression, Adrian had no idea, but the fingers that had stilled began moving again, tracing around the circumference of his erection before the palm pressed heavily against the swelling head.

Adrian's hips jerked in response. He still really had no clue how to react. All he knew was it felt good, and it was Trevor making him feel that way. And even though he wasn't sticking his hand down the brunet's pants and reciprocating, the scent of Trevor's sweat had become a bit muskier, a heady fragrance. Adrian's nostrils flared. Apparently despite his own lack of sexual interest, his vampiric senses made him more susceptible to any signals a partner might give off, so in the end, it made no difference what he was.

For her part, Sypha slid in behind Adrian on the bed, placing her hand on his back to reassure him she was there, but nothing more. As promising as Adrian's reactions were, she couldn't help but worry that this was too much, too soon. She hoped she was wrong, but she felt obligated to supervise in case she was right, just as she'd done earlier.

The blond gasped and began pawing blindly at the other man's broad chest. Trevor took that as an invitation to do some more groping of his own, running his unoccupied hand over the linen covered planes of Adrian's chest, brushing ruffles out of the way to thumb over stiffening nipples a few times, before reaching up to cup his chin. He carefully traced his way from one corner of Adrian's mouth to the other, avoiding the tips of the fangs, until the half-vampire began lightly licking and sucking on the tip of his thumb. Trevor let out a needy groan, then replaced the digit with his tongue, as he leaned in and began kissing Adrian with increasing urgency, all while the hand under the nightshirt began slowly stroking up and down the length of Adrian's erection.

While this wasn't the first time Trevor had touched another man, he couldn't recall anything specific about his prior partner - nor did he care to. All that mattered was memorizing the sounds Adrian made and the way his muscles gathered and shifted, the way his cock warmed and pulsed in his grasp. The way Adrian flushed and trembled, almost like a demure maiden. The contrast between their bodies was fascinating; Adrian's skin was completely smooth, even down there, and silken soft. But there was no denying the almost painful strength of the fingers now digging into his shoulder, nor the primal quality of the low growls and hisses that mixed in with his barely restrained moans.

The hand that had been thumbing over Adrian's cheek slid back through soft tresses, searching, until they found the edge of an ear and began tracing upwards. Trevor remembered the way the other man had reacted to being touched there, and he was grateful for it now, as he pushed the hair out of the way to replace the searching fingers with his tongue, as Adrian cried out sharply, his eyes flying open in surprise.

It felt amazing, but Adrian was overwhelmed. The more his body reacted, the more he felt like he was losing control, and not in a good way. He began tensing up, his breaths hitching. It was way too much. If... if he let himself fall, what would happen next? Phantom pain suddenly lashed around his body, and a flash of silver crossed his vision, then ribbons of red on white. He blinked, then again, but everything was blurring before him. The echoes of ragged breathing in the room sounded too close to the dying gasps of a pair of young lives cut short; the whispered pleas sounded too much like the haunted accusations of ghosts. Adrian shuddered, hiccuping.

Frowning, Sypha reached over the blond to put her hand on Trevor's wrist. "Trevor, enough!" she said firmly. It was clear he wasn't hearing Adrian's soft entreaties to stop.

Trevor froze, blinking. It took his brain a moment to process what he was hearing, and an additional second to register that his hands should probably let go, too. Adrian didn't move away, continuing to lay stiffly beside him, but his shallow breaths were coming too fast and tears were starting to well up in the corner of his eyes.

"Are... are you okay? Did I hurt you?" Trevor asked, baffled. Did he do something wrong? Adrian had been enjoying it, hadn't he?

There was suddenly a loud thump outside the door and both Trevor and Sypha nearly jumped at the sound. They exchanged a quick look; with Adrian in distress, one of them had to go see what it was, and Sypha was very clearly volunteering Trevor for the task.

With a groan, the hunter pushed himself out of the bed, picking up his short sword along the way and smoothly drawing it from its sheath, noting out of the corner of his eye that Sypha had gathered Adrian into her arms as if that would be enough to shield him from whatever was out there. With a shake of his head, Trevor grimly forced himself to refocus on his task, waddling up to the door to press his ear against it, straining to catch any other evidence of someone or something being present, but there was nothing but silence. It was too much to hope for it merely being a rat or some other pest...

