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Chapter 1

Lost in the Shadows - REVIEW THIS STORY

Written by Madwolf and Cassandra Fraser
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 1

Jonathan Alucard: In 1206 AD I was the greatest warrior in all Christendom. I, and I alone, held back the Turkish invaders, fought long and hard for our faith--only to be betrayed by the Archbishop, who, for a few coins, showed them a secret entrance. Thus the Turks overran my citadel and all within. My beloved wife, vowing that the infidels would never force her to spread herself for their vile pleasures, took a phial of poison and her own life. I turned my back upon all I had fought for. I drank the Holy Water and ate the Communion wafers, even as the Archbishop railed at me for my desecration of his baubles. He cursed me to eternal damnation, and for that I laughed at him, the fat sheep bleating all the while. Then I set upon him, cleaved his head from his shoulders with my broadsword, and drank his blood from its severed fountain as a swine exults in his trough.

In the beginning, it seemed that I had indeed been cursed, but as time passed, I began to enjoy my mastery of the elements, my command of the beasts, and my sway over the hearts of mortals. Forget what you have been told by those who are ignorant of me. Oh, yes, they call me monster, and so I am. You must bear in mind that the success of a warrior is measured in blood and bone, and such success can only be bought by ruthlessness and aggression. And so I have killed thousands by my own hand, and ordered the slaughters of many, many times that. Should I cross upon your path, avert your eyes and steal away from my very shadow, ere I destroy you for the mere sport of it.

Yet, after so many centuries, I find that a certain ennui has settled upon me. I am engulfed by my own discontent. Something is missing from my long and sanguine life, something that keeps turning me westward, that has made me a pilgrim and seeker--of what, I do not know. Yet I am led onward, like a shepherd following a bright planet in the spangled black skies.

Give me tonight, and I will find what gnaws at me, that which will complete this cycle I began so many scarlet centuries ago.

It was, as nighttime goes, a fairly pleasant night of the sort that the mutant known as Storm would love to revel in, and she aimed to do exactly that.

Standing by her window, she could see her once-lover Forge get out of his car. Her heart skipped a beat. She still loved him, and had she not taught herself to control all her emotions, she would have rushed down to him then and there. Once upon a time, she had envisaged spending her life with the X-Factor leader, but--as dreams have such a habit of doing--they shattered like glass.

Especially now--when she saw whom he was kissing while she had indulged in her fleeting dream of what might have been. She'd heard rumors that the Native American mutant was seeing the supposedly now-reformed Raven Darkholme AKA Mystique. A woman who had murdered and conned her way through life was now Storm's bad dream come true. She had lost out--to that woman. There could be no mistaking that Mystique was Forge's lover. Not now.

She could endure no more. It was time to leave.

She composed herself as she reached the top of the stairs. Any other time she would have flown upward from her skylight, but they would see her retreat if she did so now. No, she must walk past them and show them that she cared no more for either of them. Descending the stairs, she bid a terse good evening to Forge and ignored Mystique completely.

"Ooooooh, someone's jealous," Raven drawled at Ororo's back as she passed.

Storm pretended she didn't hear her, took to the air, and headed toward New Salem.

She alit just outside the city limits, and walked the short two miles into town. There, she made straight for the favorite X-Men watering hole, Harry's Hideaway. Harry liked the X-Men, saw them as just a another bunch of nice college kids (with the exception of Logan, who had probably never been a kid, certainly had never written a term paper, and would have gutted anyone who referred to him as nice). The thought made Ororo smile: Even her dear Remy completed his assignments from Professor Xavier. Only once had the Cajun gotten into serious dutch with the Professor, when he had tried to recite the beginning of Moby Dick from memory and innocently began, "My name be Fishmeal." Unlike the rest of them, Logan didn't attend classes--and nobody dared play truant officer, either.

She walked up to the bar and ordered a martini and lemonade. Normally she didn't accept alcohol, but the sight of Mystique was enough to drive anyone to drink.

"May I buy your drink for you, Madam?"

The gentleman standing beside her at the bar leaned toward her a little. He was tall, powerfully built, with his long sable hair bound into a single thick braid at the nape of his neck. He wasn't handsome; his face was far more ascetic than that, with a long diagonal scar that nearly bisected the left side of his face from temple to chin. But it was his eyes that drew her--such an intense cobalt blue that seemed to laser right through her.

She sat herself down at one of the tables and pretended not to notice him. It didn't work; although she fixed her gaze on the taxidermied marlin on the wall behind the bar, she couldn't resist giving the man more than one sidelong glance.

It was Music Night at Harry's. There was no nightclub here, but on Monday, Friday, and Saturday nights the regulars got together to listen to some of the other local yokels play in their modest little trio and belt out moldy oldies. Some of the songs Storm didn't much care for, others she liked. She didn't like the current rendition of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."

"Excuse me, Madam. You will forgive my impertinence and my intrusion upon your privacy, but I saw you looking so distant and it does not seem appropriate for such a beautiful woman to be so--forlorn." Before Storm could answer, the enigmatic man had taken her hand, lowered his mouth to the back of it, and kissed her knuckles. "My name is Jonathan Alucard, and you are . . . ?"

"Ororo Munroe," she said quietly, unable to take her eyes off him.

"Ah. The African word for Beauty." He pointed to a chair opposite her. "May I?"

"Please do."

He eased himself into the chair and set his drink--a glass of red wine--down before him.

"You have been to Africa, Mister Alucard?" Storm asked. "You obviously know the meaning of my name."

"I have been to Africa, yes, regretfully, I--do not like the heat, and it does not like me."

Storm sat back. She couldn't have turned his gaze from him even if she wanted to. There was something charismatic about him that seemed to permeate the room. She quickly finished her drink, feeling her hands beginning to shake a little as her heart went hammering across her chest.

He regarded her with those eyes of his for a moment, then got up, too. "Perhaps you would allow me to take you to dinner. I did see a restaurant nearby that would allow us some privacy and a less smoky atmosphere."

"Your accent--where do you come from?" she inquired.

"Wallachia, Romania. It has been quite some time since I was last home." He held out his hand. "Join me for dinner?"

Storm allowed him to take her hand, but in all honesty, even if she hadn't agreed, there was no way that she could have refused.

No woman ever refused Jonathan Alucard.

Jonathan Alucard: Now I know who she is. Did I not drink from this woman once before? To see her now, I know I can take her at any time and no doubt I will. But not with violence. I find I yearn for companionship.

What is it the modern man calls it? Sensitivity? Bah, for fools and weaklings, but she enraptures me with her grace and the promise in her eyes. Damn this woman, and so I shall.

The meal itself was delightful, and the longer Storm sat in the company of Alucard, the more she relaxed.

