The Drowning Men

This is the sequel to Roses Mixed With Blood

this fic is respectfully dedicated to Shadowkitty for showing me that movie with the minibus that I sat and read through unperturbed, clearly more sank in than I thought.

Logan’s still getting the dreams, ‘cept the dreams have changed.

Elf’s still falling, falling in that black dark water, screaming a silent scream as his lungs fill with water and burn, knowing that he cannot die, that the pain cannot end. And Logan has to watch. Watch him falling down, down into the depths. There’s no choice, he’s just watching. Somehow he knows that there’s no bottom, nowhere for Kurt to land, nothing to touch but water. But still he’s reaching out. He’s reaching out for Logan, as the bubbles escape from his mouth, and the water presses down on him. His ears begin to bleed, are bleeding dark blood, not quite human, as his eardrums rupture. Another silent scream, but Logan knows, somehow, this one is louder, would be louder, if only he had air instead of water inside him.

And his eyes are wild, wide open, yellow almonds in the darkness. And Logan knows they’re staring up at me, and they’re so very afraid. And they’re looking at him, somewhere beyond the water, pleading with him. At least, thinks Logan, he thought they were pleading, now he ain’t so sure; he’s not sure if those eyes of his, those strange compelling eyes are pleading with him, or accusing him.

And now Logan’s back on land, or rather he’s always been on land, the whole time that he’s been watching the brackish water pour into my friend’s lungs, he’s been here on the shore. Something about that tries to tear holes into Logan’s sleeping mind, but just can’t get a grip, as if it, or he, is falling.

Here among the palm trees and sand. Since when was Palm Beach in Rumania? The thought crosses Logan’s mind but briefly, and he’s standing on the shore, and he’s got this red rope in my hands. It’s bright red, not blood red, but a clean red, like kid’s poster paints. And it’s warm and soft in my hands. Warm. Flesh warm. Soft. Flesh soft. It’s already been looped up like it should be, so he just throws it underarm, out onto the night dark sea. Somehow it’s light up here, but night out there. And somehow he doesn’t find that weird, or maybe Logan’s just distracted.

The rope didn’t do anything. He’s too far under and it’s just floating on top, lifting up and down in time with the lazy rhythm of the waves. It’s hard to believe the turmoil underneath, when you see the languid motion of the sea, hard to believe that Elf’s under there, trapped, drowning, yet not drowning.

Logan hauls the rope back in, digging his heels into the sand, desperate for a better grip, desperate to rescue his friend. And then he ties the end to one of the palms and the other round him and wades in. The water’s cold, colder than winter, colder than ice; and the cold’s biting into him, tearing away chunks of heat, of flesh, as he progresses further and further in. The water’s around his armpits and then Logan’s swimming, getting face-full after face-full of cold salty death for his trouble.

And he’s swimming out away from shore; and ducks his head under looking for Kurt. The cold is terrible, pressing in my eyes, pushing at his mouth, his nose. He struggles to tilt his body upwards, towards the surface, like a skin diver, only to find that he’s being pulled down. The red rope is spiralling out behind him in the darkness, like red thread against dark velvet, like blood on onyx. Like an umbilical cord, pulling him back into the darkness from whence he came. Lack of air is tinting the darkness red, his chest is growing tighter and tighter, and finally, he can deny the reflex no longer, and breathes in water. It should be salt, brine, water at least; but no, it tastes of blood.

And the last thing Logan notices, as the darkness wells up behind his eyes, is the tarnished suit of armour he’s wearing.

***

Kurt can hear Logan thrashing from the back compartment of Professor Xavier’s prized Rolls-Royce, or at least, what was the Professor’s prized Rolls-Royce (Kurt doesn’t like the abbreviation Roller, it lacks the style and finesse and anyway he just likes rolling the “r”s , or trying to at any rate, and savouring the sound as it rolls,- what else?- off his lips) before Logan did some impromptu renovations and took it on an extended test-drive.

Almost certainly without Herr Professor’s permission, Kurt is almost certain about this. He still hasn’t quite plucked up the courage to ask Logan about their departure, which made fast look leisurely. For someone who had welcome death so very recently, stood there on the crumbling parapet watching motes of red sandstone fall into the waves and then executed a perfect dive and glided into eternal darkness; he seemed, so he thought, remarkably reticent about being on the receiving end of an irate Wolverine’s claws. Unglaublich. Wirklich unglaublich.

