Title: Under the Milky Way
Author: bnomiko
Rating: NC-17
Pairing(s): Trevor + Sypha + Alucard, Trevor + Sypha (w/ implied Trevor x Sypha), Sypha x Alucard, Trevor x Alucard
Spoilers: through the end of S3 + through S4
Disclaimer: "Under the Milky Way" is performed and recorded by The Church. "Cuts You Up" is performed and recorded by Peter Murphy. 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. 17: No sound to break no moment clear
When all the doubts are crystal clear

* * *

When Sypha awoke the next day, Adrian was gone. At least he'd brought up an ample amount of firewood, so it wasn't as cold as the previous morning when he had stayed in bed with her, lending what little body heat he had to offer. She was pretty much used to waking alone since the men had routinely woken up first, but there was an extra hollowness to it now. Being in a random, minimally decorated room with next to no light didn't help. She wondered if she could talk Adrian into returning to the wing they'd been living in, even if he couldn't stomach being in the room they'd been using. A little routine and familiarity would help her feel more settled.

She got up, got dressed, and headed down to the kitchen.

Adrian was stirring something at the stove. He glanced at her, managed to give her a small smile despite the bleariness in his eyes, and said, "I hope porridge is all right? I chopped some walnuts and there's honey too. I can grab some dried apricots as well if you want them."

She slowly released the breath she didn't remember holding. Things felt... normal? He seemed to be holding up well enough, all things considered. "Yes, that sounds nice."

He nodded and went to the pantry. Sypha sat down and played a bit with her ragdoll doppelganger, then on a hunch, glanced at the spot where she'd seen Adrian stash the wine the day before. The bottle was still there, but when she went to check it, it was completely empty. Frowning, she looked over the counters more carefully and noticed a second, smaller bottle that was partially stashed behind some canisters she'd tidied up yesterday. It was opened; there was still liquid in it, but it was nearly half-gone. Just how long had he been up?

She sighed, her momentary optimism already deflating. Dealing with Trevor's drinking had been one thing; he'd begun cutting back a little once they'd become a couple, and cut back even more once they'd returned to the castle... but she'd seen how much Adrian could put away in one sitting and frankly, it was alarming.

If it became a problem, it'd be another thing to address. But now wasn't the time for it.

Adrian reappeared and began dishing up breakfast. He brought her bowl over first, topped with a generous amount of chopped nuts and fruit. He returned to the stove, then came back with two more bowls.

Sypha's eyes widened. For a moment, she thought she could hear her own stuttering heartbeat.

Caught off guard by her reaction, the blond stared at her, then looked down at his hands... and it sank in: he'd made breakfast for three without even thinking about it.

There was a choked off sound, almost like a soft cry, and Sypha intuitively reached out and caught one bowl as it slipped from Adrian's suddenly slack fingers. The other one shattered on the ground, vomiting its contents across the tiled floor. Ignoring the splattered mess, Sypha's eyes shot up to Adrian's face. He looked absolutely destroyed by what he'd done.

She quickly set the surviving bowl on the table and grabbed his wrist, knowing his instinct would be to turn and flee and probably disappear into the Hold for the remainder of the day. Sure enough he began backing away, giving a half-hearted tug, but when she didn't let go, he began stammering, "I... I wasn't thinking... I didn't mean..."

"I know, I know. It's only been..." Sypha began, then she shook her head. "It doesn't matter. It's not easy to make changes to what we do, how we live. It is going to take time to adjust."

He looked away, frowning deeply. He didn't want to adjust. He wanted to throw himself into a hole, cave it in, and not emerge again. But he couldn't because he had to look after Sypha, and to a lesser extent, he'd agreed to be the guardian of the Belmont Hold. Being buried under the weight of promises was unfortunately not the same thing as interring himself.

"Adrian, sit with me," the Speaker begged, relaxing her hold on his arm slightly, so it was obvious that he had a choice; she wasn't going to force him. He seemed to be considering it, so she pressed her luck, sliding the second bowl of porridge in front of his seat. "I don't want to eat alone." Maybe he wouldn't do it for himself, but she figured he'd do it for her.