He ate what she ate and indulged in pleasant conversation with her. For the first time in so long, Storm actually felt wanted. Every time she picked up her wine glass, his fingers lightly brushed hers, sending small shocks of desire through her.

She wondered why she had not met this man before.

'Is this how Jean and Rogue feel when they are with Scott and Remy?' she thought. 'Or perhaps Betsy and Kitty when they are near Warren and Peter?'

She pushed all thoughts of Forge out of her mind.

For all that they had suffered, Scott and Jean--even Rogue and Remy--had found happiness.

Why couldn't she?

Well, why not?

Storm picked up her wine glass and smiled blearily against the rim of the glass.

"Something amuses you, Ororo?" Alucard asked pleasantly.

"Not really," she answered. "Just thinking about a few things, that is all."

'Like how I do not want this night to end.'

Alucard sat back against his chair, gazing at her without blinking at all. "Ororo, perhaps you would see this as an impertinence, but I would be most unhappy if you were to return to your home alone."

Storm slowly set her glass down. "I had not intention of returning home," she replied, that much was true enough. She couldn't bear to be under the same roof as Forge and Mystique. That would be too much like twisting the knife and pouring salt on already open wounds. "I was planning to stay in New Salem tonight."

He leaned forward, and took her hand in his. "Such a beautiful woman should not be alone."

"Jonathan--I do not go in for one night stands."

A strange glow began to burn in Alucard's eyes. He said in a very soft voice, "Miss Munroe, neither do I--where I come from, while many believe women are merely playthings and servants of men, I know that women are not to be taken so lightly." He gestured at the waiter to order the cheque. "I can see that someone has hurt you; it shows in your eyes. You deserve so much more and I can give you what you most desire."

"You sound very sure of yourself, Alucard."

"It may appear to be ego to you; to me, it is truth. Believe me when I say I have searched a long, long time for one such as you, and I have no intention of letting you walk away from me now, while the night is so young." He paused, then said, "No intention at all."

Storm found his hand in hers, and even more surprisingly, found her fingers closed around his.

Even though Dr. Henry McCoy had declared the X-Mansion a smoke-free zone, Logan ignored the rule and now sat in its card room, smoking a cigar. He really didn't care if it was a fine Havana or a cheap generic brand from a gas station--not that his senses couldn't tell the difference--when he felt like a cigar, he felt like a cigar. And that was that. The Cajun X-Man, Remy LeBeau, was also present, curled up on a leather chaise lounge with a cold Coors, a hand-rolled cigarette, and the newest copy of the Wall Street Journal. Gambit was a fast, avid reader--he liked to keep track of his own investments, and more, he liked to keep track of where any sort of valuable thing was kept. Maybe he was officially a semi-retired master thief, but he always believed in having a trade to fall back on in hard times. He took a long drag on his cigarette, inhaled deeply, and contentedly blew a single perfect smoke ring. Not even Henry dared inform Wolverine that HE couldn't smoke whenever he pleased, so Remy was more than happy to stay close and blissfully ingest his nicotine under Logan's safe wing.

However, as the hours passed, the novelty of marathon smoking under the same roof as the Beast started to wear off, and Remy began to play Solitaire. Of course he won every hand--didn't even have to cheat. He never cheated at cards; they were his friends and always took care of him. Even though he was a known commodity in Las Vegas and Monte Carlo, no gaming house ever discouraged him from taking over a table--but the house always withdrew its own participant in the game before Remy started to play in earnest. He was considerate enough of his hosts to subtly warn them when he was ready to get serious. The house always appreciated the gesture; besides, Remy LeBeau was an attraction to the casino in his own right when word got around that he was in town. No gaming establishment ever permitted him to pay a cent for room, food, or entertainment.

He eventually enticed Logan into a friendly poker game, and was careful not to win or lose to any significant extent in order to prolong the game. Not that Logan wasn't a fine card player in his own right, but he had been known to lose before. Remy only lost when he felt magnanimous and allowed the opponent the victory. Still, Logan was, as always, a worthy adversary.

Midnight came and went, the minutes of remaining night dwindling even more quickly than the supply of unburned tobacco. Remy began to fidget, watching the clock instead of his hand.


"What is dat you say, Logan?"

"I say ya better keep yer eyes on yer cards, kid."

He threw down a straight flush.

"Mon Dieu! I t'ought you 'ad less dan dat!"

Logan chuckled. "So ya did." He started to gather the chips.

"Ah-ah, M'sieu." Remy displayed his own hand. "De queen, she always come t'rough f' ol' Remy LeBeau."

Logan stared. "Brat," he said with an accompanying bellylaugh. Then he shrugged his shoulders and good-naturedly returned to the box of cigars he was hell-bent on incinerating before the night was over.

The door opened to admit Forge and Bobby Drake. Presently in human form, the Iceman began to cough and wave his arms in a vain attempt to dispel the smoke. "Don't you two ever give your lungs a rest?"

"Well, Logan, he got de healin' factor what lets him smoke all he wan' and Le Beast say Gambit's lungs be clear, pink, an' fine. Even t'ough he not know why. Mebbe it be another mutant power Gambit 'ave, neh?"

"So much for hoping lung cancer will put you out of our misery," Drake replied. "So this is all you can find to do while Rogue spends the weekend in New York with her mom--your usual degenerate behavior patterns. I figured you'd be wondering why she's not back yet."

"Act'ally, Polar Breath, I wonderin' why Forge over dere had de nerve to bring Mystique here, knowin' he didn' tell Stormy dat he 'ave such bad taste in who he sleep wit'." There was suddenly hard steel in his velvety drawl. "Considerin' how Storm feel 'bout you, Forge." He abruptly shoved off the chips and cash off the table with the side of his arm and kicked his chair away.

"Cajun's got a point there, Geronimo," Logan answered, the coarse hairs on his bare arms bristling just a bit. "Kinda insensitive of ya, isn't it?"

"My personal life is none of your concern, Logan--and the day I answer to a Thieves Guild punk who's not even weaned yet is the day I go to work for Sebastian Shaw."

Remy cocked his head. "You mean he not your boss already? I t'ought f' sure you be on de payrolls of Shaw, Creed, an' anybody else who bedevil de X-Men. Dat why you nothing but trouble."

"Forge is right," inserted Bobby. "If Storm can't grow up and get over it, that's just tough luck."

Logan laid a restraining hand on Gambit's arm.

"Man," Bobbie went on," sometimes Storm is so cold it makes me look positively toasty. I wonder if she's ever been interested in men at all."

Warren had come into the card room and heard the last few remarks. "Drake," he said quietly. "That has to be the stupidest thing I've heard you say in the span of an entire hour. Ororo is as much entitled to a private life as any of us, and if she chooses to keep to keep it to herself, well, that's her business. Not everybody has to blather on and on about their problems to anyone who'll listen. Unlike SOME people." He looked pointedly at Bobby.