He listened to the broken laboured rhythm of his friend’s breathing. At least somebody else was having such disrupted sleep as he’d had this morning, waking barely after he’d fallen, shaken half to death by Logan, who was quite… nervy now he came to think of it. Half to death, good one, he was already halfway past death. Breathing, nil; heartbeat, nil; feel like a lie-down, Herr Wagner? No, not terribly; actually what I really want is a raw steak.

Waggishness as the last resort of the terminally (prima! Another stupid phrase!) bored, or at least those with nothing better to do, except step out of the car and become crispy-fried Nightcrawler.

Kurt’s not sure that’s better anymore; he thought it was, but now... Maybe the blood’s been doing strange things to his brain. He’s not sure how his brain’s working at any rate, he pretty sure loss of circulation causes brain-damage. Maybe that’s why he isn’t thinking so clearly now. Until he’d actually seen Logan, the plan had been simple. Find Logan, get Logan to chop his head off, be properly dead. No more strange appetites, no more fancying himself damned for all time; just sweet merciful oblivion.

He’s still not sure where it went wrong. But right now, he’s more than willing to trust Logan. Logan seems to know what to do, when he’s hungry, what to eat. Scheisse, he really shouldn’t have thought about food, or rather blood, rich cloying blood like rust on his lips. That same half-sweet metal tang. There’s nothing to eat out here, he can tell. Nothing. Except Logan.

He really doesn’t want to think about that option. Not at all. Or how he could tell by the change in Logan’s breathing that he’d been lulled to sleep by the sun that was doubtless beating down on them. Come to think of it, the car was getting rather hot, the windows behind the hastily nailed down tarpaper were closed, or the paper would surely flap; yet he didn’t seem to be getting hot himself under his short velvet fur.

And he’s still finding it disturbing to be able to divine Logan’s movements, Logan’s actions from those small sounds of breathing and the rub of denim on the leather of the driver’s seat. Is that what the world is like for him, the amazing Wolverine? Now he can understand why it scares him so, he thinks he could get lost in the noise forever, want to listen for all eternity, food and sleep and life itself sacrificed on the altar of sound. And then there’s the other thing, how aware he is of every gesture Logan makes in his sleep, of every shuddering breath as he fights invisible demons, how they drag his mind headlong into new and terrifying places. Is that why Logan forever fears going mad?

Is that why Logan seems to want to be never alone? Despite his loud protestations to the contrary that he’s a loner, that he’s safer alone, he’s stayed with the team, and now he’s staying with Kurt. Is he as afraid of what might happen as Kurt is? Kurt thinks for a moment of a flurry of crisp whiteness, of a hunger sated, and then the thought’s gone again. And so, Logan had refused to leave the automobile to get help. Insisted on staying with him, on waiting ‘til dark to head back down the road. Nonsense, he was just worried about what havoc the monster who was once his friend would wreck unattended. In a car, in the middle of the day, in a road running through shade less fields. And Kurt is glad of it.

He's also surprisingly glad, and not for shallow vengeful reasons, when Logan finally wakes from his tormented sleep. Whatever demons his friend was wrestling with, they did not sound pleasant.

***

It’s getting dark, but the fields still look inviting, Logan can see a farmhouse just in front of the horizon and suddenly going there seems such a better idea than walking back down the road towards Rome. He can almost taste the apple pie, almost imagine that farm ma’am smiling at him in the kitchen as her boys so fetch the truck and work on it in that big candy-apple red barn of theirs. He can’t see them from here, but he knows the bracing struts will be painted a bright, brilliant white.

The wheat in the fields in golden like the stuff you see on cereal boxes, glossy with those little hairs at the end of each grain looking like triggers on a Venus fly trap plant. Logan’s not sure why he was thinking of carnivorous plants, just as he’s not sure why Kurt felt the need to bar his way, to stop him walking out into the lush fields. Kurt’s arm is still up against his chest, when he hisses with a strange Germanic urgency, “Logan, not everything is as it seems here,” and the Elf bows low and plucks a stalk between thumb and forefinger.