He was clearly conflicted, but in the end, he pulled out his chair, sat down, and began methodically spooning food into his mouth. Sypha did the same, though even she had to admit she could barely taste what she was eating.

Once the meal was finished, Adrian began cleaning up, when he thought he'd heard footsteps approaching. Most of the refugees were still spending their nights in the castle for safety, but they weren't supposed to be wandering around; his tolerance for such a thing was thin in light of what had happened with Saint Germain.

"Sypha..." he began, unsure at first if he should task her with it at all, but then again, she didn't want him treating her any differently than before. "Can you ask whoever that is to return to the entryway?"

She cocked her head slightly, not hearing whatever he was hearing, but she was used to that. She got up anyway and headed for the door. A minute later, she returned with Greta in tow.

"Good morning. I understand now isn't the best time, but I have something I need to discuss with you both," the headwoman began. "If possible, I'd like an answer sooner rather than later."

Adrian looked at the dishes, then rinsed his hands off and gestured at the table. Whatever it was, there was no point in pussyfooting around. The quicker he could return to wallowing in the Hold or in the recesses of his mind, the better.

Thankfully Greta wasn't one for mincing words. "I wanted to talk about the possibility of rebuilding our village here, on the grounds outside of the castle, rather than returning to Danesti."

Adrian's eyebrow lifted marginally. "A permanent move?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

Greta smiled thinly. "Quite frankly, this is a better location. You have more resources here, more arable land and wood and water. Plus this castle provides certain benefits: safety, first and foremost, but your science and knowledge too. And as much as I hate to quote Saint Germain, he was correct in that Danesti, as it stood, was indefensible."

Sypha and Adrian exchanged looks. "I don't know if we're the right people to be asking," the half-vampire began. "This is my castle, but these aren't my lands. They were Belmont lands once upon a time, but as Trevor and Sypha never married, there legally isn't anyone to grant permission."

"If you call yourself the lord of the castle, the argument can be made that these are now your lands," Greta pointed out.

"And Trevor did bequeath you the Hold, so a Belmont heir has granted you ownership of this land," Sypha commented.

"The Belmonts were excommunicated. The Church isn't going to allow us to simply lay claim to it," Adrian argued back.

"But the Church is in shambles now. The whole country is. And this land has been sitting here this whole time, unclaimed. In these times of chaos and unrest, no one will notice if a village or two appears or disappears. Just pledge fealty to whoever wrests control next, pay your taxes, and it'll be fine. My family's lived for generations that way," Greta said, hand waving off his concerns.

Adrian scrubbed at his face. Greta was advocating for the equivalent of squatting. But then again, it wasn't like they could move the castle, so what option was there but to claim the space it was sitting on?

"Now then, what's the real hold up, Alucard?" the headwoman asked pointedly, her hawk-like gaze piercing him.

Adrian looked like he wanted to be any place but there at the moment. "I'm not... used to people," the blond finally mumbled, resting his chin on his hand.

Sypha suddenly looked more thoughtful, but did not say anything.

"So just let them be used to you. And you'll get used to them," Greta replied, her eyes flickering to the two handmade dolls sitting on the table. How did this man end up in a relationship with two people? she suddenly wondered, but she didn't bring it up, nor did she ask about the dolls. "You have no issue speaking to me right now," she pointed out instead.

Adrian frowned. "You and Sypha are hardly the same as a town, or a city... or a mob. I mostly grew up here in the castle. Guests of any sort were uncommon." He averted his gaze, then dropped his chin until Greta was mostly talking to a wall of hair.

Undaunted, she tried again. "You also had no issue responding to my village's plea for help."

"It was the right thing to do," the half-vampire sighed, his fingers going to fiddle with his father's ring in his lap. "I was fully prepared to be driven away; never mind what Trevor was thinking."

Greta glanced at Sypha, almost begging for help, as Sypha put a gentle hand on her boyfriend's arm, drawing his attention back to herself. It was hard to get a read on what the redhead was thinking at the moment; Greta didn't know her that well yet.

"So we'll not put the village right up against the castle. I wasn't planning on it anyway. It blocks out too much sunlight." Greta hoped a slightly less serious approach would help to make things a little more comfortable for him and convince him to grant permission - regardless of his claim that it wasn't up to him, if he would not give consent to it, her entire plan was for naught.