Trevor drew in a breath, steeled himself, and threw the door open....

"Well?" Sypha asked after a few tense moments, seeing that Trevor was standing there, looking down at something but apparently doing nothing about it at all.

The brunet slid a glance at her, and all she could think was, he looked genuinely upset. With a heavy sigh, he finally bent down to pick something up, then turned to show it to Sypha. "Well, now we know where his sword is..."

A chill shot down the redhead's back, and she found herself holding her breath without intending to. Was the sword a threat, or a desperate attempt to get Trevor's attention? She had to figure it was the latter, as Adrian certainly could've driven it right through the door if he'd felt the need to do so. She couldn't help but think back to the brief talk she'd had with Trevor days earlier, where she'd fretted that Adrian needed more time to deal with his latest trauma. Now she worried she should've done more, should've stepped in and stopped things before Adrian had to resort to such a thing to get Trevor to stop.

Trevor was honestly surprised that the sword hadn't whirled around and cut off his fingers. There was no point in pretending to not understand what had happened... God, he'd really fucked up, hadn't he? He brought the weapon with him and carefully placed it out of the way near his own sword, then cautiously crept back into bed, though he kept as far away from Adrian as possible.

"I'm sorry; I didn't stop when you asked. I didn't hear it, but that's on me - I should've been paying more attention," Trevor told Adrian's back. The blond was trembling faintly, even with Sypha's hands gently combing through his hair. Trevor sighed, and awkwardly rolled onto his back to stare up at the ceiling. Even with the bigger bed it was hard to stay at the margin of the mattress without accidentally brushing up against the man next to him. "Is it okay if I stay here? Or do you want me to leave the room?"

There was a slight stirring. "... Don't go," was the muffled response.

"Sure, no problem. Can I move closer, or should I stay where I'm at?"

No answer. Trevor looked at Sypha, who gave the tiniest of shrugs, then shifted incrementally closer. "Is this okay?"

Still no answer. Figuring he'd pushed his luck far enough and that Adrian would probably give him the cold shoulder the rest of the night, Trevor turned to blow out the bedside lantern. He remained facing away on his side, tucking his hands into his armpits to keep them from wandering, and tried to get as comfortable as he could where he was lying. But to his surprise after a couple of minutes he felt the sheets shift and a hand hesitantly feeling around until it found his wrist, then began tugging him closer. Trevor scooted over a little, then a little more, then finally rolled over until he was more or less grazing Adrian's back.

In a hoarse whisper, Adrian mumbled, "I'm sorry."

Trevor could feel the other man still shivering slightly, so the brunet tried draping his arm over him, though he kept it on top of the blanket so there was some layer of protection between them, no matter how flimsy. "Don't - I was the one that went too far."

There was a choked off sob. "... I ruined everything."

"No, you didn't. Those people you staked outside ruined things. You haven't done anything wrong," Trevor reassured him, stroking the outline of Adrian's arm until he remembered it was his stupid hands that got him in trouble in the first place. He stilled for a second, then pulled back.

Adrian sighed. "I'm a little cold."

Sypha, who'd remained silent throughout the exchange, began rubbing her hands up and down Adrian's arms herself, though she understood Adrian wasn't being literal. Still, she wasn't going to pretend like she hadn't heard him. She was rewarded with another soft sigh as he pressed in a little tighter.

Trevor also moved closer, carefully wrapping his arm around the both of them and feeling a checked quiver in return. "Look, you don't have to do this if you don't want to. It's all right if you're mad at me right now."

"... Not mad, just..."

"... Just need me to stop being a complete fuckwit. I get it. It's fine, I won't do anything except warm you up like you asked, okay?" Trevor assured him.

For a moment there was nothing but the sound of Adrian's stuttered breaths, then he quietly pled, "Don't leave."

Trevor thought about his girlfriend's earlier warning, that Adrian would go along with whatever the hunter wanted in order to keep him around. He'd dismissed it at the time, certain that Adrian knew they weren't that disloyal, that fickle, but this was the second time in just as many minutes that Adrian had begged him to stay... "I won't. We won't. I promise."

