Once Bitten

Setting/Continuity: In canon, the X-men fought Dracula twice, once in Uncanny X-men 159, where Ororo/Storm became the vampiric thrall of the arch vampire, and again in Uncanny X-men Annual 6. Both rock seriously and are well worth reading. This is set after those two terse encounters.

Lying there in the dark, Logan’s mind went back to that day. The day Kurt Wagner died. Actually, “went back” was the wrong way to say it, because he’s never really left. Instead the events of that day just replayed themselves again and again. It was like a broken record, or a movie theatre where the projectionist just kept running the same reel again and again and never showed the part where the hero returned and said something glib along the lines of “Aha! You thought I was dead!” Records, huh, he was showing his age there, and movies, Christ, movies. Elf always had been the movie buff, dragging him into the Salem Movie Fest, because he didn’t want to go into the dark on his own.

Ironic, the guy with perfect night vision, didn’t want to be alone in the dark. But it wasn’t the alone he was afraid of; it was being in the audience, the very human, very normal, audience. He was jittery, on edge, unused to being in the dark as opposed to the limelight of the big top. He wasn’t used to not being remote from them, high up on the trapeze or the high wire. He wasn’t used to leaving the security of dramatic yet real peril. He couldn’t be in control here; he couldn’t keep them at more than arm’s length. And all the way through the showing of “Captain Blood”, the blue mutant’s hand never relinquished its grip upon his arm. Not for a moment. Not for a moment at all.

And now he was there. Alone in the dark. Alone.

And Logan so desperately wanted to reach out to him, but he was gone. Gone but not gone, every moment reaching out for Logan’s hand, for Logan’s heart as he was trapped in a darkness from which he could never escape.

And one moment was all it took. One minute, he and the Elf had been heading down a corridor into the depths of the castle, Kurt lurking in the shadows, invisible to even his eyes. But he still knew he was there, even if he could not see him; he knew he was there, the distinctive smell of sulphur mixed with soap and a slight undercurrent of fear, the next he was gone. And Logan, for all his powers, for all his sharpened senses, had nothing but that smell fading away in his nostrils.

Except, it had never faded away, it had just wormed his way into his mind, his brain, his soul. Now, he’d smell it on dark corners, and swing round, half expecting to see his friend, only to find empty air. Perhaps it was time to pack up for good; Charley’s little game had been claiming way too many lives. Not lives like his, he was a brawler, a fighter and he damn sure knew that it was going to come back to him someday. No, way too many innocents lost, first James who died in a blaze of arrogance and innocence, then Jeannie, his sweet Jeannie, dying to save the universe from the thing that had stolen her mind and body, and now it was Kurt. Innocents, just innocents, just children playing games, playing at being soldiers.

He’d had to comfort Kitty on the plane back across the Atlantic, he’d held in his arms as she’d just cried long and shuddering tears, until she’d lost contact with the world entirely, and pulled herself into her little world of phantom shadows. She’d cried for him, he whose presence, until a week before, had driven her into a funk. Little Jewish Ghosts and Fearless German Demons, what sort of life had he got himself into? It used to be so simple. Simple and lonely, the only freak being him. How he longed for those Madripoor days, before he had this hole torn in his heart and everything ripped asunder. At the time he’s thought it was the end of innocence, but now he couldn’t tell whether he meant the girl’s or his own.

She’d bounced back alright. This surprised him. Sure the kid had spunk, but…

They’d never found the body. They’d fanned out and searched in pattern beta, just as they had been trained, just as they’d been taught. And they didn’t find him. Ororo had found that crucifix, the one he’d always worn under his shirt, safe from prying and all too curious eyes, lying on the flagstones in one of the upper towers, the chain broken and it flecked with blood. Logan had confirmed it, it was the Elf’s. He’d sniffed hard, got a mouthful of Kurt’s scent and sneezed. That small little tower room had been all but covered with dust. Had it been any other circumstances, he would have moaned about the absence of caretakers, or made some wry comment how they sure weren’t doing a good job of it. But it wasn’t. Kurt was gone.