Adrian only shook his head slowly. But before he could shut things down completely, Sypha interjected and said, "We'll talk it over. I know you were hoping for a decision soon, but... we need time to discuss this."

Greta nodded and stood up, pushing in her chair. But before turning to leave, she added, "I'll be honest, it's entirely possible that not everyone will want this. Assuming you grant permission, I plan on letting my people vote on it. If the majority wish to return to Danesti, then we'll be out of your hair, regardless. But you aren't entirely wrong in assuming that there are a few that may not want to get used to you, Alucard - and if that's the case, they'll be welcome to... no, encouraged to leave. I just wanted to assure you of that."

Sypha saw her out of the room, then quietly closed the door before returning to the table to sink back down into her seat.

"Is this what Trevor would've wanted?" Adrian asked, his voice barely above a whisper as he rested his chin on crossed forearms and stared at the hunter's doll.

"Yes, I think so. But that isn't what's important. What do you want to do?" the Speaker asked as she pulled her chair closer to his and began stroking his hair.

"I don't know. I know what you want me to say, but... I haven't had a good track record in associating with people. Saint Germain was just the last in a long line..."

"We've all had a rough go as of late."

Adrian nodded absentmindedly. "Before I met you and Trevor, the only human I spent any significant time with was my mother. Some of her patients were polite - or at least tolerant - and there was an herbalist and an apothecary that I'd routinely pick up supplies from. And a couple of shopkeepers in Lupu were a little friendly as long as I didn't dally or scare customers away, but that was about the extent of it."

Sypha swallowed. She'd known that he'd grown up without extended family or friends, but it was still hard to wrap her head around just how normal it had been for him to be very nearly alone. Even during their couple weeks of travel from Gresit to the Hold, Adrian had mostly stayed with the wagon under the guise of keeping an eye on it, or in his inn room, rather than spend time out and about in town. Trevor had thought him unsociable, like him; neither of them realized how undersocialized he was.

"I understand your parents worried about your safety. But I think they did you a disservice, keeping you isolated from society for so long."

"Well... their fears weren't entirely unfounded. You know, pitchforks, torches, maybe some holy water... that sort of thing," Adrian said, punctuating the statement with a heavy sigh, then immediately hand waving it away. "Oh, though I did attend a festival once... Mother thought it would be okay as long as I stayed out of the way and covered up. She bought me some sort of sticky candy, and we watched people eat, sing and dance, until some guards began coming our way and she thought it best we go. After that, I just watched from further away."

Sypha held down the sound of sympathy that tried to escape and instead kissed him on the top of the head as she mulled that over. Yes, it was obvious that Adrian wasn't fully human, but Dracula was even less so, and he had no problem leaving the castle. "Your father was able to travel though. You mentioned you might've done the same. How did he do so without issue?"

"He used a glamour. Even now I still have trouble keeping one up for more than an hour or so, so I would have waited until I had better control over it. It was something I was working on, but I admit I've slacked off on practicing entirely as it appears I won't be following in his footsteps after all. But it's all right, I'm fine simply staying here, with you."

She kissed him again. In many ways she was amazed that he'd been willing to let them back into his life, never mind his heart. It was just more proof how important they'd become to him.

Adrian turned towards her slightly, golden eyes searching over her sweet face. "Your people are persecuted as well. Yet you still insist on giving aid to others. How do you rectify the contradiction?"

"We do it for those who need it. Some will even carry it forward to others. You may think of it as being selfless, but the happier and healthier our communities are, the more everyone benefits from it." With a little hesitancy, she laced her fingers with his and added, "Your mother became a doctor because she wanted to help people as well. Enough that she was willing to risk banging on the doors to this castle. She knew not everyone would accept how she'd come by her knowledge, the long forgotten science, but she did it anyway, in order to help others."

He could only shake his head. He didn't mind that she brought up his mother, because Lisa and Sypha weren't so different, were they? And just like his mother, even after everything she'd witnessed in the world, Sypha was still so willing to help anyone who'd ask for it... "So you think I should agree to this."

"Children need a community. Maybe half-vampires do too... a place to belong." She could only give him a wistful smile. "But Adrian, you still haven't answered: what do you want?"