Adrian didn't argue back or squirm out from the weight of the arm on top of him, so that was that. Trevor told himself to be satisfied with that much and shut his eyes - hopefully Adrian would be up to talking a bit more in the morning.

* * *

Trevor awoke to find a cloud of blond hair under his chin and Adrian's weight on his chest. Upset or not, the taller man apparently couldn't resist using him as a pillow, and from a quick glance, Sypha couldn't resist using Adrian as a foot warmer, having hooked her legs over his while her torso angled towards the opposite edge of the bed. Trevor didn't mind at all, but was far less pleased about being used as a handkerchief as well. At least it was just a few tears this time, he thought at first, until he remembered who Adrian was upset at, and why. Shit... I'm the absolute worst. If I've ruined things between us, Sypha's never going to let me hear the end of it.

The hunter had one arm wrapped around Adrian and really wanted to move the other to properly hug him, but he knew the half-vampire slept as lightly as he himself did - though in Adrian's case it was more because his senses were too sharp versus Trevor's paranoia from years of sleeping outside. So Trevor tried to limit his movements as much as possible, in hopes that the other man could continue resting.

Hazy sunlight began filtering into the windows through a thin veil of rain. The soft pattering had Trevor nodding off; he was just on the cusp of sleep when Adrian's body suddenly jerked. Two pairs of eyes snapped open sharply.

"Er... did I wake you?" Trevor asked, uncertain who had woken who up.

Brows furrowing, Adrian stared back, attempting to process Trevor's question while simultaneously trying to claw his way out of the remnants of his latest nightmare. For once, it hadn't been his father or mother, or even Taka or Sumi, haunting him. For once, his dreamscape hadn't been filled with death or violence. Instead, he'd simply found himself alone in the castle once again, with all the signs that Trevor and Sypha had been there - beer kegs in the pantry, sheets of shaky handwriting next to a stack of children's books, even spare clothing in an armoire - but he couldn't find the pair at all. And Adrian had panicked, wondering if somehow, something had gotten in and taken them - or had they walked out of their own volition? He'd even switched to his wolf form to sniff around outside, then into a bat swarm to fly up and better survey the countryside, but he'd found no trail, no footprints, nothing. It was as if they'd simply vanished.

"You're here..." the half-vampire finally said, everything in his expression indicating that he truly expected to wake up alone.

"Yeah. Like I promised."

Adrian's head sank back down. He sighed. "It was only a dream then."

Trevor didn't immediately answer. He wasn't sure if Adrian was referring to a nightmare, or to what happened the previous night. Or maybe a bit of both? "What was a dream?"

"I looked everywhere, but you and Sypha disappeared without a trace. Your things were still here, but you were both gone."

Trevor went to place a hand on the back of Adrian's head, then thought better of it and moved it away. "We wouldn't do that to you. Even if someone tried to forcibly drag us away, we'd be kicking and biting the whole time. You'd at least see evidence of that."

Adrian hummed, mulling it over, then it started to sink in that he'd placed himself in a terrible position, lying halfway on top of Trevor, snuggling against his bare chest. No wonder Trevor kept reacting like he was being seduced; it was unreasonable to expect him to not act on the signals that he kept getting! But at the same time, Adrian selfishly didn't want to move - Trevor was warm; his scent and the coarseness of his body hair and the thump of his heartbeat were all reassuring, especially in light of the nightmare. "Is... is it okay if I lie here like this?"

"Sure, I don't mind." Trevor paused, trying to kick his brain into gear to figure out what else to say. "I won't do anything unless you ask," he quickly added.

Adrian grunted softly. He didn't know what was all right to ask for and what wasn't.

"Do you really hate the whole biting thing?" Trevor suddenly inquired.

"I... can't see how it could possibly be enjoyable for you."

"That's not what I asked."

Adrian's fingers dug into Trevor's chest a little. "It scares me. I can't let that side of me take control like that," he admitted in a small voice.

"The thing is, I trust you - even that part of you. You could've easily hurt me, but you didn't..."

"Trevor..."

