Roses Mixed With Blood

This is the sequel to Twice Shy

I thought we could get away with it. I thought it would work. Keep Kurt safe while he adjusted, keep him safe, away from the others, away from the children, keep him secret, keep him safe. It was going to work too, I was sure of it, and he hid himself away under my bed, dragged the blanket down with him, clearly fearful of the coming dawn.

It was already rising over Salem Center way, tinting the sky a soft pink at first, the sort of colour for baby dresses. Going to have to gat somethin' like that for Maddy and Scott soon, I heard, okay, not heard, smelled. She smelled like a mother, all milk and flesh. And something is very out of whack there, not like Elf, Elf now, wrong, but there's something missing. Or maybe something too much there.

"Elf now", cute, Logan, real cute. What's wrong? You not man enough to say Elf the vampire? Elf the blood sucking fiend? Kurt the creature of darkness? Not that the darkness makes much difference, I scream in my mind. Fuck. Hope Charley didn't hear that. It was, what exactly? Kitty would call it "kinda intense". How would the kid react to this? She'd cried her eyes out when he'd gone, but what would she do when he returned, as much a monster as she once imagined him to be?

Not a monster. He's not a monster. He's just Kurt, my best buddy. Licking blood off his freaky fingers like a cat with its paw covered in milk, looking for all the world like he's just been caught on the butter churn and doesn't give a damn. He's just Kurt. Looking like he's stolen apples from the orchard, the way he used to, he tells me, when he merely Lady Margali's demon child, fastest apple thief in the West, he said. No need to steal apples here, Chuck has an orchard of them. And rose gardens, and Japanese gardens, and stables. No need to steal apples here. No more apples. Kurt will never taste an apple again. Never taste anything that will crunch beneath his fangs, only warm, cooling flesh, soft and oozing blood like an over-ripe strawberry.

What is going on with me? Guilt. Am I putting myself through his pain, just to make myself feel better? Or is this compassion? Or is this something else?

I don't understand. I search my fractured mind for a memory of feeling like this, and nothing, not even my lady, Mariko-Chan. Nothing but the smell of roses upon the wind, mixed with cordite, a blasting charge maybe? Roses mixed with blood.

Blood upon the snow. Wolves howling, calling, feeling my pain. They call it pathetic fallacy, wherever the heck I learnt that, but there's nothing pathetic about it. Except for me, telling myself that I'm feeling for my friend, when really I should be looking out for him, caring for him, taking his hand as he reaches out to mine in a half-remembered dream now swamped the eroding waves of reality, I should be saving him from drowning, not tying weights to my feet and trying to convince myself that it makes me a better, truer friend.

I've drowned before now, they say it's a peaceful death, like sitting back in the bath and letting the water ease all the stresses from your mind. It's not.

Wonder if that writer broad had tried to make it back to land, when she'd found she was no Ophelia floating away to a world either better or damned, depending on who ya listen to, when she'd found the cold water burning into her lungs, as she sunk to the dark dank bottom. There are no such things as waterbabies, there's only darkness and the pressure building up inside and out, and by then, it's too late for you to claw your way up through water like lead, and it's as if your limbs are miles away and you're communicating with them by telegraph and yet your lungs are so so close and they're burning. Did the burning surprise her? Bring back memories of how suicides burn in eternal damnation? Or turn into trees if you believe than damn Italian. I don't believe in anything I don't see, I don't believe in some god that both loves and damns his children, seeing not their pain, but their sin.

There's nothing beyond here. You do your best and the best you get in the end is remembered. But I still remember drowning. Those last thoughts on how pathetic a way it was to die, your lungs burning as you thrash and a strange calm panic descends on your mind. Never thought myself one for calm, but there it was. Trapped under the ice in that freezing burning water, gasping in on reflex only to find my mouth full of water not air, drowning not breathing. Don't remember anything beyond that until I ended up in some guy's pick-up drenched in blankets and admonitions. "What was I thinkin' going on the lake like that, when there was a sign sayin' keep of the goddamn ice, couldn' I read or summin'?"

There was no point telling them what I was doing on a frozen over lake outside Runmukaluk, not close enough to winter for comfort, they'd never believed me. Better to say it was the beer. We get decent beer in Canada not like the insipid stuff they attempt to pawn off on you around here. Tastes better.

And the German stuff, well it was good back in the Big One, with me in Munich, supping with some beautiful kellnerin each night, and now... I'd never admit it to Elf, but that's damn good stuff, even if he drags me to the city to get it special. He still owes me...