"I know you like having people around, that you want to help them. And your child should have other children to play with. It's not like I want to be alone. But the thought of this is just... overwhelming."

Sypha considered the wide clearing around the castle; if the castle did that upon landing, it was safe to assume that it'd do just as much damage departing. "Well Greta did say they wouldn't be putting the village right next to the castle - probably for the best, in case you do find a way to repair the engine, even if it's many years down the line. The ground around the Hold itself is probably also not stable enough for building on. So you will still have privacy, a choice in whether you want to interact with anyone outside from one day to the next." She cocked her head slightly. "Greta may have oversimplified it, but I do think you'd get used to it, if you gave it a chance. And I will be here to help you - or to shield you - if necessary."

He managed a weak chuckle. "I don't want you protecting me any more than you want me protecting you."

"Fair enough."

He rocked back in his seat, tilting his head back until his hair draped behind the chair like a sheet of satin. He sighed. "I'll think about it. If... if you want, tell Greta I'll have an answer for her by tomorrow at some point. Does that sound reasonable?"

"Yes, and I'll let her know." She paused a beat, then added, "By the way, there was something I wanted to ask you about - unrelated, but since you're already considering one request..."

"What's that?"

"I'd like to move back to our old room, or at least, the wing we were using. I just don't feel as comfortable where we're currently sleeping. The rooms have no real windows, and all our things are on the other side of the castle."

"I see..."

"And... maybe we see this differently, but I like having reminders of Trevor around. It helps me remember all that we accomplished, and the good times we shared."

... Whereas it only reminds me of loss and failure. Adrian sighed heavily, wondering why he was wired so differently. If Sypha was optimism and sunshine, he was the rainstorm that blew in to cloud the skies and drench the grounds below.

Sypha at least didn't seem upset by his lack of response. He'd already had plenty to think about, and she'd just loaded more onto his plate. "You don't need to reply right away, it's just something else to think about. Take your time." She stood up, pressing another kiss onto his brow before lightly massaging the back of his neck with one hand. "So what do you have planned for today?"

Obviously he couldn't say some of what he'd been tumbling around in his head earlier, as it would only needlessly upset her. He went with the safest alternative. "Work on the Hold a little more, I suppose. Or maybe I'll take another beer over... Why?"

The latter seemed more likely. Maybe talking to Trevor would help him make up his mind on one thing or another. Either way, anything was better than moping inside the castle, with a large wine cellar at his disposal. "I was just curious. I'll probably go check in with Greta and see what else I can help with. I don't suppose you want to pitch in?"

"If you require my assistance, I don't mind. Otherwise..."

Sypha nodded, acknowledging what he'd rather leave unsaid. "I'll look for you if we do," she said, before heading out herself.

* * *

The Speaker ended up helping the old herbalist prepare some concoctions to help those who'd been injured in battle, then accompanied a group that went to gather more firewood, just in case something was still lurking in the woods. The more she got to know the refugees, the more she thought that Greta had the right idea... it'd be best for the villagers if they could rebuild here. But how to convince Adrian that it'd be good for him too?

As lunchtime neared she grabbed some dried foodstuffs from the pantry since there weren't any leftovers to be had, tossed them in a basket, and walked over to the old estate to see if Adrian was around. Unsurprisingly he was sitting by the grave marker, two beer mugs on hand, one empty, the other holding a cluster of wildflowers. She couldn't help but smile at the obvious callback to the bouquet Trevor had gathered, though this one was decidedly less trampled on and more neatly arranged than the one gifted to Adrian. The half-vampire politely accepted her offer of lunch, picking at it off and on, but was otherwise not in the mood to talk despite Sypha making repeated attempts at conversation... or perhaps he was all talked out. He didn't seem upset per se... it was more like a pervasive melancholy had settled around him, like a fog.

After they ate, Adrian disappeared into the Hold and Sypha headed back to the castle without any real plan for the remainder of the day, but upon seeing Greta bustling around a tent that had been set up as a sort of common kitchen area, the redhead decided to make a detour, to see if the other woman had a moment to chat.

Greta took one look at Sypha's face and asked, "Would you like to have some herbal tea? I'd offer you something else, but it's all I have at the moment."