The hunter gently cut off any protest. " It's a shame because I liked it, but... I get it. You don't feel comfortable with it. So I'll respect your wishes. And I'm sorry I didn't listen before, when you tried to tell me that." He chuckled softly. "But if you ever change your mind, you don't even have to ask - feel free to indulge."

"I'll... keep that in mind."

Trevor's hand drifted towards Adrian's head again, but rather than pull back, he simply asked, "Can I stroke your hair?"

"... You can."

Trevor felt the corners of his mouth turning upward as he began running his fingers through the silken strands. Asking wasn't so hard. Maybe he wasn't hopeless after all.

* * *

They both ended up dozing off again, long enough that Sypha managed to get up first for once. Noting the late hour, Adrian immediately hustled out of bed to start making breakfast. As Trevor began stumbling out of bed as well he offered to do the foraging if that would help, so a few minutes later he was heading out with his cloak pulled over his head to ward off the rain, and a mental list of ingredients to look for.

Trevor wondered if it was a good omen when the drizzle quickly tapered off into a very light mist, and he was able to obtain nearly everything Adrian had asked for without having to stray too far from the castle. In a markedly better mood, he headed home and then sat in the kitchen to watch Adrian work his culinary magic on the ingredients. As usual the half-vampire made a bit too much, favoring things he knew Sypha liked, as her appetite was starting to waver at times. At least she wasn't suffering from the morning sickness that affected many pregnant women.

After that, it was back to business as usual, with Adrian resuming work on the stairs in the Hold and Trevor and Sypha doing clean up work in the castle, until it was time for Adrian to head back home to start on dinner.

He heard it before he saw it, the soft rhythmic fall of horse hooves on the grassy ground. Whipping his head around, he spotted movement between the trees and went to intercept it, calling his sword to his side from the spot on the bedroom floor where Trevor had left it. Although he was loath to wield it again his instinct to protect his would-be lovers overrode any hesitancy he had.

But as Adrian closed in on the horse, he noticed something was off. The animal was meandering randomly between the trees, and the stench of blood wafting off it hit him like a wall of bricks. And the rider wasn't upright; in fact he was barely visible at all behind his mount's neck and mane. More curious than cautious now, the half-vampire approached head-on, and immediately realized what had happened. The rider was dead for certain: no heartbeat, no breathing. It looked like he'd been attacked by night creatures; he had multiple injuries, including a massive wound exposing the ribcage on one side, and he'd died from blood loss or shock - or perhaps both. He must've been prepared to push his way past the monsters one way or another, as he had securely lashed himself to the saddle, and furthermore, had tied a small scroll to the palm of his hand.

"Adrian!"

The blond turned to see Trevor sprinting up to join him - perhaps he'd spotted the approaching rider from a window, or saw the sword go flying out the castle gates? Either way, Adrian was glad to have his company.

"This must've been quite an important message, to risk one's life," Adrian muttered as he untied the scroll from the man's hand and unrolled the slip of paper. "To the Alucard of the castle," he began reading, tsking under his breath. "For God's sake. Why I am the Alucard now?" Sumi had also addressed him as such when they'd first met. He'd hated it back then, and hearing it again was just another reminder of how badly things had gone during Trevor and Sypha's absence.

Being unaware of the reason behind Adrian's irritation, Trevor snorted in amusement as he reached up to grab hold of the horse's reins. But his mirth had the unintended side effect of pulling the blond's thoughts back from a darker path.

With a shake of his head, Adrian started over. "To the Alucard of the castle. We, the people of Danesti, beg your aid. Night creatures, vampires and terrible demons assault us and we know not why. Our defenses weaken and our numbers dwindle. Please sir, save our souls." He flipped the paper over to see a crudely drawn map indicating the location of a town in relation to the castle, then back over to the message. "Are you familiar with this Danesti?"

"It's a small village north of my ancestral lands, maybe two or three hours away. I might've been there before, but to be honest, most of the farming villages in the region look the same." Trevor shrugged, then his expression grew slightly more serious. "Word traveled fast. They're aware of the castle, and the fact that you're its master."

Sypha now joined them, jogging across the grass at a more leisurely pace as she'd realized they were in no danger. Adrian showed her the message. She quickly read it, then looked up at the deceased rider, her cornflower blue eyes soft with pity and understanding. "He knew he probably wouldn't make it, but made the attempt anyhow."