No more beer for Elf. No more beer ever, just a stranger brew. The same meal over and over and over; no wonder vamps are all mad and bad. Even I like more variety in my food, and I've eaten bully beef, I've eaten military food. See, that's what I mean, I'm dragging myself into this, dragging in my experiences and superimposing them over Kurt's. How do I know, what being bitten by a vampire feels like, what it feels like to struggle in darkness and feel your heart stop in your chest?

I'm thinking way too much, I pride myself on following my instincts, listening to my guts, and what do I do? Turn into freaking Chuck that's what, or better still, Reed Richards, like anything he ever thinks up is any good for anything but pissing with the pissant king of Latveria, fully in possession of some serious bondage fetish and but not of his marbles. What did those nice missionaries say? Maybe too much sex really does make you go mad.

Just need to quit with the woolgathrin' and get with getting Elf off to sleepy byes for the day, while I can work on the plan. Getting Kurt off to sleep was harder than it looked, the boy's (boy? Fuck, Logan, he ain't a kid, he's a man like you. We've stopped playing child's games here, we've stopped pretending to be angels, we've realised that there are no angels. Only us, humanity, and we're stuck with them on this bloody planet. If that ain't a scary thought what is?), the boy's, man's, turning into a regular Illyana, unable to sleep without a story and a goodnight kiss. Okay, skip the kiss, and maybe I just feel a little disappointed 'bout that for some reason. Focus.

Strange thing, Illyana had her innocence when she was like this, when she was just some sweet kid from Lake Bakhal. She sleeps fine now. She lost her innocence, trapped far away in the clutches of some monster for minutes that were years; Elf loses his innocence and becomes like what she was. He was always a kinda innocent, but not deluded like most the kids here, not like Charley's army of children; he knew the worst the world can bring and more, and yet he kept it, that nervous innocence.

Except now. In my room last night, he was so fucking serene, half way between know-all and a fallen angel, and not bothered in the least. Staring me in the eye, telling me that we're not so different anymore, blood trickling down his hands, down my claws, and looking as if he hadn't a care in the world. Fine, that's a lie, he had nerves, but compared with now...

And now, he's all antsy, all clingy, like a child who's frightened of the dark. Stole into his room to nab some things of his, calm him down. They hadn't packed up the room. There was nothing to do with it, no one to send it to. I'm no 'Ro but a claw is as good as a lockpick, provided the pick ain't in those hands of hers. Grabbed the blanket off his bed, still smelling of sulphur, that stuff gets into everything really, and the bamf on the bed. Christ, am I the only guy in this freaking menagerie who doesn't own one? Going to have to put a word in Kitty's ear.

'Fraid of the dark's the joke here, it's not the dark, never was the dark, too many trips down sewers and other, uh, savoury locales have shown me that it's Elf's element down there, where the light is almost as bad as the freaking air. No, it's the light that's doing this, ain't it? Or is it the blood? Does he always get this jittery after a meal?

No, that makes no fucking sense does it? But he's settled at last, let go of my arm, and is hanging on to the bamf, curled up beneath my bed. Christ, in my dreams his grip was never this strong, but then I never really held him, his hand just kept slipping out of mine, and he kept falling into the liquid darkness, screaming that silent, wordless scream.

So, I left him there. Hard to tell he was asleep or not, without any breathing to go by, without being able to see him in the ebon darkness under my bed. Ebon, I like that, but why I'd have a spooky bed is beyond me. Besides the fact that you have a vampire sleeping beneath it, and you aren't running for a stake with a side order of garlic bread.

That's not funny, none of it's funny now. Earlier, I wasn't really keyed into the enormity of it all, what had happened, what Elf had become, I was just too freaking glad to see him, there in my arms, in my room, under my bed. Now, I'm hitting up against reality. This is no idyll, we can't just keep hunting rabbits in the moonlight, we can't just keep him here, under my bed, and hope everyone's none the wiser.

If he was afraid of revealing himself to me, of showing me what he had become... I'm not repulsed, I know he's still Elf, that he's still the same. If he was afraid of me, what about the rest of the gang? We've fought vampires before now, and generally they end up as dust. Old Vlad Dracul managed to turn Storm into one of his thralls, and I don't even want to get into the business where his kid possessed Kitty.

Fact: vampires are not going to be all that welcome here.

At least, not until we get some time for Elf to cool down and get used to things, get used to eternal night (not much change with that one really, but it will screw with his social life some) and fangs, and the blood thing. Face it, Elf needs some time to adjust, and I need to some time to be sure Elf's safe.

Yeah, I'm sure Elf is safe, there's no way that Elf would start biting girls in the neck, it kinda stops all the other things he likes to do with girls. They don't really go for the grand seduction, champagne and bath-tubs thing, if they're bleeding to death. I don't mean to sound like that, like Elf's some selfish bastard. He's not. He's just not people eating type and that's that.