"Oh, come on, Warren, you've got Betsy, Jean has Cyke, Forge has Mystique, and Rogue has the thief, but has anyone actually seem Storm with anyone--ouch!"

"Sorry," Remy muttered. "De dime jus' somehow got charged."

The coin that landed squarely on the back of Bobby's hand left a round smoking burn on his skin; he hadn't even seen it coming, let alone be able to ice up in time to prevent the burn. He knew well enough that Gambit could have charged the small silver piece with enough kinetic force to kill him, if he'd wanted to.

"You smart--"

"Lissen here, boy," Logan cut in, claws in his voice as well as in his hands. " 'Roro is more woman than any of ya can handle. Mebbe she's just choosier than some dames around here. So can it."

"Or what?" Drake took on that petulant look they all hated.

Logan extended three adamantium claws. "Or I forget yer an original X-Man and I make little ice cubes outta ya--my beer's too warm, anyway."

"Just try it, old man!"

"Canucklehead don' need t' try, Drake." Remy came to stand beside Wolverine. "You jus' open your mouth an' dig de hole deeper. Gambit put you in dat hole, you say Ororo's name one more time. But f' your information, I not concerned 'bout Rogue, she 'ave ev'ry right t' see her mama. Gambit worried dat Stormy not returned yet an' wid' Apocalypse, Sin'ster, an' all de other rotten weasels out dere, I jus' want her t' come home so I know she okay." He started for the door. "Sorry, gen'elmen, Gambit not want t' play anymore, 'specially wid' de heartless one an' de bullshit-spouting icecube machine."

Bobby moved as if to follow him, but Logan suddenly filled the doorway with his bulky frame. "Go near him, pipsqueak, and I see if I can carve an ice hog t' decorate th' Sunday brunch table."

Meanwhile Gambit went to Storm's loft and checked to see if she had returned through the skylight: No, she hadn't. He picked up some pillows from the floor and idly tossed them onto her bed. "Gambit hope you not in trouble, chere," he whispered. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, he decided to wait for her. But fretting tired him more than a ten-mile run, and he soon nodded off into a sleep troubled with nightmares. As usual.

Storm stretched her arms and legs out, arching her back, still panting a little. It had been a long time since she'd been out of breath.

Alucard rolled over to press his strong frame against the length of her body. His skin felt oddly cool for a man who had spent the last five hours making love. "Let me look at you," he whispered.

She took it as a command and turned her head to face him, unashamed for him to see the tears that crept slowly from her eyes. He took her slender fingers in his powerful hand, and lightly kissed the inside of her palm.

"We did not use any protection," she said. "But I am glad. I could feel you more truly this way. And I will be grateful if the Goddess gives me your child."

"Alas, poppet, I cannot get children on you. Would that I could. But the Turks were geniuses at devising tortures, and one of those sessions robbed me of any future opportunity to perpetuate my line in the conventional means."

He was surprised at his own outburst of honesty. She didn't seem to be put off by his revelation, nor did she question his talk of the Turks as through he'd endured their torments only yesterday.

A wash of moonlight fell over them as the clouds above ambled elsewhere, driven by fickle night winds. Storm was aghast to see so many scars on his body--the physical reminders of war wounds that time would never heal, and how pale he seemed--even more pale than he had appeared in the bar, but she felt no horror at the sight of him. She bent her silver-crowned head to his bare chest and began to kiss each scar, one by one.

He drew her to him and sat her across his legs so that her body was pressed against his. With a great deal of care, he ran his fingers through that glorious silver hair and down her lovely back.

Their mouths met.

He rolled her onto her back and took her again. As he had so many times this night, he took her to places, to sensations she had never imagined in her wildest dreams.

Afterwards, they lay entwined in each others' limbs.

"I want to be with you, Jonathan," she whispered softly. "I want a family with you. I want never to be separated from you." She did not feel self-conscious in proposing to a man she had met only a few hours ago. Something about him seemed disturbingly familiar, but not enough to override the ocean of tenderness and indeed, love, she was drowning in.

"No one can refuse Beauty anything, and I am no exception." He propped himself up on his elbows. "I will grant every boon you ask of me--I swear it, Windrider. Now grant me this one small luxury; I yearn to taste deeply of you. Give me your throat, Ororo." He picked her up, supporting her head as though she were a limbernecked babe.

She reached out to hold his head against her neck. This time, he took her much more roughly than he had before, and she cried out in real pain as well as ecstasy.

Jonathan Alucard: My goddess sleeps peacefully, for she is nearly dead and unlike many of my victims, she has little to reproach or regret in her few years of life when she stands to face the judgment for her actions. I lean by the windows and look out upon the early morning sky. Again, you must forget what you have been told about me. I can move about freely during the daylight, although I much prefer the night. Especially a night such as this, when I am full of love and the quenching of it. Storm's mind has completely opened to me. I see what she sees. I see the man she had loved, and how he betrayed her for a woman unworthy to walk the same ground as my goddess.

Another chain to bind her to me, for I am steadfast in my promises as well as my threats. Her starving soul reaches out to me, and the red man's loss is my gain.

For all eternity.

I open my robe and lift her head to my breast. Drawing my fingernail across my chest, I open my veins for her sustenance. Drink, dearest wife, drink. As I took your life from you, so I give you another in place of it.

"Dat you, chere?" Remy muttered as the skylight opened.

Amused at his owlish, sleepy look, she opened the curtains and summoned the early morning breezes. "Go back to sleep, my friend. I shall be quiet."

"I sorry I went t' sleep in your bed."

"It is not the first time. After all, you are the man who sleeps in my or Rogue's room to avoid making his bed. How many demerits are you carrying this term?" She didn't mention that she knew the other--and primary--reason for his napping in other peoples' beds: As an empath, he found comfort in the recent presence of people he loved, and tended to snuggle when troubled.

"Too many." He squirmed a little.

She surrounded the bed with a warm updraft to make him relax, then began to bustle about the room, watering her plants, humming to herself.

But that warm updraft wasn't doing its job. Gambit's empathy was going haywire, and her charisma was off the scale. He could feel her body heat across the room. It made him giddy, and more than a little faint. He began to see her in a new light: There was no vestige left of the child he had associated with her since he had met her. No, she was all woman now, incredibly ripe and tasty, like a fresh peach in the morning dew. And peaches were his favorite food. Stunned at how he was feeling, and drawing the blanket around himself so that she wouldn't see the effect she was having on him, he asked--more for himself than for her, "Chere, you okay? Gambit been worried."

"What on earth for?" Storm smiled warmly, clearly bemused at his discomfiture.

"You been gone a week."

"And you have been sleeping in my room all that time?"