"So what now?" Trevor asked.

"They asked for aid. We cannot pretend we did not see it," Sypha said firmly.

The brunet looked up at the sky. The sun was already on the way down. "It'll be harder to travel at night..."

"... But they might not survive to see another day if I do not depart immediately," Adrian finished, sighing. He wasn't really of the mindset to be playing savior, but as Sypha said, he could not pretend he hadn't received the plea for help either, especially since this man had risked his life to deliver it.

Adrian examined the ropes the rider had tied himself down with and began undoing the knots. "Let's get this body down; we can bury him later. The horse needs to be watered and fed, and I..."

"Wait. What's with 'I' this and 'I' that? I'm coming with you," Trevor insisted. "Or were you intending to fight through an entire attacking force alone?"

"They specifically requested my aid," Adrian countered.

"Probably because they're not aware that Trevor and I are here. I will come with you as well," Sypha volunteered.

Both men exchanged worried looks, then slowly turned to face the redhead.

"No," said Trevor.

"And why's that?" Sypha asked, one eyebrow cocking upward.

"... The castle needs someone to stay behind and keep an eye on things," Adrian pointed out. Trevor just nodded along in agreement as he couldn't think of anything better.

"Is that so?" She scowled, folding her arms across her chest. "Why don't you just say what you're actually thinking?"

Adrian frowned and looked at Trevor, who simply grumbled, one hand rubbing at the back of his neck, a sure sign that she wasn't going to like what he said next. "I mean, look, you're pregnant and..." he began sheepishly.

"And? Baby or no baby, I could still turn you into an ice statue where you stand, Trevor Belmont!"

"For God's sake woman, I just want you to be safe."

"I can take care of myself!" she volleyed back.

As much as Adrian didn't want to insert himself into an argument, he couldn't exactly slink away either. He looked between the two of them, then said, "I'd rather you both stay, to be honest. I worry that this is all a ruse to lure me away from the castle."

Sypha's lightning bright eyes focused on her new target. "Then you stay, and we'll go!" But as soon as the words were out of her mouth, she regretted it, both because of the hurt that flashed across Adrian's face - they had promised to not leave him behind again - and because... Adrian was right, that was a possibility. And as much as it bothered her to consider it, there was no denying that there were people who'd harm him to gain access to the knowledge and technology inside his home. With a sad shake of her head, she stepped closer to take Adrian's arm, to rub at it in reassurance, earning her a soft sigh of relief. "No, you're right... this very well may be a trap."

Trevor nodded. "Even if that's the case, that'd still mean they wouldn't expect you or I to be here. So no matter what, it'd be better if one of us remained behind, instead of Adrian."

She exhaled. There was the matter of diplomacy to be considered as well. "I still think I would be the better choice to go. Trevor, you have said it yourself. You arrive at some place and people instantly punch you in the face."

The hunter waved his hand dismissively. "Well if they don't want to be rescued, that would be one way to go about it. But given the contents of the note, I'd wager they'd rather not be supper for a bunch of night creatures."

"At this rate, it'll be nightfall before we come to a consensus," Adrian couldn't help adding, as he finally got the rider free of his lashings, pulling him off the horse and carefully lowering him to the ground in a show of respect.

Trevor looked down at the body, at the wounds the rider bore, at the sweat slicking the horse's black coat. His lips tightened. "We don't need a consensus. Sypha, you're staying," he said firmly, and before she could even think of arguing back, he nodded up at the windows peppering the upper floors of the castle. "You're better suited to defending this place than either of us. From a high enough vantage point, you should be able to easily pick off anyone or anything stupid enough to attack."

"Of course," she replied, still a bit sore. But he did have a good argument for once. And as much as it annoyed her at the moment, his ability to focus and make decisions when needed were some of the things she truly loved about him.

"Close up the castle gates as soon as we leave. Adrian and I will head out this evening on horseback, do what damage we can, and ideally, return before morning if at all possible," the brunet finished.

Seeing that the issue of who was going appeared to be fully settled, Trevor turned slightly and nodded at the body. "Adrian, can we put a few rocks or something over this guy so animals don't get at the body?"