The corn turns grey and crumbles between Kurt’s fingers, as he holds it there, delicately, as if it were a fine china cup brim full of tea, or perhaps a butterfly befallen to cyanide and now transfixed upon the daintiest of pins. He’s holding it there so that Logan can see it, take in every moment as the colour fades, and the ear of corn turns first white, and then grey and then begins to slowly vanish into dust. “This is not a good place to be, mein Freund,” he says, as if Logan needs him to say it.

Logan can tell full well that this is not a good place. The dusk is tinged oddly in the sky, clouds purple like bruised flesh and the world below yellow and green like puss seeping through an old wound, like gangrene, as it’s about to claim some seafarer’s life as he lies in the shadow of the creaking mast. Logan thinks the image’s strange, until he hears that quiet creaking on the breeze; he’s pretty darn sure Elf’s already picked up on it. There’s a tension in the fur on the back of his neck, his head’s moved forward, eager to seek out the source. No, not so much eager, as alert. There’s a difference, a hunter is alert to the prey, his dog is eager for it.

As the adrenalin begins to surge in his blood and pump life into his still sleep sodden limbs, Logan wonders, not for the first time in his life, which of them is him.

But that’s a long standing problem and he has more immediate ones at hand, chest, Elf’s still pressed in close, as if he thinks he might still run unheeding into this false oasis. What he really wants to know is how Elf could sense this, when he couldn’t. Elf said they were alike now, but now…

“Logan, can’t you smell it?” so he wasn’t the only one with that question, “Like carrion. Like rotting meat and psychic pestilence. There’s something very wrong out here, very wrong indeed. Liebe Gott, I think I’m going to be sick,” and Elf proved he was still very much Elf, teleporting away in a panic and leaning with his hand on the Roller, retching fruitlessly. Must be a side effect of the liquid diet, Logan thinks for a moment, and then curses himself for being so blasé about his friend. Hadn’t this morning taught him anything?

Elf might be looking good, okay that might be pushing things a bit far, but he was far from normal. And if Chuck’s little Exorcist moment didn’t prove anything, it proved that Elf was a lot more hurt than he let on. And Logan was fucking Einstein. ‘Course Elf hurt, he had his throat ripped out and got free unlife membership of the legions of the damned. That would shake anyone up.

He’d kept telling himself that he was going to help Kurt, help Kurt cope with the transformations that were clearly alien to him. And he was going to do it, stop imagining, stop trying to place himself in Kurt’s place and trying to take on Elf’s pain like some crackpot psychic. Go on Logan, he tells himself, do the part where you heal the lame and cure the blind. And tell them to donate their hard-earned cash to the Church Of The Divine Resurrection Of The Divinely Resurrected. Like he said, stupid.

So instead he’s going to do what he ought to have done the moment Elf turned up, be a real friend and hold his hand every step of the goddamn blood-sucking way, even if it looked a little fey. He’s going to hold his hand, he’s going to walk him out of the woods, he’s going to stay by his side and walk him out of wherever the fuck he was. Still in the dark, alone in the dark, choking on his own blood, alone with a monster; and Logan’s going to walk him out of there one bloody step at a time. Ask him questions, get him used to his new life, find that battered innocence of his and polish it up until nobody noticed the dents.

That was the plan, sure there were other bits that he’d come up with earlier, that he’d latched onto first; but that was the plan at once what he was doing and why he was doing it, the alpha and omega of all plans. Since when did he start channelling Elf? Since Elf needed channelling, Logan guessed, since Elf needed him to carry on being Elf.

That was the plan. This is the reality. Logan still hesitant turns and says what he’s thinking, “Elf, how do you know that? I can smell something bad, but I don’t know what, and I wouldn’t have noticed if you hadn’t opened your trap about it,” he didn’t mean it to sound so curt, so tough; sure, he’s playing sensei, but the guy he’s teaching is still walking wounded material.

“Well,” said Kurt, managing to turn the double-u into a vee again, with flawless accuracy. Given that Xavier gave the whole gang telepathic English lessons, even the ones who claimed they didn’t want or need them, when he rounded them up from all ends of the Earth, Kurt should be speaking in such flawless tones that the Queen of England would run lookin’ for a voice coach; Logan had long since put this down as one of his friend’s little idiosyncrasies (he would have to thank Charley for that word), a way of taking his homeland with him. That and Elf was a showman at heart, “One, I was raised by one of the most powerful witches in Bavaria and you pick things up even if you’re kicked out of the caravan during magic school.”