Sypha nodded, appreciating the courtesy, though she didn't really care about the tea itself.

After Greta put some water over the fire and placed a hanfdul of dried leaves in a slightly dented pot, she stepped over to some stumps that were being used as seats, invited Sypha to sit, and asked, "So what's on your mind?"

"What hasn't been?" the Speaker groaned. Greta didn't press the issue, giving her time to formulate what she wanted to say. "Is it alright if I pick your brain a little?"

"Of course."

"Adrian said he'd decide tomorrow, but I think you should do the vote anyway. Bring back a favorable number, and I think that will help sway him. He needs to know that people would actually want this, or else he'll easily convince himself that they don't."

Greta tilted her head in contemplation. "I guess I can see how that might work. Though it's going to be a slightly tougher sell, having to tell folks that they're voting on something that might not pan out in the end, because the other party is still undecided."

"Everything's been so up in the air anyhow, I think they'd understand. Both sides have to give a little to make things work."

Greta nodded. "All right, I'll see what I can do. I was planning on calling a town meeting tonight anyhow. Let Alucard know he doesn't have to rush on making his decision then, if he's still as uncertain as he was this morning." She got up to begin steeping the tea, then returned to ask, "So what else is on your mind?"

Sypha's lips tightened; she folded her hands in her lap. "It's Adrian, mostly. I know everyone here is dealing with grief and loss right now, but his is a little different. He feels guilty and... betrayed, in a sense. That Trevor made him leave. If it had been up to him, he would've been the one who stayed behind to die a heroic death, not Trevor - or at the very least he'd have gone down by his side."

"He would've left you behind?"

"To ensure Trevor didn't die alone? Or maybe to even forcibly push Trevor off to safety somewhere at the last second, at the cost of his own life? Oh yes - without even thinking about it." A wry smile touched Sypha's lips. "It would've been Adrian's ideal ending."

"To be the hero?"

Sypha gave a sad shake of her head. "Perhaps I worded it poorly. He never expected accolades or even his just due. He wants his bloodline to end with him... why not accomplish that while doing the equivalent of screaming his feelings for us from the top of the spires?"

Greta sighed heavily. She'd been joking - mostly - when she'd told Trevor that she was interested in Adrian, but the man was a walking jumble of complication. No amount of "pretty" outweighed the headache that would bring. "Maybe it would've been easier for him, but that sounds like the coward's way out."

Sypha frowned. "Adrian's... had issues with depression," she confided. It was probably okay to say that much, since it left out specifics. "It's so ingrained within him that I don't think he even realizes it's there. So this isn't a new thing, and it's not something that he'll just 'get over.' He was starting to improve, but without Trevor, he's becoming unstable. He's drinking behind my back - I already dealt with that with Trevor, but at least he didn't attempt to hide it. It's like he's slipping back down into that familiar well of sadness, and I'm afraid I'm getting pulled down with him."

The headwoman considered that, then asked quietly, "Will you stay with him?"

"I have to. No... that sounds wrong. I want to, and I intend to. I know he needs me, but I need him as well. And I want my child to have a father. It's just... difficult, because he needs my support so badly right now, even though all I want to do is cry sometimes."

"You can come cry on me, I don't mind," Greta offered. "Or yell, complain, what have you. I've gotten a lot of that the past few days."

The redhead managed a wobbly smile. Greta sure had it tough, being barely any older than Sypha herself, yet taking on the responsibilities of leading a village that had seen more than its share of crises.

"I only asked about Alucard because..." and Greta sighed, before starting over. "He's a good man, but... from everything you've described, it'll be hard on you, even without the extra pressure of a child on the way. And on top of that, well... I've been in a relationship with two other people at once. When you take out one piece, the ones that remain can't simply continue on like before."

There was truth in that, but it didn't accurately paint the whole picture either, at least not in their case. Maybe Greta's experience had differed? Sypha's relationship with Adrian was both intertwined with and separate from the one she'd had with Trevor - if the latter was strong enough, surely it'd survive even a challenge of this magnitude. "Thank you, Greta. I'm aware. But I care about him a lot - he's a kind, sweet soul, and even though we only recently decided to give this relationship a try, the interest was always there, even if we didn't act on it earlier, because he respected what I had with Trevor. If things had gone differently, I very well might've stayed here with Adrian - and only Adrian - from the get go."