"I'll do that right now," the half-vampire replied as he turned to head back to the Hold to look for any suitable materials.

Trevor nodded at his departing form, then turned back to Sypha. "Can you throw together a simple soup or stew with whatever we have? We'll need to settle for a quick dinner, as I don't want to depart too late into the night."

"I can manage that. And I assume you want to be excused from the rest of your reading lesson?"

Trevor quirked a smile at her. They had just settled down to start his lessons when Adrian's sword had suddenly shot out the door, alerting them to trouble. He held a hand to his chest in apology. "I'll owe you one. In the meantime, I want to get this horse settled in and fed. He looks to be in better shape than our old cart horses, so we might need him for the journey back."

"I'll hold you to it," Sypha said before heading back into the castle to get dinner started.

It felt like nightfall came quicker than usual. Trevor took care of his task and got all the tack for two horses laid out as well, then returned to his old bedroom to fully arm himself up before heading back down to the kitchen to join the other two for supper. They gulped Sypha's soup quickly and in relative silence, no one bothering to complain about the overly salty broth, and then it was time to depart.

They kept the goodbyes brief. After wishing them well, Sypha kissed Adrian and then Trevor, then stood at the castle gates to see them off until the two men disappeared into the tree line.

"She'll be fine," Adrian said as they rode on at a comfortable canter, as Trevor turned one last time to look behind them, in futility. They were now far enough away that the surrounding forest obscured the castle's sky scraping spires, despite the moon being full and bright.

"I know," said Trevor, turning his attention forward. "It's not that I don't think she can handle herself - of course she can! - but I feel a little better knowing she's about as safe as she can be inside the castle."

"Mmhmm."

"I just hope... this goes smoothly. I didn't want to mention this to her, but there's other things I'm concerned about that I'd rather not involve her in."

"What do you mean?"

"I can't be certain, but the mob that burned down my childhood home... it wasn't all people from the Church." Trevor frowned. "I'm not saying this village was involved..."

"But there's a possibility."

"Yeah. Well, we'll know for sure if they start waving torches and pitchforks at me for being a fucking Belmont."

Adrian winced. He'd joked about it in the past, but given the fate of the Belmonts, it wasn't remotely funny now. "... I'm sorry I made light of that."

Trevor simply shrugged. "It is what it is. But... thanks."

Adrian made another sound of acknowledgement, then voiced the question that had to be asked. "What will you do if it turns out some of these people were involved?"

"Well, unless they're being stupidly obnoxious about it, I guess I'd have to save them anyhow - not like I can selectively let some people get eaten by night creatures and not others. And then I'd have the satisfaction of smiling in their faces as they'd have to choke down the fact that they were just saved by the devil himself," the brunet answered with pride in his voice.

"You're a better man than me, then," the half-vampire admitted. "My mother would probably be disappointed by this, but if I were faced with the very people directly responsible for her death... I don't know if I could just walk away."

"Fair enough. And hey, don't give me too much credit. All bets are off if they decide to be bastards and rub it in my face. I would have no issue trussing up some asshole and leaving him dangling in a tree as monster bait."

Adrian could imagine that very scenario. "I suppose Sypha might not be too happy with that."

"Exactly. But you get it."

They rode on, finding it necessary to slow down every now and then due to obstructions in the path - a downed tree, the breadth of a shallow, rocky stream - and to give their mounts a break. At least luck was on their side as far as evading monsters... they spotted some movement in the underbrush once or twice, but nothing came out to attack them, so they rode on unmolested. Adrian was astride the young black horse that had carried the message to his doorstep; Trevor was on the fitter of the two cart horses that had accompanied him and Sypha on their jaunt around the countryside, but the nag was neither swift nor nimble. So when they closed in on the location noted on the map, and Adrian perked up, asking Trevor if he could hear the sound of battle ahead, the hunter had no choice but to tell him to go on, that he'd catch up, as his own horse was laboring and every second counted in a life or death struggle.

Adrian slid his arm through the enarmes of his shield and kicked his mount into a full gallop, disappearing between the trees.

* * *

Author's Notes:

April 24, 2023