“Magic school, huh, Elf? Sounds like something Kitty might read about,” Logan was trying to draw him out, keep him comfortable in the middle of a field of Venus flytrap grain. Perhaps he needed to check on his priorities here.

“How do you think Amanda learnt her mother’s witchy ways? Osmosis? I got kicked out of the caravan for that, no good tempting the devil further than he is already,” Okay, thought Logan, that sounds weird, “so I went and ran about and stole apples, or I went to sleep on top of the caravan. It was very warm. Two, I can smell blood really well, scarily well and it’s rather overwhelming right now.”

Yeah, hence the retching, it was that or making the Elf’s stomach water, and Logan knew which one he preferred, and Kurt preferred for that matter.

“There’s something bad here,” he says, it is not a question, he can feel it now, digging into the metal of his bones, and then there’s the whole poisoned oasis vibe that’s coming off this place in waves. And the empty car lying in the ditch further down the road, he hadn’t noticed that when he was trying to fix the roller, it was as if just didn’t want to go, “Somethin’ bad that stops cars and they don’t have owners no more.”

Elf looked him straight in the eye, and those almond eyes, looking down that blue nose covered in indigo peach fluff, said it all. Yes, there was something bad here; yes, it was stopping the cars; and yes, the carrion smell and the handy-dandy psychic illusion are all connected.

This is not a good place, but that was before they arrived here; now, it is an even worse place, if you are the rube behind this whole Wizard Of Oz gone bad shebang.

As it turned out, they didn’t have to go looking for trouble, trouble came looking for them. Trouble came coming like a fisherman out to check his nets, hoping for a prime catch of men, drowning there in the nets, trapped yet still alive; just waiting for the fisherman. And when trouble came, it came in a fleet.

Dark shapes at the edge of the corn, that’s what Logan noticed first, Elf had been sniffing hard, something causin’ the fur on his neck to stand like it had been rubbed the wrong way, his back beginning to arch like an irate cat, his mouth open and not quite gasping. He turned and saw that Elf was following the same dark shapes, and getting more buggy by the second. Fuck. No scent.

Looks like it’s going to be a family reunion, Logan thought, like Elf would ever have a family like this. Sure, they might smell of diddly-squat to him, but he knew Elf had their scent. Is this like wolves? Do packs attack lone animals on their turf, tearing at tits pelt, filling their mouths with its blood, as it runs wounded and ragged from the fray? The shadows were coming closer, becoming more distinct from the grey, dead corn with every step.

Moonlight glinted on fangs and hands like claws, fingers curved other like those of some old guy who plays shuffleboard but with sharp nails stained the colour of blood and tough strained tendons holding them like steel, like weapons. He could smell the blood on them now; it was like a mist of perfume, in an elegant bouquet of decay and death. He could see old blood crisped on their shirts like ketchup and flaking like scabs. Fuck.

With all of the X-men, they could barely starve off one of these monsters. Sure that was old Vald himself but what if they were anywhere near as strong? Dracula had thrown him about like a rag doll and then stolen his mind for an encore, setting him against his friends, stealing his sanity and turning him into a pet. What could this many of them do? What would they do to Kurt?

He hunkered down, afraid, pessimistic but still wanting to fight them all the way. He wasn’t going to mess around with crosses here, he knows they’re no good with him now, and he’s too afraid of getting Elf with it anyway, as if it had hurt him last night, rather than make him laugh a deep velvet laugh and reach out. Blood was dripping from his claws, as he laughed, Elf’s blood dripping from his claws as he just stood there and laughed like it was a paper cut or a lover’s caress. Claws out and ready as the monsters circled round and came closer, showing that he wasn’t compliant prey.

Logan heard a low growl and was surprised to find that it was his own, and his teeth were bared like a wolf, no like a wolverine, like the last animal on Earth you wanted to get into a corner. He didn’t fancy that these guys knew much about Wolverines, but from the look of it, they sure knew a lot about killing and eating (or mebbe the other way round) folks out on their Sunday drive. Adrenaline began to sure in his blood, it should have been taking the edge of his fear, but instead it was just making him skittish. He turned to Elf at his back, only to find him gone.