He looked a little sheepish. "Gambit and Wolverine been out ev'ry day, tryin' t' find you. We looked ev'rywhere. Nobody In Westchester or New Salem 'members seeing you. It like Stormy dis'ppear from de face a' de planet."

She glided to his side and smoothed his hair away from his face. Her touch made him shiver, and he drew a sharp breath. If Storm noticed, she didn't acknowledge it with expression or word. She simply slid her arms around him, drawing him to her. He prayed she wouldn't hear his heart; it felt like it was trying to pound its way out of his rib cage.

"I appreciate your and Logan's concern, sweet Remy, but I assure you: I was in no danger."

She was too close, her breath tickling his neck, and her hands began to slide across his back.

Remy closed his eyes, trying desperately to steady himself. He had always thought of her like a sister, but she wasn't behaving like any sister he'd ever imagined.

'Mon Dieu, not even Remy's cousins act like dis!'

"Den who was he, p'tite?" He asked her outright. He felt jealous.


"Must 'ave been a man. Who else 'part from Stormy's plants make her smile like dis, oui?"

She smiled confidingly. "Someone I believe I will soon see again."

"He not hurt you, did he?" Remy was at his most dangerous when he considered his best friend to be threatened.

"No, Remy, on the contrary, he did not." She slipped the blanket away from him. "But thank you for caring about me enough to worry. For obvious reasons, I felt uncomfortable here and just wished to go away for a brief time."

Gambit understood that feeling. Forge's insensitivity to Ororo had been grating on his nerves for several days now. He disliked men who were not gentlemen. He especially disliked Forge. He didn't notice that she was in the process of divesting him of his shirt.

"You back, 'Roro?" The door to the loft opened suddenly. Logan never knocked. It wasn't his nature, and a sense of modesty was one of the first things to go when living in close quarters with the X-Men. But he was surprised to see Storm jump back away from a dazed, half-naked Gambit as though she'd just been caught robbing the cradle.

And just maybe she had, at that.

Logan frowned. The hackles on his back were up, he felt a booming wrongness percolating in his belly, and there was a scent in the air he didn't like. Something rotten, whatever it was. Best to separate this pair until he could figure it out. He pulled the blanket around the slack-jawed Cajun and half-dragged him down the hall and back to Gambit's own room.

Once there, he slammed the door and shoved Remy so hard he struck the wall and fell to the floor in a disheveled heap.

"Oww!" moaned the thief, rubbing the back of his head.

Logan advanced upon him, locked a heavy hand around his throat, and popped open one claw on his free hand. "Ya better have a good excuse for whatcha were doin' back there, punk."

Remy shook his head in spite of the death grip on his throat. "I -- not know, Logan."

Wolverine had never heard this particular quaver in the Cajun's voice, and relaxed his hold a bit so that the younger man could speak.

"I 'member waitin' f' Stormy t' come home," he rasped slowly, trying to recall for himself exactly what had transpired. " 'Den she dere in de room. Gambit try t' ask her where she been, but she . . . she . . . I not know what 'appen. I t'ought I going t' pass out . . ."

He was telling the truth. No one could lie to Wolverine and live to tell about it. Logan could smell a lie faster than he could smell the way to the city dump.

The Canadian released the thief and left him coughing on the floor in the room.

All Gambit could really remember was that she hadn't rebuked him for calling her Stormy.

Several days passed without incident, other than a vague feeling of unrest among the inhabitants of the X-Mansion. They all commented on it, and it was generally agreed upon that their collective sixth sense was warning them of impending danger.

Tonight Gambit couldn't sleep. He tried keeping his eyes closed and counting sheep, but that just made him hungry for roast lamb. And there HAD been a rack of lamb for dinner . . . maybe there were still leftovers in the refrigerator. Surely enough for a sandwich to wash down with a cold beer.

He always slept in the nude, but he did keep a robe handy, which he slipped into and belted, then padded barefooted to the kitchen, hoping fervently that Betsy hadn't left any of those pesky shuriken on the floor again.

He paused just outside the kitchen door. There was light under the door, and he could hear someone within being very sick.

Hesitating only a moment, he went into the kitchen--and found Storm leaning over the sink, vomiting profusely. A carton of milk had broken open on the floor, with a widening white pool around Ororo's brown feet. He didn't say anything at first, just went to her side and held her forehead for her while she puked up what looked to be several quarts of milk tinged with blood.

When the heaves stopped, he put a steadying arm around her waist and together they waded through the puddle of milk to the kitchen table. He sat her down on one of the chairs, then handed her a towel to dry her face with. She buried her face in the towel, and he could hear her sobbing into it.

"What 'appen, padnat?"

"I do not know, Remy. I was thirsty, and when I drank the milk, I became ill. The milk must be sour."

He knew better. "De milk not sour. I bought it myself dis morning," Actually, he had shoplifted it just to practice his skills a bit, "drank some at dinner. De milk be fine, chere. It be you who's curdled." As she rubbed her neck, Remy saw the scar under her jaw. He leaned closer to inspect it.

"What dis, p'tite?" he asked. "Someone go 'round giving Stormy passion marks?"

"Remy!" she hissed.

"Tis true! Stormy 'ave hickey on her neck. Drake's big mouth de size of de North Pole, but dis shut it good."

"Drake? What does Iceman have to do with this?"

Remy sat down, all thoughts of food forgotten. He told her about the argument among the men in the card room earlier in the week, and about another altercation with Bobby Drake the following day in which he had slugged the Iceman--and unfortunately sent him sliding into--and breaking most of--Hank's prize record collection of Big Band tunes and jazz standards. Which had earned him another mountain of demerits and landed him on clean-up duty for the week.

"You know how Charles feels about fighting in the house," Ororo said, genuinely touched. If young mutant bull elks wanted to butt antlers, they knew they'd better go outside before having at it--or face the wrath of Xavier for breaking furniture, walls, ceilings, and family heirlooms. "You risked that--for me?"

Remy shrugged it off. "Remy LeBeau always defen' his friends, 'specially dose he know long time. Even Henri see why I do it, but it don' get me off de hook for what I did. Stormy, I know you since we both t'ieves, runnin' 'round de country wit'out a care, I defen' you always. Gambit love you, chere. Stormy de closes' t'ing Gambit got to a sister. Nobody badmouth my family." He took her hand and kissed it. "Jokin' aside, padnat, Gambit t'ink de world a' you. You ever need ol' Remy's ear or shoulder, he here for you. You been dere f' me more times dan I can count."

"You ARE a good friend, Remy, and you have no idea how much I love you, but I need some privacy now."

"An' you deserve it, chere, but Gambit wan' t' know jus' one t'ing."

"Which is?"

"What de name of dis man who gone an' sweep you off your feet?"

Storm blushed in spite of her chocolate-hued skin. She was quiet for a few minutes, but when his gaze didn't relent, she answered.