Greta's gaze softened slightly. "I noticed..." she began very carefully, "you didn't say you love him."

Sypha made a soft humming sound as she tucked a wayward curl behind her ear. For the two men, love seemed to be something to fear losing, given how they'd both lost their families, how they'd had to keep their distance from others beyond that. It was unfortunate that Trevor had inadvertently reinforced Adrian's fear with his final goodbye.

"I do love him. I loved Trevor too," she said, feeling a strange sense of liberation in being able to say it without worrying about repercussions. "But they were both... a bit sensitive about such things - Adrian moreso than Trevor, for sure. We all got used to dancing around it, and then Trevor finally said it. And now..."

"Oh. That's rough," Greta said, keying in on what must've happened those last moments.

"How do you convince someone that it's not a bad thing, when they think it's some sort of curse?" Sypha groused glumly. She knew Adrian could love, she saw it in his gaze and felt it in his touch, but he shied away from asking for it, even though his wounded heart begged for it. She had hoped that Trevor could've possibly coaxed him out at some point, since he seemed to have a way of working himself under the cold façade Adrian insisted on clinging to, but now that option was lost to them. And she wasn't sure what else she could do, other than continue to offer him her affection, as much as he'd tolerate, and her patient encouragement.

Greta pat the Speaker's shoulder. She could see how much of a struggle this was for Sypha, but love didn't always make sense, nor did it always make the best decisions. And while Greta was sympathetic, this was also completely out of her wheelhouse. She'd never had a lover this despondent, this riddled with problems. So even if she wanted to give advice, she had none to give. "I... really have no idea. If you figure it out, you'll have to tell me, in case I ever have to deal with something like this again," she said in all seriousness. Then she suddenly sat straight up. "Shit, I forgot about the tea! It might be a bit bitter, but do you still want some?"

Sypha's lips twisted in a cheerless smile. "Yes, please. Any sort of distraction is good right now, even bitter tea."

Greta gave a nod of understanding, and went to pour two cups.

* * *

Sypha didn't see Adrian for the rest of the afternoon, until he emerged from the castle to summon her for dinner. She'd been helping Greta gather everyone for the town meeting but when Greta saw Adrian coming over, she quickly waved Sypha off, giving her a whispered, "Good luck," before resuming her task.

Adrian gave the headwoman a questioning look, but Sypha took hold of his hand and led him away from the growing crowd, so he accepted the retreat without protest.

The meal was fish with leeks and a large, fresh loaf of bread, evidence that Adrian hadn't stayed in the Hold for very long. As they began eating, Sypha mentioned that Greta agreed to hold the vote first, so he didn't need to make any decision on that front until later.

"Do you think... people will really want to stay here?" Adrian asked, picking a slice of bread apart into far smaller pieces than necessary.

"Greta seems pretty certain of it. I did ask a few people rather casually, what they thought; I noticed a number of them said they'd agree to whatever Greta decided was best. She's good; they really look up to her."

"So it really is up to me, then." Adrian was quiet for several moments, then looked back at Sypha. "It would please you if I agreed," he stated.

He already knew the answer to that. So instead, she said, "What wouldn't please me, is if you did it solely for me."

"Except I can't pretend that this is what I would choose for myself."

"Because you'd really prefer to be alone - or mostly alone? Or because this isn't something you ever expected?"

He didn't answer. But Sypha knew he'd never wanted to be alone - it was just part and parcel of being a feared and misunderstood existence.

"You're afraid it'll go badly," she ended up commenting.

"It might. It could. And then what? I can't move the castle; I certainly can't dig up and relocate the Hold." This entire situation was a headache. He tried to tell himself he was being paranoid, that it could all work out better than he expected, but he couldn't make himself believe it. Worst case scenario, he'd be forced to what, abandon his home and his promise? Kill everyone who posed a threat to him? Stake them outside like his father would've done, and close the doors for the last time to anyone who'd dare...

"Stop it. It won't ever get to that point; I won't let it," Sypha said firmly, as if she'd plucked every worry out of his mind.

"How?"