Gone, striding out in the dark mass of vampires, his white fangs gleaming white in the moonlight in contrast to theirs dank with the film of old blood. Standing tall, arms out-stretched, trying to make himself look big, bigger; and scarier. And he was sweeping his head around trying to look at all the vampires at once, trying to stare them down, tell them that his cojones where bigger than their cojones. Maybe vamps didn’t rate you by your cojones, but the sentiment was there: I am big and scary, you do not want to fuck with me.

The vampires on Logan’s side tried to take advantage of his distraction, of his awe at this marvellous, instinctive, beautiful killer, with the thousand watt smile and a heart of gold. The corn cracked into dust as they leapt and the blades at the end of his arms whirled around as if pulled by a sort of gravity, decapitating the first and cutting another up like deli ham, only for him to be pulled back at the last second by his buddies kicking and screaming. Sure didn’t look happy about the save, about being relegated to the substitutes’ bench.

No time to think. More trouble on the way, fanged trouble, willing to fight tooth and claw, just like him. Elf had told him last night, that they were alike now, more alike than ever, more alike than would ever seem possible. He’s fought people like him, Creed and others, but not all at once, not so many and not so fast, all he has to do is make one mistake and…

Screams behind him. Oh Jesus, Elf.

He turns, he feels something heavy and angry land on his back, but he doesn’t notice. He doesn’t notice because all Kurt’s creeps are screaming, burning; smoke’s pouring from their collars, from their shirt-cuffs; the brighter ones are trying to drop and roll but it isn’t helping them. One of them runs past with steam bellowing out of his eyes and trailing behind him and his hair on fire. Logan can smell burning hair, burning flesh already half-rotten. And the heavy struggling lump screams into his ear, makes a half-hearted swipe at his throat and falls back on to the diseased corn.

The corn’s grey like ash and has caught on the breeze, getting into eyes and mouths as it’s churned up by the fleeing burning vampires as they begin to fall like expired roman candles. It was nowhere near as spectacular as you would expect. It isn’t like some guy running out of a house on fire, the shirt on his back burning and a child in his arms crying for his mother with a voice made hoarse with smoke. Nothing like that at all, this feels blank, distant, as if they were back at Salem Center watching a third-rate B-movie, and finding the popcorn so much more interesting. Or rather Elf found the popcorn more interesting, Logan had just watched Elf, skittish and nervous at the back of the film-fest crowd and wondered how being in an audience terrified the unstoppable showmanship in his soul.

Kurt’s just standing there with a dazed expression on his face, his every movement showing his confusion.

For a moment, Logan was just as confused until he looked, until he actually saw rather than just gaze blankly, actually saw, not with his eyes but his mind. This would make his sensei proud if only sensei was not an immortal Japanese demon with a taste for hijacking bodies and would probably have been cheering on the bite boys at the sidelines like the soccer-mom from hell.

“Breathe in, breathe out, see the world as it is, young one, not as you would want it to be.” That was a joke, the next day he’d seen sensei laugh as a man plunged his sword into his chest, the laughter getting louder as he repaid him in kind; and he still hadn’t cottoned on to it. It was a wonder he was here at all at that rate. And so Logan saw.

And knowledge flows in Logan’s head, through his eyes like a spirit seeking to steal him away, like his sensei, like Ogun. Knowledge flowed in from some strange place and it felt good. And suddenly he wants to laugh, laugh like a demon samurai who turned to the darkest of arts arcane to cheat death forever, laugh like the world is ending and he’s just seen the joke.

He believes. Logan believes in something, that’s why the vampires burned. Logan believes. Sure, he said once that he don’t believe in anything he can’t see, and he stands by that, still doesn’t. Tried it once, back at Dunkirk, and it didn’t work, Spunky Simmonds still got his brains blown out, stupid kid fed stupid ideas that they had Right and God on their side and there is nothing more glorious than to die for one’s country. Yeah, right tell that to Spunky, kid falling back screaming, the sniper too bad a shot to make it clean, falling back with half his face blown away, and red ribbons on grey; and the kid’s still screaming, no words, just screaming as he tries to push his face back on the too white bones. Spunky (stupid nickname for a stupid kid, too young to die, too young to join up even) flailing and screaming and falling back into the mud and sand, and Logan did what he had to do, what he did, and what he did wasn’t very nice at all. Logan still has dreams, old dreams, of the boy screaming and holding the kid close, and the sick crunch of a breaking neck.