"Jonathan Alucard. He is from Wallachia in Romania. Normally I would not have allowed myself to fall for someone so quickly, but it just felt so right, Remy. The way I always thought it should be."

"Hey, you don' 'ave t' justify t' me, girl. As long as you happy, dat all Gambit need t' know."

"I AM happy, Remy. Jonathan is going away on business soon, but I am hoping to see him again." She stood up. "Good night, beloved friend."

" 'Night, Stormy, don' worry, Gambit clean up de floor--you go sleep now."

She squeezed his shoulder, quickly kissed him on the lips, and left him.

Gambit was not alone, because he had some deep thoughts to keep him company.

"Alucard. Strange name dat, Stormy, sound familiar somehow." He frowned, suddenly tired. "If it dat important, Gambit 'member it later." He set about finding a mop and cleaning up the spilt milk. Then he made himself that cold lamb sandwich, deciding that much sheep-counting did indeed make one hungry.

Jonathan Alucard: The Delilah spoke my name aloud. The bitch. But I will forgive her. In time. After all, I am in love, am I not? Meanwhile, there is no need to suffer myself for her crimes. Not while I can have my ease of her.

I awaken her with a kiss.

And to my surprise, she lifts me in her arms and flies on the wings of the wind into the very clouds themselves for our union. She calls a high wind to blow her hair from her throat for my convenience while I drain her nearly dry, then return a measure of blood to her, mixed with my own lifeblood. She is mine, now and forever. My dark Countess. My love and my whore. How I adore you and despise you! You shall be mother to a new race, and our numbers will grow. Yes, I can have everything I ever dreamed of. It is within my reach, I know it is, and I shall rule over all of it. Such is my right.

Storm woke late.

Very late.

It was almost sunset.

However, the brightness of the setting sun hurt her eyes. After showering and changing, she put on the sunglasses she wore to hide her catlike eyes when she went out.

Going downstairs, she started to pass Mystique in the long corridor, but the shape-shifter barred her way.

"Out of my way, Darkholme!" Storm snarled.

"Look." Raven refused to budge. "I just wanted to say, no hard feelings about Forge, okay? I know how you feel about him--"

"I feel nothing. You are perfectly welcome to him."


"Do not address me by my first name." Storm suddenly gripped Mystique's throat and lifted her until her feet were no longer touching the floor. "Come near me again and I will powderize every bone in your pathetic body."

"STORM!" Rogue yelled, running into the hallway from her room, with Remy right behind her. "Set my momma down!"

"If you consider . . . this . . . your mother, Rogue, then you have my deepest sympathies." She released Mystique, opened the door, and left.

Remy tried to help Raven to stand, but she shoved him away, looking for all the world as if what she REALLY wanted was a cocked and loaded plasma rifle in her hands right now. "When did SHE get so strong?!" she croaked, holding her throat.

"Storm's ac'shully very strong, Momma." Rogue checked her for cuts. "Ain't that right, Remy?"

"Oui, ma amour. I seen Stormy pick up Bishop before like he jus' a lil' ol' sucklin' pig." He waited until Rogue led her shaking foster mother back into the bedroom, then grabbed his coat and hurried down the stairs after Storm.

What he had neglected to mention--what Rogue and Mystique had not seen in their preoccupation with the older woman's sudden scare and bruised pride--was that as he looked at the mirror when Storm passed it in the hallway, she cast no reflection in its surface.

A young black man stood on the corner of a street in New Salem, playing a saxophone. His case was already filled with coins and small bills. He was talented and people were generous. He had dreams of one day making it big on the Jazz scene, but until then, the money so kindly donated to the cause by the citizens of New Salem would do. He'd heard about the recent spate of unsolved murders in New Salem, of course, but he wasn't worried or afraid. He stood well over six feet tall and worked out every day. He wanted to look good for his future record covers. Yes, this young man--like every young person in the world--had his dreams.

With no small measure of appreciation, he walked the young woman stroll past him. She had a bottle of cheap red wine in her hand, and drank carelessly from the bottle as she crossed the street to his corner. She had a killer body, stacked like a brick Taj Mahal. She was a tall woman, not a dainty little thing, but a big beautiful thing. Her hair was snow white, falling to her waist like a soft snow glacier down her back. Such natural loveliness seemed incongruous with the way she was dressed--her garb looked as though she had been rifling through the bargain bin at Fredericks of Las Vegas, with that obscenely short, obscenely tight red Spandex skirt, six-inch stiletto heels, and a bright orange tube top that might have been a perfect fit for one of her ankles.

She sauntered past him and disappeared into an alley.

He rolled up his tongue back into his mouth and followed a few steps in her wake, just to watch her walk some more.

The next thing he knew, he was caught by the neck and wrenched into the dark alleyway. Something sharp and hot pierced his throat. Blood pounded in his ears, like Godzilla playing the world's biggest drum, and he felt his knees give way.

'And over on the drums, the sultan of slam--Godzilla!'

His hands, feet, and lips went numb first. Then his whole body felt as though a giant moth had wrapped it in a cocoon.

'Now give it up for my back-up singer--Mothra!'

He landed on his back roughly on the cold gravel of the alley. His eyes were glazing over, but he was able to focus on the beautiful hooker he'd followed. She was wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, then without a second glance at him, she took to the air and flew away like the Angel of Death.

Colors were suddenly sharp, and he felt cold, as though an ice storm was roaring its way through his lungs. He wasn't in pain--just a delicious state of nothingness.

Then he saw a young man kneeling beside him, shaking him, speaking to him in French. An astonishing young man with a long mane of thick auburn hair and strange red eyes. He tried to tell the young man that he didn't speak French and really couldn't understand what he was saying. But he did understand the frantic tears flooding over the angular cheekbones. His expression was incredulous, as though he knew the woman and couldn't believe what she had done.

He would not die alone, unmourned.

He took the Frenchman's hand, tried to tell him that it wasn't so bad--but all he could do was make gurgling noises in his throat. This didn't seem to comfort the young man; he laid his head on the dying man's chest and wept freely.

'Don't worry about me, kid,' he tried to say. 'The police will be here soon. You didn't have anything to do with this, but you'd better get out of here while you can.' The Frenchman suddenly raised his head as if he'd heard the dying man's thoughts.

'Yes, you did hear me, didn't you? You know who did this, now go do something about it. Run along, now.'

The young man reached out with his partially gloved hand and closed his eyes for him, then melted into shadows.

Remy paced up and down. He paced from the living room to the kitchen, then upstairs to the observatory. Then he went downstairs and destroyed six months' worth of construction work and wiring in the Danger Room. That hardly seemed to dampen his energy, and he went to and fro about the X-Mansion until he passed close enough to Logan's Lay-Z-Boy recliner in front of the television for Logan to seize him by the arm and push him onto an ottoman opposite his chair.