"Greta was pretty clear, wasn't she? Those who decide they don't want to stay won't be staying. And I'll make sure of that. Unless it's the majority - or you refuse to grant permission - in which case, they'll all return to Danesti or one of the other villages in the area, and then this is all a moot point."

He sighed. More and more what-ifs popped up and rolled around, like apples from an overturned cart, bruised and dirty.

Sypha frowned slightly, then tried for a different approach. If Adrian was obsessed with considering all the possibilities, she'd offer one he likely hadn't thought up himself. "Maybe once things are settled, we can have a festival. One you can attend, without having to hide who or what you are."

Adrian stared blankly at her for a moment, as if all his thoughts had simultaneously slammed into a brick wall, then... "You think that could happen?"

"Of course," she said with all the confidence in the world. "It may not be big or fancy, but the founding of a new town is something worth celebrating." She waited patiently, hoping that was enough to get him to start rearranging his perspective on things.

He blinked a few times. "... I'd like that," he quietly admitted, a faint spark of hope flickering in his eyes. Sypha hadn't seen it since Trevor's passing.

She smiled and put her hand on Adrian's shoulder, rubbing it. "I'll make sure it happens."

He still wasn't saying yes to the resettlement, but he wasn't saying no either. Sypha left it alone for the time being, knowing not to push too hard or too fast. "I suppose with all that's been on your mind, you didn't give any thought to moving back to the old bedroom," she instead prompted.

"I did, actually. You aired out the room."

She was a little surprised he'd gone up and checked, without being coaxed. "Did that do enough?"

He gave a half-hearted shrug. "You said another room in the same wing would be okay, too."

"Yes, if that's more acceptable to you."

Adrian rolled that around in his head but didn't immediately answer one way or another. But once they finished their meal and the subsequent clean up, he suggested that they head up to the section of the castle they'd previously lived in so he could figure out how they could best come to a compromise. It wasn't like the other two smaller rooms in the wing were free of Trevor's scent, but it was muted enough that he figured he could tolerate it overnight. Maybe in a few more days, or a couple of weeks, he could say the same about their old bedroom as well.

He ended up agreeing to stay in the room that had once belonged to Sypha, mainly because the bed hadn't been slept in since Sumi had resided there, and because the other bedroom had gotten turned into something more like a storage area, with books and extra clothes and whatever else they didn't know what to do with stacked around. As Adrian fussed around the space a bit while getting ready for bed, Sypha suddenly exclaimed there was something she wanted to show him and disappeared into the adjoining room. The blond nervously waited for her to reappear with something of Trevor's, but when she returned, she had a truly unexpected surprise for him.

"Well... it was wrong of me to take it, but it was just sitting between the broken windows, and... I had a bad feeling about leaving it there," Sypha explained as she held up the Tepes family portrait she'd saved from Adrian's childhood room. "I'm sorry for not telling you, but I am glad I did it, because it would've been lost otherwise."

Adrian's hands were shaking as he accepted it. It wasn't like he didn't have other portraits of his parents, but this was the only one that depicted the young family, and possibly the only surviving portrait where his father was smiling. It was one of the last things his father had looked at before he died. With everything going on he'd completely forgotten about it, but seeing it now, Adrian could only think, how precious it was to still have a record of that innocent time. "I only hope that my mother and father were able to return to some sort of afterlife together," he said softly, his eyes ghosting over his father's ring. He felt guilty that he hadn't spared his parents as much thought as they deserved; Trevor's passing had grabbed most of his attention.

"I believe they did. Trevor's aim was perfect. He cut them free of their bindings; I saw it, just before everything around us exploded."

He wanted to believe her; he had to, because she wouldn't lie about something like that, even to make him feel better. "I hope you're right. I hope that they're together, somewhere, and at peace."

She reached up to stroke his face, her eyes soft and gentle with sympathy and affection.

He leaned into her caress. "I suppose there's something I should give you in return," he said after a moment.

"You don't owe me anything."

"It's not something I owe you. I was going to give it to you anyway, once I finished. But maybe... it doesn't need to be finished." He set the painting aside on the desk and stepped out of the room.

Sypha sat down on the bed; it was her turn to wait. Adrian was only gone a minute and when he came back, he had a notebook that he handed her before sitting down beside her.