Petey had found the gloves to his costume on one of the innumerable balconies, again stained with blood, again stained with his blood, dark but not as dark as the waves below. They’d insisted that Storm break out the portable mutant tracker from the Blackbird, but they didn’t hold out much hope, and that they had was not rewarded. The Elf had sunk beneath the waves to a cold and wet and dark grave, thrown there by his mysterious attacker.

And just as in that dark, dank corridor, Logan couldn’t smell his attacker at all. And what if he could have? Would that have made amends with some ghost? Would Kurt really have wanted him to track down his killer and steal his life, just as Kurt’s had been stolen from him? Kurt, gentle Kurt, with his simple faith in a God, who loved all without question, would he have condoned revenge? Would the gypsy blood not quite in his veins demanded vengeance?

And so he couldn’t sleep, just as he hadn’t slept every night since, these questions, these facts tumbling over and over in his mind, trapped forever in that moment. His healing factor had kept him together through this, kept his body in sufficient repair not to arouse suspicions. Anyone else, by now, would have known the sweet oblivion of sheer exhaustion, but he was denied even that, denied even that pale imitation of peace, by his own nature.

And damn. He could smell that phantom scent again, tickling at his nose, teasing his brain, tricking his mind. Not this time, bub. He wasn’t rising to that one again, he thought and he rolled over on the bed, only to feel the draft from the window on his back. It was a cold night, and not even Logan was foolhardy enough to sleep with the sash up (so maybe, ‘Ro did, but she had her own powers to keep her warm, and he sure as hell wasn’t asking the young goddess if she did, he could get a thunderbolt for his troubles…), so what the freaking hell was going on?

He rolled over again and stared towards the window, towards the night sky framing that impossible silhouette. Legs hanging on the other side of the window, shoulders stooped, head cocked quizzically, and that tail of his rising over his head. “Logan,” it said, in that same guileless voice that had haunted his dreams for what felt like an eternity, “Logan,” soft and quiet, with the same almost song like cadence, “Logan.”

“Elf?” Logan kept looking, staring at those almond eyes, shining like torches in the dark, “What the hell are you doing sitting on the window ledge?”

“A gentleman never enters without an invitation, Logan, surely you know that.” He laughed and there was a disconcerting flash of teeth.

Logan had long since got used to that fanged smile, so why were all the hairs on the back of his neck rising now? Lack of sleep must be sending his instincts nuts, that or they hadn’t caught up on the news yet, Elf was back. “Like you haven’t been in here before, come on in, Elf, and tell me how you cheated death.”

Elf was standing over the bed before he knew it, kneeling over him in that odd little way of his, looking at him with eyes full of immeasurable sadness, “I didn’t.”

Logan’s tired frame gave a start, and Elf was pinning him down on the bed, Elf had never been this strong, he knew that, he knew that from their private sparring sessions in the woods. He’d always relied on speed rather than brute strength. But now, Logan could barely move, sure Elf had the jump on him and all his body wanted to do was sleep, but still. A strange half-smile darted across Kurt’s lips, Elf had always had fangs, but these were whiter, sharper…

Damn. Logan’s mind turned to jelly for one moment. Damn. Vampire. He hadn’t wanted to see one of those ever again, not since those fateful days in New Orleans. It had been Mardi Gras, perhaps, he couldn’t remember clearly, and he had a more pressing matter, and it was pushing him down, holding him down on his bed.

Not Kurt, please, not Kurt, Jesus H Christ, not Kurt. But still the same familiar smile looked down on him, watching, waiting for a reaction. Head cocked slightly sideways, the way it always did, when Elf was anticipating something, playing the fool, waiting for somebody to catch onto the fallacy of what they’d just said. Those pointed ears eager to catch any sound, as always. But this wasn’t Kurt, this dead thing could not be Kurt, it was just a monster wearing his shape.

Was this what had happened to Kurt, alone in the dark, in that mouldering tower? Dying alone, thrashing and desperately trying to scream, as some thing gorged itself on his blood, ripping into his neck, destroying his heart, his soul, and leaving but a pale imitation. He could see the monster ripping away the crucifix, he could hear Kurt’s half chocked scream, as he struggled and flailed wildly, but could not break free. They were right, Kurt had died there, in the castle. And this thing had returned to his home, to desecrate all that Kurt was.