"Can't concentrate on the World Hockey League with ya wanderin' around the house like yer hauntin' it. So either stay put or tell me what's eatin' ya."

"Nothin' eatin' me! Min' your own business, Logan!"

"Boy, if ya don't start spillin' yer guts on th' count of three, I'm gonna bone-claw ya bit by bit an' find them guts myself. So what's it gonna be?"

Gambit didn't like the sound of that offer.

"De longer Mystique here, de more moody Rogue get. My daddy tol' me 'tis better to live on de roof dan in de house wit' a brawling woman." He started to get up, but Logan dragged him back and practically threw him back onto the ottoman.

"I know when someone's lyin' ta me, kid. It smells almost as bad as Creed's breath. Now you tell me what's REALLY goin' on."

If Remy voiced what he was thinking, Logan would just say he had been smoking too many cigarettes with funny foreign names. He picked up a pen and a sticky-note from the desk and wrote:


then handed it to Logan.

"What's this--a pop quiz?"

"It be de name of Stormy's new lover! Put it 'gainst a mirror, den you see dat Gambit no' crazy!" Tears were welling up in the Cajun's eyes, so Logan let him escape before they were both embarrassed.

Then he looked down at the paper and furrowed his bushy eyebrows. "I think ya been smoking those funny French cigarettes again, LeBeau." He scratched his itchy head. That felt good, so he scratched it some more. "Still, may as well humor the kid, but I'll find a mirror later. No point in rushing; Cajun loses his wits when he's playin' big brother to 'Roro."

The branches and brambles cut into her dusky skin unmercifully, but she didn't care. Ororo pushed her way through the woods near the X-Mansion, heedful only of HIS call. He sang to her in her mind, a low soft song that drew her to him like a moth to a bonfire.

'I am coming, Jonathan,' she called to him. 'Wait for me, my love.'

'Hurry, Beauty,' he whispered, his voice insinuating into her thoughts. 'Come to me now, for I must take my leave of this place--but not before I take a last kiss from you to sustain me on my journey.' He heard her protests and answered, 'Don't be sad, Beauty. My own land calls me, and my home must be made ready to accept its new family. For the first time in so many, many years, I won't be alone, and neither, dearest one, will you.'

She came into a clearing, desperately trying to smooth her clothing before he saw her in her torn and rucked-up dress. But the nap of her sweater was full of twigs and leaves, as was her hair, making her look like Mother Nature in dishabille.

All thoughts of her appearance dissipated when she saw Jonathan, standing near the trees, tall and strong as an oak himself.

Ororo flew into his arms, nearly bowling him over, and buried her head against his shoulder. "I missed you so much, Jonathan. Please do not leave me."

"It will only be for a short time. You will hardly know I've gone."

"Then take me with you!"

He bent her neck backward so that he could look at her face. Gently, he began to kiss away the tears flooding over her cheeks. As she clung to him, her balance no longer sure, he nuzzled her neck, savoring the fresh green scent of her and the warmth of the veins just under her skin.

His teeth bared, Alucard snarled when a small but furious explosion separated them, the very air cleaved by the thin playing card that flew apart into its very atoms just below his chin.

Then he growled with murderous sincerity at the new threat: A tall auburn-haired, red-eyed young man wearing a brown coat and an expression that was no less lethal.

"Stand away from de woman, M'sieu. Gambit gon' f'get he swear never t' kill an' dere no need to drag her into de grave wit' you when we settle dis, neh?"

"You dare threaten me, stripling?" Alucard laughed. "I had anticipated that my Beauty's friends would attempt to stop us, but I hardly expected them to send only a child to battle with me. This is an insult. Go home, little one. Your milk-teeth are no match for my fangs."

"My teeth plenty sharp, M'sieu. Wan' see how sharp? Den come here an' fight like a man. Or continue t' hide behind a woman an' I jus' come t' you f' de butt-whuppin' you gon' get, makesno diff'rence t' Remy LeBeau."

With that, he hurled the long silver staff he held in his left hand.

Jonathan Alucard: My, I seem to have found a little scrapper here. He actually dares to attack me! Does he not know who I am?

Clearly he fights for the woman. It is futile, of course. He can no more save her than he can save himself. He is powerful, though, and unbelievably fast. His agility surpasses even my own. When we first began this battle between us, his hands were glowing. Now his entire body is a glittery quicksilver thing, exploding everything he touches; even the fibers in his coat are lit. His eyes glow like the pits of Hell, how interesting.

Were this Remy LeBeau matched against anyone but myself, he would tear the very head off his adversary. He has the power--and the anger--to kill a lesser man in a thousand different ways if he so chose, that much is certain. I have known champions of kings with less fighting prowess than this young demon-child. He blocks my every blow with little more than a shrug of his shoulders or a flick of his wrist, his muscles flow like those of a panther.

I try to seize hold of him, but with only a touch he seems to set fire to the spectacles I use to hide my eyes from mortals. I toss the glasses and all illusions away, and he is taken aback to see that I too have seething red pupils floating in cold black irises, so like his own. He takes a step back, shocked at my appearance, then rallies and comes at me again, relentlessly chopping at my vitals with those white-hot fists of his. He has no compunction against killing me now that he perceives me as a threat to his friend.

I cannot take him alone. We are too evenly matched--his mutant powers, speed, and hand-to-hand skill against my strength and viciousness.

Ah, young trickster, do you not realize that you are all alone against me

While I have an ally

One whom you did not suspect

Did you?

My Beauty comes up behind my assailant, pinning his arms.

Were it anyone but Storm, he would simply toss her aside, but he cannot do so in such close combat quarters with me without causing her serious harm or even death. His powers are too deadly to take me without catching her in the explosive backlash--and he knows it.

That stills him quickly enough. I must confess that I am fascinated by LeBeau's love for my whore. Surely he must realize that he is giving himself up to me for her sake, to kill or devour as I see fit. Catching both his wrists in my hands, I drag him to me so that I may look at him in better light, for his entire body is shining and glowing like a small star.

Why, he is even younger than I took him for, barely more than a boy.

"Extinguish your powers," I command, for the very air around us is crackling with his mutant energies. "You have a thousand small tricks, my child, but none of them are of any avail against me. I have you now, and if you intend to kill us both--well, that is fine and good--but you will also kill the woman."

The arcane nimbus around his body begins to dim, little by little, as though it is difficult for him to reabsorb that much power. My Beauty holds fast to him, as I order her to. Never was there such a willing concubine. She has given him to me, and in spite of that, his love for her does not wane whatsoever. Is he in love with her?

He is not the only empath here, for I have the senses of the greatest of all predators. I must know more. Holding his head back by a handful of hair at the nape of his neck, I let my own empathy roam over him.