It doesn't mean that I don't want some time to make sure, though. Time away from the mansion. Time to talk ta some people I know. Sure, Elf's mama is a witch who makes Stevie Strange quake in his little blue boots, but predictable, or for that matter findable, she ain't and considering what she did the last time she had a reunion with her little blue bambino, let's just say she's a real bad idea. And so is the Doc, too chummy with Xavier an' all. No, what we need is someone in-between and I know just the place...

So, I spent the rest of the morning getting things set, getting the car ready, fixing stuff so we could roll as soon as it got dark again, and doin' it early enough not to get a whole bunch of curious down on my ass. Ororo's smart enough to stay clear, when I want alone; but the kid, Kitty, she's sharp but she don't know when to stay out of the way. I've got this bad feeling that she's gonna find out the hard way, like Elf.

I don't want that to happen, whatever it's going to be.

So I thought I had it all set, all planned, all worked out. Keep Elf secret, keep Elf safe, keep Elf away from here. And it was working too, right until Charley went nuts over breakfast.

You know, Charley didn't always eat breakfast with the kids. Don't blame him either, first thing in the morning is not a good time to be in the kitchen, if it isn't Kitty in her latest "creation", then it's Elf juggling the eggs and askin' if you want them scrambled, or Ororo full of the joys of freaking spring. But since Lil, his lady friend, he's been a bit more enthusiastic in coming down to the main kitchen, 'spose love does things to your head, sure did mine. I'd ha' done anything to fit with Lady Mariko, didn't she realise that?

And there he is, at the head of the table, contemplating the cosmic potential of eggs benedict, and then it happens. His head goes right back, until it's back on shoulder blades, and all you can see is his throat, and he's bolt upright in his chair. His breathing's gone all pacy, like a trembling rabbit, all short and shallow, and just waiting for the hunter to strike. And 'Ro rushes up, be we all know we can't do anything with the Prof like this; if we do, break the contact, it could be goodbye Charley, he'd get stuck wherever he's gone with no-one to bring him back.

And then, he starts talking, all quiet, in a trembling voice.

"And then there was dark.

"Eternal dark, sweet singing darkness, singing of blood and hunters beneath the waning moon. A darkness that calls in siren song, leading men once mortal to their damnation, and they are powerless to resist; they belong already to the night, to the darkness. For the darkness had stolen their very souls, and remade them in her image, swift silent shades moving like shadows in the dusk. Shadows within and shadows without. They have died in darkness, and darkness made them her own."

He's speaking in a voice full of fear and wonderment, and I feel sick in my stomach when I recognise the voice, the lilting intonations.

"We are her children, no, not children, slaves. Snatched away from the sun, and made prisoners in shadows. And prisoners in blood. Sweet blood, bright red and fresh from the lungs, or darker from some other region, and all speaking in tongues of life and power and rust. Yes, rust, drying and crumbling on my lips as I lick it away."

I recognise the vowels, the accent, the same sibilant tones.

"I tried licking nails once, the ones that held up that pier on the other side of those dark, dark waters. I was desperate, I was hungry, and all I could think about is that taste. That yet unknown taste, tearing at my brain, pulling at my unbeating heart, as I hung there, under the pier, despairing that I could not drown. That the waters would not cleanse me from the touch of that foul creature, nor wrench his taste from his mouth.

"I'm almost blacking out. The pain. Something's got my neck. So strong. I want to call out, tell Logan that it isn't a game, but it isn't Logan, and there's a hand, a wrist, something pale, and yet my vision goes so dim, I can't quite make it out, and...

"And there's something wet running down my throat, anointing it. Something wet's running down my throat, inside and out. The stuff outside's still warm, but cooling, yet the stuff in my mouth is like liquid death, I try to spit it out, and choke. Only half choke, the darkness is pulling me down, pulling me in...

"Gott, Gott, bitte... Stefan, Ich komme... Ich komme bei dir... I am sure my sins"

I don't stay to hear any more, I get out while they're all frozen and Charley is still tuned into Radio Wagner. I need to get away bad, and not just for Elf's safety, not just to get him away. I don't want to hear this, I wish my memory would screw up like it has before and take it away. And I know it won't.

This was worse, worse than anything I thought of, than anything I know. And I know plenty, I know ways to die, I know ways to kill, and I know love and loss and demon masters. Yet, how could I know this? How could I not know?

Pain and despair, I've had my full measure of those, but the freaking idea that I deserve it, deserve pain and death and pain again, for what I've done. Christ, how could I know that? Know that Elf thought it right that he should die. And when he didn't, dove into those dark waters, hoping that they would sap his strength and pull him down into the darkness of hell, rather than become that beautiful monster in my bedroom.


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