No, Logan doesn’t believe in sky castles, doesn’t believe in men with long beards and justice, he doesn’t believe in angels. Or spirits, or crystals (he once had a girl who surrounded her bed with the stuff to give off positive energy; he went to sleep) or the Great Gods of the North. No Logan believes in nothing but tangible things. And Logan believes in Elf.

Logan believes in Elf, and the vampires are dust.

Even Elf with his make-shift cross only managed to get Dracula to back off. If this is what belief can do to vampires, the cross lying on the floor, snatched away in the dark, what had that done to Kurt, what had that done to the monster the scent-less sound-less thing that dragged him away into eternal night? Logan’s thinking too much again, he tells himself, and more to the point, this is making him uncomfortable in their triumph, making him ask questions with answers he never wants to hear. Unless Elf chooses to tell him, of course, Logan will lead Kurt out of the dark every step of the way, and if he needs to talk, then they’ll do just that. And he’ll stay close, as if they’re tied together; no-one will steal his Elf from him again.

***

They didn’t need to talk, some things go beyond words. They had to go out across the field, bring light into the darkness, make things safe, check for survivors. Also, they had to find whatever the fuck was rooting the car to the spot, or it would be a very long walk without any cover from the encroaching dawn, and Logan was not leaving Kurt here, in the darkness, in the shadow of death, not for any reason at all.

He hasn’t told Kurt that he knows why all the vamps went up in smoke, doesn’t want to rock the boat, doesn’t want to be misunderstood. Doesn’t want to scare Kurt. Doesn’t want Kurt to run away back into the darkness, not now, not now they’re so close to the light, so very close to the shore, not now that they’ve broken the surface. Logan doesn’t want to see Kurt fall again, falling into darkness, falling beyond his reach; it’s bad enough in the dreams, he doesn’t want them to become real. The dreams to become real, that is, something else though… he just doesn’t quite understand. When did he stop being Mr Instinct and swap places with Kurt?

The corn is brittle against their legs as they wade through the field, and it tears as their pants only to dissolve into grey-white ash, clinging at them, rising upwards on the still air and trying to invade their mouths and noses. Elf’s pushing back the reflex, the learnt response of sneezing, and Logan can see how hard he’s trying, Logan can see through the tears as the stuff works his way into his eyes. This stuff is just as… what? Just as malicious as the guys who made it, and seems to be full of malice, trying to kill them to please its blood-drinking masters.

Hairs to catch them, hairs to spring the trap, close the jaws, trap them in the belly of the beast. Logan doesn’t want to think of the implications, of whether they’re working on getting free or getting more and more entwined in the snare, thrashing about like fishes in a net, tangling themselves tighter in their attempt to escape.

And sure, the barn’s there, but no longer candy apple red, hadn’t been for a long time; the elements had faded it to the colour of rotting meat, the paint flaking off at the slightest touch to reveal decaying timber and wood beetles. Logan’s beginning to realise what Kurt meant when he was yapping about psychic pestilence, this whole place smells sick, looks sick, feels sick.

There are times when Logan’s amazed that he remembers what sick feels like, there are too many holes in his memory, he doesn’t remember getting sick, but he remembers the whole sensation of being sick, the sort of sick where sweat runs down you and there’s a filthy pestilential itch underneath the skin and the thing you most want to do is scratch it out, but the sweat is eating you up, eating you up, and every movement seems to take millennia and the strain of moving that hand, scratching that itch, is just too much. This feels worse, it churns the stomach and turns your eyes inside out; the whole place feels like a fever dream, miles to go before you sleep, a lucid nightmare. And the closer he’s getting to the barn, the worse it gets.

And Logan wonders, does Kurt feel this at all? He was trying to loose his lunch back at the car, but that was the blood, now he seems fine, if a little tense, nerves strung out like a violin, or like a cat finding itself in a violin-string factory. Other people dream his dreams. Kurt was sleeping the sleep of the just or the dead, back there, back at the mansion. Other people dream his dreams, are other people feeling this for him?