What is this? Why, who could have imagined that their love for each other could be so utterly innocent, these two beautiful creatures? Surely not I! Even though she is corrupted by my blood, he continues to cherish her as he would a beloved sister. He does not covet her body, nor she his.

I laugh aloud at them, a long and hearty guffaw brought up from the pits of my innards. Fates below, do not tell me that I have actually encountered a pair of innocents! Yet, it IS there! While neither of them are virgins in the physical sense, their love for each other is--or was--pure and without blemish.

I must remedy that, of course.

Oh, poor doomed children! I find innocence so amusing; it is such sport for me to seek it out and eradicate wherever I find it, and you are certainly no exception.

And now my humbled Beauty asks me for the life of her friend. The goddess begs so sweetly, doesn't she? Even though killing him is the last thing on my my mind, I will pretend to be generous in order to tighten the noose around her graceful neck. I shall give her more of him than she ever bargained for.

I shove him to the ground, knocking the breath and sense out of him as the ground hammers along his back, then I seize her by the shoulders. "I go ahead, Beauty. You must follow, for you can't yet travel as fast as I. Bring the young one with you, for sustenance and companionship on your journey--and as a wedding gift to me upon your arrival."

"You will not kill him?"

I frown. Is my dominion over her weaker than I'd thought, that she would dare question me? I resort to one of my deadliest weapons--a kiss that leaves her lungs breathless and her mouth bloody. Best to be truthful with her for now. "Why should I kill a boychild as fiery and powerful as this? You asked a family of me, Beauty, and so you shall have it--beginning with this one whom you love. My desires and yours are the same; together, we shall make him our firstborn. If we can't resist him, how can any mortal he comes upon during the hunt? Our kind will multiply, Beauty, and I shall set you as Queen of them all."

"I love you . . . husband."

"Of course you do, poppet. Now go and do my bidding. Let no one come between us--swear it, Beauty!"

"I swear."

So solemn she is. I do hope that the charming Cajun brings home more jovial women for my amusement.

Tableau: They sat facing each other in her room, she sitting on the edge of her bed, he warily cross-legged on the floor. The curtains were already drawn.

"Go to bed, Gambit!" she said for the hundredth time.


"I am tired and wish to rest now. Why are you acting like this?"

"Savin' you a job, chere," he quietly replied, pointing to the curtains. "An' tryin' t' save your soul. "

"Save my soul? What are you talking about?"

"If you still got one left, now dat you de blood-sucker's woman."

Storm could feel the heat of the sun rise outside her draped windows. It made her shiver. She needed to find a dark place to rest. "Why are you acting like this?" she demanded of him.

"Gambit worry 'bout you, padnat. I 'ave a right to--look at you!" He unfolded his lanky body and stood up, clasping his hands behind his back as he paced back and forth across her room. "Look at how you dressed."

She had never heard such disgust in his voice, and it stung.

"You don' dress like dat, Stormy. You no whore." He ignored the angry contortions in her expression. "Storm dress like a lady. You dressed in whore clothes. Storm proud and poised. You act like whore wit dat devil in de woods. Gambit not sure he know who you be anymore."

"You cannot speak to me like this!"

"It 'CAUSE Gambit your friend dat he speak like dis to you! What we gon' do when de other X-Men figure out dat Stormy be de vampire killer? You t'ink Gambit gon' let dem put a stake t'rough Stormy's heart?! You t'ink I not try t' help you? Dat why you gon' stay in your room 'til Gambit t'ink of a way t' free you from dat monster."

"You cannot lock me in my room like some--some--child!"

He looked at her sadly, and she could see his tears in the dimness of the nightlight. "You forget, Stormy. I DID know you when you a chile. I not confining a chile now. Gambit still love you, Ororo." He kept his stance, trying to be as bold and stern as he knew how, but in reality he was scared stiff. If she chose to close quarters with him, being a vampire gave Storm the advantage. Even his speed couldn't save him from her preternatural strength and fury.

"Gambit make you a deal, Stormy," he tried to reason with her. "You stay indoors an' Gambit fin' a way to give you what you need. I give you de blood freely, but you 'ave to stop dis killing. You been lucky so far, but one day de luck run out and dey catch you and kill you."


"So it kill Remy LeBeau t' lose his Stormy."

Ororo cocked her head. He had never seen her use that particular bit of body language and it bothered him. Her love for him had always enveloped him in a security he'd been able to trust and count on; he felt no love in her now.

"Why are you doing this?" she asked him.

" 'Cause Storm no murderer. She no whore, either. Storm a respectable woman who could never hurt someone t'rough malice. Storm made out of love, she not a prowler in de shadows. Alucard make you somet'ing you not, padnat."

"I am tired, LeBeau!" she shrilled at him, then abruptly collapsed on her bed.

Remy pulled the bedcovers over her, then knelt beside her and kissed her forehead. He started to leave with the intention of slipping out to stage a small burglary at the New Salem hospital blood bank, but Ororo suddenly had his wrist in that inhumanly strong grip of hers, twisting his arm behind his back as she pulled him to her.

"Now," she rasped. "Cannot wait any longer."

He nodded.

She released him.

He went to his room

Got his razor

And returned to his padnat

Locked the door.

Somewhere outside the shuttered room the sun was rising, scattering the clouds and evaporating the shining coat of dew left by the night.

Remy closed his eyes as he drew the razor across the back of his hand for her

His knees buckled

But his Stormy caught him

Drew him into her arms

Tenderly lifted the wounded hand and kissed it

Just before she pounced.

Logan passed into the central corridor of the upstairs in the X-Mansion main building. Rather, Logan stomped down the hallway with great vigor; passing was too ethereal a term to describe his progress through the house. He was looking for Gambit.

The Cajun hadn't been right in a week. He looked pale, almost ghostly, spending most of his time in his room--or Storm's. Yes, Logan knew about that, too, and he was thankful that Rogue didn't. Ignorance is bliss, and Logan was just as glad that she was still shopping in the Big Apple with Mystique--or else the X-Mansion would be reduced to so much rubble by now.

That night LeBeau had wandered into the weight room, drifting with none of his usual cockiness, seeing nothing with those glazed red eyes of his. Logan stopped benchpressing long enough to snag him by the long scarf looped around his throat and reel him in by it for a closer look at him. Gambit obviously didn't want to be scrutinized, mumbled something about needing some fresh air, and vanished before Logan got a good hold on him.

But Logan had seen enough. The Cajun's skin was devoid of any flush in spite of being half-throttled by the scarf; even his lips were white. His eyes glowed more even feral than usual. Interestingly, his face was utterly smooth--his usual stubble was gone, and it was more than shaving five times a day: His chin and jaw were as smooth as a child's, as though he'd never had any beard growth at all. Logan had never seen the Cajun without at least SOME five o'clock shadow. And he was even thinner than usual, as though he hadn't eaten in days. Come to think if it--Logan had only observed him playing with his food at dinner; he'd eaten both his own and LeBeau's suppers for the last four days.

