The Long Game

Even Monsters

He jolted suddenly out of his miserable repose. Entire body twitching violently, nodding head jerking up from the cradle of one hand. His chest heaved, his eyes burned with fire and unshed tears. He clutched at the fabric of the chair, nearly tearing it to shreds in his overanxious grip.

A soft chair. A flickering hearth. A dim room. No wailing wind. No stiffening corpses. No lifeblood pooling on the ground.

Alexander Grayson, Vlad Teppis drew a deep, shaky breath. Wiped a trembling hand over his clammy face. Felt his cursed vampire teeth exposed. Long, sharp, ready for battle. Concentrating carefully, he willed them back in and bade his heartbeat slow before it burst from his surging chest cavity.

"Alexander?"

That melodic voice. Her voice. Ilona. Mina. Her lovely voice cutting through the suffocating gloom. He looked up. She stood a ways off, near the doorway of the room. Just seeing her, hearing her voice, soothed his raging soul a bit. Just a bit.

He nodded slightly, still covering his lower face with his hand, willing it not to shake.

"Alexander, what's wrong?"

Advancing to his side, touching his unsteady hand with her soft one, Mina brandished a silver sword and shield of compassion and love. She placed herself between him and those who sought him ill, driving back the cursing, gnashing demons tormenting his wounded soul. He willed himself to look up her, though he did not, as of yet, feel worthy to gaze upon her angelic countenance.

Her lovely face was clean and clear, devoid of blood and gore. Her beautiful, blue eyes shone with concern for his current trembling state. As she smiled questioningly at him, he could see her plain, blunt, human teeth.

Simply a venomous dream? Or a prophetic vision, a portent of things to come?

"Alexander? Speak to me," she insisted calmly.

He managed an ill smile and spoke reassuringly to this woman to whom his soul was devoutly married.

"It's nothing. I'm fine."

She perched on the arm of his chair and focused her attentions closely on him.

"Did you have a bad dream? I know men get those sometimes even if they don't admit to them."

His thin, unwell smiled eased toward a more genuine one at her gentle, accurate words.

"Yes, I suppose I did," he answered laconically.

She caressed his hand soothingly with her own. Not as to a child, but as to a beloved companion.

"Good," She said lightly. "I'm glad you're a man who will admit it."

He nodded again, relaxing a little with her gentle jest.

"I am glad to have made you proud then."

She chuckled softly. He smiled, but did not laugh. Not yet. But he did feel his heart growing lighter in the gloom. Then she grew solemn.

"Would you like to share it with me? I promise I won't tell," she whispered conspiratorially.

He smiled with his eyes, brushing the backs of his fingers against her silky cheek. Her eyes slipped closed momentarily, then opened to reunite with his. She was here. She was unharmed. She could walk in the sun.

"No." He answered decisively. "But I will say sometimes achieving what you desire most can be very upsetting."

She drew closer and he reveled in her warmth, her care, her life. She glanced into the fire, then back at him, appearing to gather her thoughts carefully.

"My mother died when I was very little. I missed her so much even though I did not know her very well."

Mina's face twisted for a moment and his heart ached with compassion for her loss. She continued after a moment.

"I had heard a children's story that if you planted magic beans during a full moon, they would grow into a giant beanstalk reaching all the way up to the sky."

He could see the beanstalk now, green and thick and leafy, stretching up through the billowy clouds. Framed by the beaming sun. The warming sun.

"And so when my father asked me what I wanted for my birthday that year, I told him I wanted magic beans from the market."

Tiny, delicate Mina. Long, dark hair bound in twin braids. Big, hopeful blue eyes. His heart swelled even as it clenched. He could see her so clearly in his mind's eye.

"He sat me down on his knee. When he asked me why I wanted magic beans, I told him it was so that I could grow a beanstalk that would reach into Heaven so I could visit my mother there. I told him I would be very careful not to stay too long and promised I would always come back to be his daughter."

A mournful sigh escaped his lips at her poignant, sorrowful tale. He reached out and stroked her hair even as she gifted him with a bittersweet smile.

"Oh, Mina," was all he could manage to whisper.

She chuckled briefly at her own childish folly.

"My father kissed me on the head that day and hugged me fiercely. Then he bought me a stethoscope so that I could learn to heal the sick and infirm. So that their children may not have to wish for magic beans."

They sat quietly for a moment, listening to the crackling fire. She kept her contact with him, still calming and reassuring him.

"I have no need of magic beans," he said finally, allowing himself again the momentary privilege of gently stroking her beautiful, wavy hair.

"You are all I desire and you are here now."

Her story had taken him out of himself as she had suspected it would and he began to feel calmer. They sat together, gazing into the flickering flames for a peaceful moment of time.

It would appear that sometimes even monsters have nightmares.

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