***

Kurt found her in one of the outbuildings, tied tight to some decrepit rusting hunk of farm machinery. Kept there like leftovers in Tupperware and foil. She said her name was June. She had red hair, what were the chances that her folk were art-lovers. Or bought cheap pretty calendars for their trailer-home. You can never really tell. All people scare just the same.

When Logan gets there, tracking back on Kurt’s faint and peculiar half-scent, a thing that smelled of blood and energy; the kid’s trying to push herself further back into the corner of the hut, the washing-line chaffing at her wrists as she pulled in on herself. Elf keeps holding out his hand to her, whispering small words of comfort, telling her over and over that she’s safe, and if only she will let him cut through her bindings, they will soon be safe and away from here. Typical Elf.

And she’s freaking terrified, she reeks of it, like week old guacamole sandwiches, one of the many reasons why, loathe as he was to do it, Logan did the catering for every B-movie marathon Elf had ever declared, Kurt’s tastes were interesting to say the least.

Fuck, thinks Logan, she’s terrified of Elf, why the fuck is that a surprise? I mean she’s spent the last coupla days minimum kept in the kitchen cupboard by a bunch of ravenous blood sucking creeps, sure she’ll recognise another when he comes in like a knight in shinning armour. The only thing that didn’t figure at all, was why Kurt hadn’t caught on, wait a minute, it was all the freaking blood out there, wasn’t it? Elf said he could smell blood good. Good enough to stop him picking up on her?

Time to switch places again, do Kurt’s thing, soothe and calm the scared, and hold them fast, he waved Kurt back, “You don’t need to be afraid, miss, he’s a good vampire, aren’t you Elf?” Please, play along Kurt, thinks Logan, the girl’s on the verge of pissing herself, and it’s a miracle that she’s even this clean, clearly the vamps liked to give their supper bathroom trips, or more to the point, give themselves extra opportunities to intimidate her.

“Ach, ja! Some people say that I’m a very good vampire indeed,” a wide open smile, with a flash of white fangs and Elf’s head at a jaunty angle, as if he’s waiting for a drum roll or the badda-boom of a snare drum.

Logan was not expecting that. “What, you’ve had time to get yourself laid since you got bit, Elf?” he doesn’t mean it to come out so hard, the idea, or at least Elf’s idea, was to keep up a banter, a light cheerful banter, reassure the girl and take her mind off things.

“Alas! No, but only through lack of opportunity, Logan,” Kurt smiles again and seems possessed of enough good sense to keep the fangs out of it this time. “Dating opportunities for the recently dead seem a little thin on the ground. Perhaps I should start blind-dating, it worked for Frankenstein’s monster, didn’t it?” Movie jokes. How more like Elf can you get? Not that Kurt’s ever stopped being Elf, not even when he was sitting there under the moon licking blood from his fingers, nothing’s changed. Logan keeps telling himself that, in the hope that repetition would make it true.

And then, once the girl gets her breathing under control, he’s suddenly serious again, “Logan, I really suggest you stay with our new friend here, don’t argue, you can keep her safe better than I, and I go and look for whatever’s keeping us here and mop up any resistance. Es scheint dir schoen? Gut,” and he disappears back into the shadows, as if he were never there at all, he doesn’t even wait for Logan to answer, he just assumes.

And he assumes right, thought Logan, it’s not as if he can leave the kid here with a vampire, even if he’s as sweet and good natured as Elf, so he begins, “Say, what’s your name, pun’kin? You sit still and I’ll have your hands free in a sec, all you have to do is trust me…”

***

Elf’s back fast, an explosion of brimstone, swirling round in the confined space of the shack and his almond eyes glowing in the darkness. Those eyes are the only thing visible for a moment and then he steps out of the darkness. June nearly screams and Logan is less than amused. The kid is nice but scared, and Herr Vatch-Me-Appear-Suddenly Wagner seems to have forgotten that.

“Logan, you have to get out of here now, get back to the car, take this huebshes Maedchen with you and get back to the car and be ready to make like…” Kurt pauses for a moment, “something very fast indeed.” Okay maybe Elf has a reason, but still to scare the kid like that. That wasn’t very nice, okay, Logan isn’t very nice, but at least he’s consistent, or at least he was consistent, until he started playing musical chairs with the Elf. Logan opens his mouth to tell him so, but, Elf starts again before he can find the words, “One, there’s still some of our new friends out there, I think I’ve dealt with them all, but I can’t really be sure, everything smells so…” a significant pause, this one, “…bad; two, I’ve found what’s keeping everything like this, the cars stuck, the farm a psychic trap, the corn weird. And it’s really imperative that you get out of her now.”