Denying him even the final peace of death. It was worse than that presumed death, struggling half conscious beneath the sea, as the water burned within his lungs. He sure knew that there was no rest for the wicked, but Kurt, he should have got it, his little piece of eternal rest.

And now he’d make sure of it. Destroy this creature before it cursed others to its dismal state, make sure Kurt left this world without the blood of his friends on his unwilling hands. This would be a final gift, an absolution for his friend

He’d make sure Kurt did not leave this world unavenged.

Logan relaxed slightly under the vampire’s grip, creating space for himself, beneath the baffled creature, then in a moment he pushed arms upward, getting the Kurt-thing firmly in the chest, pushing him backwards off the bed, and at the same time lifting out of the bed.

As the adrenaline surged in his blood, he knew, this was what he had been missing. Kurt-thing, had, true to form, turned that shove into a perfect somersault, flying languidly in the air, like the exponent of a new martial art, a fusion of judo and gymnastics. And Logan, blood pounding in his ears, let loose the middle claw on each arm, and bought them together to make a cross. The last thing he’d ever see, that symbol of a faith, which had sustained him so, made to cleanse him of this monstrous fate.

And the thing just laughed, Logan froze, and Kurt moved across and said, “Logan, surely you learnt the last time, when we’d saved Ororo from Dracula’s thrall, a cross only works on a vampire if you believe,” a hand reaching out and grasping the blades, as Kurt looked into his friend’s eyes.

Blood, red as rubies, trickled down the blades, and still Kurt did not break his gaze.

“Elf?” Logan said, still hesitant, still waiting for the monster, but his voice reaching out in defiant hope, “Elf, you’ll hurt yourself if you do that, bub.”

“I think not,” replied Kurt calmly, as he released his grip and raised his palm towards Logan. The wounds were already closing, blood red lines growing thinner with every second until there were no longer there, “We have more in common than you might think, now.”

And Logan realised it wasn’t adrenaline, but something else entirely. The key to his haunting, a desperate need that had lodged itself in his breast and had lain there tormenting him with his every breath, like a knife or a sliver of glass, trapped desperately inside of him, seeking but release. And now it was gone, as if it was a shard of ice, melted by the heat and now dissipating around his body.

The grief, the sadness had gone, evaporated like the sweet morning dew on the lotus flowers around a far away castle that had once been home, and in its place was something else. A warmth he never remembered having felt before, surging through every limb. Relief, perhaps, or happiness at finding his friend returned to him, or perhaps something else entirely, strange and new.

There were so many questions he wanted to ask, but right now, only one thing was important, the enormity of which was foremost in his mind, “You hungry, Elf?”

He had to know, how far he had gone, what his friend had become. And his fears, trying to recapture his limbs, melted once more, “Ein bisschen, Logan, not that I’d ever consider eating somebody, not that I ever have, I am so terribly afraid of what I might become,” there was a definite tremor in that lilting voice, full of unarticulated fear.

So what had Elf done? How had he survived long enough to come across the sea? Logan asked himself, but that was a question for another day, or night as it may be. His immediate concern was Kurt’s welfare for tonight, tomorrow could take care of itself. And his demonic friend now looked so very tired, as bone weary as he, Logan, felt. “There are plenty of rabbits up in the woods behind the house, what say we go on a little hunting party? Rabbit good with you?”

A rather quiet, tentative “Ja” came in response.

“Elf, it’s fine. Blood for you, and meat for me. I’m more than peckish myself.” Indeed, with his lost sleep had come a lost appetite, something he was unused to. Sure he’d been hungry and unsatisfied at times, when tracking through icy wastes for instance, but he’d never been not hungry to the point where food had bought in him a deep revulsion. He didn’t know the right words for what had been happening to him, he’d left all that vocabulary stuff to Chuck, if only he’d told him what was going on. As it was, all the inhabitants of the mansion had just put his unaccustomed lethargy down as “one of his moods”.

Then a thought struck him, blood for Kurt and flesh for him, something was so darn funny about it, “Damn, Elf, I’m turning Kosher.”

And with that they stepped out into the remains of the night, two hunters in search of a shared prey, laughing in a grim humour.

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