The redhead sucked in a breath. It was Adrian's drawing pad, the one he'd sketch in sometimes when Sypha was giving Trevor reading lessons, the one he'd shut any time someone tried to glance at it.

"Like I said, there's not really anything finished in there - they're just doodles. But maybe you can pass it on to your child when they're older, so they..." and he struggled to find the appropriate words, "can meet their father."

Sypha flipped it open and immediately had to hold it off her lap, so she wouldn't accidentally cry on the paper and ruin it. What Adrian considered "doodles" were detailed studies of her and Trevor from different angles, with a variety of expressions. Trevor laughing, scowling, even rolling his eyes. Trevor napping, using an open book as a pillow, his face peaceful. His back, as he stretched his arms up over his head... she could almost hear him grousing about how it surely must've been an hour already. Trevor's profile half in shadow, and half-lit by firelight.

Equally touching was seeing how Adrian had depicted her: yelling at Trevor with her eyes aflame, resting her cheek on Trevor's shoulder with tenderness in her gaze, walking up the stairs with a distinctly sensuous sway to her hip that only men seemed to look for. He managed to capture how her hair frizzed slightly when it rained, the way her brow creased when she was focused on a good story, the flow of her robes as magic made the fabric dance, the way her eyes crinkled with delight when she giggled.

There were pages of smaller, rougher sketches too, just bits and pieces of body parts all crammed together. Even then she could see clearly the planes of Trevor's bare chest and the curve of his mouth against the strong line of his jaw, the way she curled her bare feet after a bath and the plush softness of her lips when she pouted. There were even sketches of their hands - and it was amazing how obvious that it was their hands, no one else's - Trevor gesticulating, balling one up in a loose fist, holding a pen. The gestures Sypha made when casting spells, the way she daintily flipped the pages of a book or cupped a mug of tea.

"How did you do all of this? We did not pose for you, or even hold still long enough for you to capture the moment," she said, wonderment lighting up her voice even as her eyes misted over quite noticeably.

"I have a good memory. And I'm good at sitting still and observing things." He'd been doing it since he was a child, so it all came naturally to him.

She shut the book and held it against her chest. "It's amazing! Truly... thank you."

He nodded, then kissed her on the forehead before brushing a kiss over her lips.

She smiled at him. "My child will learn that their father was a great and courageous man. A man we both cherished, as your drawings prove. But because Trevor is not here, there are things he cannot do... things that you could." She made sure to keep all her focus on him as she voiced the hope she'd been holding onto. "Adrian... will you raise this child with me as if it were your own?"

The blond forgot to breathe for a moment. It was as enormous an ask as when Trevor had bequeathed him the Belmont Hold. But despite the additional responsibility he'd be shouldering, he was able to answer easily and with all honesty, "It would be my honor and my privilege, Sypha."

She threw her arms around him and returned his kiss, peppering smaller ones on his cheeks afterwards, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears and relief.

They held each other for a good minute, just taking comfort from their closeness. Sypha nuzzled Adrian's shoulder as she thought back to Greta's advice. She supposed the other woman had had a point... no, they couldn't continue on as they had before, but they could build on what they already had, to make it as strong as or even stronger than before.

"Will you be able to sleep tonight?" Sypha asked after the moment passed, as she got up to place the drawing pad next to the family portrait on the desk. She picked up a book she'd brought back along with the painting as she planned on doing some light reading before bed, but otherwise they were pretty much done for the evening as far as she knew. Hopefully it'd be another quiet, safe night, like the one before.

"I think so?" He took a light sniff of the air; it was still tolerable. "I'll try. But I... have a lot to think about," he admitted as he slipped into bed beside her, draping an arm over her lap.

"I know. But rest tonight." She lightly ruffled his hair, and he made a disgruntled sound as he snuggled into the pillow, drawing a tiny giggle from her. Stroking his hair like one would a cat was fine, but fluffing it up like a dog's was right out. "You can think tomorrow."

Easier said than done. But he saw no reason to argue with her, so he pulled up the covers a bit tighter and shut his eyes and let the sound of pages turning lull him to sleep.

* * *

Author's Notes:

July 20, 2023