“One question, Elf, why is it so imperative?” Logan knows he doesn’t have to ask, that Elf wouldn’t be saying that unless he didn’t have to, wouldn’t be saying that unless there was some danger, and shouldn’t need to explain himself, should just have Logan’s trust, the way it’s always been, the way it always will be.

But June’s frightened bad, and he doesn’t want her to start crying again, and she’s got red hair and sure, she’s older than she first looked, less of a kid and more of a woman, but she needs reassuring. She needs to know that the nightmare will end, that there’s a happily ever after, that dawn will come and everything shall be as it should be. And she’ll be driving away from here in a stolen Rolls Royce with a half crazy mutant and an undead impresario with a strange affection for bad movies.

“Because I’m going to kick their whole magic circle and dark altar combo over, and I don’t want you here when whatever’s going to happen happens,” sure, there are more graceful ways of saying it, but this is probably the quickest and the best, and the quicker it’s said, the less time for the kid, June, to think and the more time for Elf to kick the thing. Logan thinks for a moment, what Elf means is that it’s dangerous and could get more so once he does it, and he wants us away.

And then, Logan’s half-pulling half-carrying June through those fields of ash-corn, through the choking dust; he gave her his shirt to put over her mouth, to keep the dust out as it flies and swirls around them as if it knows Elf’s up to something and wants them to stay in the trap.

They’re almost there, almost at the black bulk of the Roller, when everything goes white. And they’re lit from behind by a light brighter than the sun, like burning magnesium or… a bomb, a really big bomb…

***

…when they pick themselves up off the ground, up off the ash-like dust, Elf’s already there, sitting on the hood of the Roller, as if nothing happened at all, “does anybody need a hand up?” he’s doing his suave and sophisticated act, a mixture of Errol Flynn and James Bond, and Logan wants to punch him, and they’re still here, they’re still alive.

Or at least they’re as alive as they were when they started this crazy jaunt. “Can it, Elf. Nice to see you avoided the big bang”

“Ach. You’ll never be rid of me now, you know that.” Why are we behaving like this, Logan thinks.

“Suits me fine, now get the blanket out the back for June, here. You’re coming in the front with me, so you get to see the stunning landscape, uh” There’s nothing for as far as the eye can see except burnt earth and floating ash. It’s like there’s been one heckuva forest fire, the sort people don’t walk out of as if they have a dinner engagement with an evil mastermind with a serious cat fetish, “Elf, I think you overdid it.”

“There’s much to be said for the cleansing power of fire, or in this case, a big bang,” replies Kurt in his knowledgeable voice that Logan swears he modelled on Xavier and practiced in front of the mirror when doing his teeth, and gets back out of the car proffering the blanket as if he thinks June will appreciate it more if it has minimal vampire contact time.

It only sinks in once Logan’s at the wheel and his passengers are carefully cocooned in the safety of the car, “Elf, that wasn’t blood on your face, was it?”

“Ah…” the sound of a prevaricating Elf is never a pretty one, and clearly Kurt soon decides that he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one, “Yes, I got a little peckish and I met a most disagreeable fanged gentleman.”

“You can eat other vampires?” Might as well make it clear to the kid that Elf’s no threat, and ask the big questions, like how Elf found out another time, another more secluded time, when Logan’s had time to think.

“So it seems. I fancy I made rather a pig of myself. I think I could sleep for days. Gute Nacht, Fraulein June.”

There’s no more sound from the back, so it seems that Elf’s as good as his word on this one, Logan tries for a moment to pick up on his sleeping breath, only to find silence, and then he asks June if there’s anything she wants to talk about. There isn’t. She’d much rather he sang for her, like her father used to, and calm away her fears. Logan struggles to find one that’s not about the wreckers, the drowning men, who lead ships astray and onto the rocks and the doomed drowned sailors condemned to a watery grave for a quick profit. He thinks he can’t find one, that his mind’s stuck, and then he has the answer…

“I’d like to be, under the sea…”

Sure, it isn’t his answer, but it could well be hers.

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