And he'd thought that Ororo was still in New Salem; no one in the X-Mansion had seen her in days, but then again--Gambit had said she had a new boyfriend in town, Forge was still in residence, and Mystique should be back from New York at any time. However, that didn't explain everything. It wasn't unusual to find Gambit sleeping in her room--or anyone else's room--but he typically curled up for naps wherever he happened to be when he became sleepy; he didn't make nightly climbs to Storm's attic.

Putting his hands into his pockets as he approached the door to the loft, Logan began to whistle softly--just a little tune to let anyone engaged in hanky-panky know to tone it down a bit. But his fingers touched the crisp slip of paper in his pocket.

Logan fished out the paper. It was the note Gambit had given him several days ago; he'd forgotten about it. Unfolding it, he held it against a mirror hanging in the hallway.

What he read there caused him to growl.

The hackles along his neck and back stood straight up, bristling.

But the time he reached Storm's attic, he was snarling like a mad wolf, foam flecking his lips and his teeth bared. One blow from his left fist shattered the door into splinters, and that didn't even slow him down. He went to Storm's bed and stood beside it.

LeBeau was in that bed, and if he wasn't dead already, he looked the closest to it Logan ever wanted to see him. He lay on his back, his clothing mostly torn from his body, staring up at Logan but not seeing him, and so pale he looked like a man chiseled from marble.

The dark outline of Ororo's nude body covered his, and her hair spread over both of them like a finely spun silken blanket. She was a magnificent creature, and Logan felt himself stir at the sight of her. And it wasn't just the sight of her. It was the smell of her, the musky odor in the room was drenched with sex and pheromones.

Logan had to struggle with himself to refrain from tackling her then and there. His animal senses were picking up on the scent of a female in heat, and the wanting of her washed over him like high tide over his self-control.

Leaning over, he grabbed Ororo by the hair and dragged her across the foot of her bed. "Sorry, darlin', but yer not goin' poaching on Rogue's private lil' game preserve while I got anything ta say about it."

"Logan!" she hissed like a snake through a mouth filled with blood. "How DARE you!!!!!!!"

"Damnit, sister!" He swung at her and connected, would have broken her jawbone if he'd been half-trying. As it was, he gave her a pronounced love-tap that sent her tumbling over the edge of the bed and onto the floor.

"Sorry, darlin'," he whispered. That punch hurt him a lot worse than it did her.

He helped Gambit to sit up. The Cajun was weak as a kitten, and probably contained about as much blood in his tall body as a newborn kitten, too. "Kid, what are you playin' at here?" Logan demanded with no small measure of ferocity.

Remy blinked, as though he'd been asleep, to see one very angry Wolverine glaring at him. "Dis not what it look like, M'sieu Logan." His voice was barely audible.

"Goody fer you it was me and not Rogue that caught ya, wasn't it, punk?" He took off his own shirt and wrapped it around Gambit's shoulders. "What the HELL d'ya think yer doin'?"

"Tryin' t' stop Stormy killin'."

Logan delivered a series of small slaps to that classic jawline to keep Gambit from passing out again. "I finally got around ta reading yer note. Alucard. Backwards for "Dracula". The old leech is back, eh? Shit! The LAST thing ya do is give her yer blood, ya Cajun idiot!"

"I only tryin' t' help her. Stormy mean de world t' me."

"I know, kid, but ya gotta face it: Storm's a vampire. And if I hadn't popped in here when I did, you'd prob'ly be one by now, too." Logan crossed to the other side of the bed to ensure that Storm was still unconscious. She was, so she'd keep a few minutes. He helped Gambit to stand up, then led the younger mutant back to his own room. They made slow progress because LeBeau was still shaky from his near-fatal bloodletting.

"Is Drac still here?" Logan asked the Cajun when he'd settled him in his own bed.

"Non. She say he in Europe, an' he call her t' come t' him. I try t' stop her from going, and she . . ." His voice trailed away.

"You can have yer guilt trip later. Right now, I want ya ta get some real sleep and start packin' yer gear first thing in the mornin'. I'll go get 'Roro put together."

"Where we going?"



"We're goin' on a fuckin' Easter Egg hunt, Junior! Jeez! Why'd'ya THINK we're goin'?! We're gonna go free you and 'Roro from that sonuvabitch."

"Who gonna stop Stormy feedin' on me?"

"Let me worry 'bout that, kid. Now go to sleep."

Logan went back to Ororo's attic, and found her still on the floor, just beginning to regain consciousness. He could have wept, seeing her like this--would have, if she wasn't dangerous enough to see it as an exploitable weakness in him. He picked her up, and she nestled against him, crying softly. Maybe he'd knocked the vampire out of her for the moment, but he knew better than to expect it to last. "Have I . . . hurt . .. . Remy?"

"Nah, he's fine. Just needs some rest. So do you."

"Logan, if I . . . promise me that you will . . . "

"If I have to, darlin'. You know that. But only if I have to." He put her back into bed, covered her, then kissed her like a little girl. "He's gotta pay f' this, 'Roro. You know, when we find him, he's gonna pay."

"I cannot trust myself anymore, Logan!" she cried.

"It's all right, darlin'. Logan's gonna make everything all right," he told her as he closed and locked the door. 'Even if I have ta kill us all t' do it.'

He couldn't sleep, so he dragged an ancient duffel bag out of his closet and stuffed a couple of pairs of old jeans into it. Logan didn't own any new jeans; he liked to find them old and broken-in. If most of his enemies weren't taller and more long-legged than he was, he would have taken their jeans off their dead carcasses. Logan didn't hold with sentiment, except in a few rare cases.

Like now.

'Those poor kids.'

He didn't have any clean shirts, but he was no more interested in cleanliness than he was in godliness, so he shoved the dirty shirts into the bag.


He ignored the telepathic summons. Jeeezzz, didn't Professor Xavier EVER sleep?

If Logan had owned any socks, he would have tossed them into the bag, but he never bothered with socks so he didn't.

'LOGAN.' A trifle more insistent this time.

Big hairy deal. Logan marched into his bathroom. He wasn't interested in sundries, either, but decided to take along a roll of toilet paper. Had to set a good example for a change, and act civilized in front of the kids.


It wasn't a telepathic voice this time, and it was right outside the door.

"S'open!" Logan called over his shoulder.

Professor X glided into the room in his Shi'ar hoverchair. "Logan," he said sternly. "I ordinarily do not make it a practice to read my students' minds--"

"Then why ya startin' now?"

"Because your thoughts are powerful and murderous enough to seep through your shields. If Jean and Betsy had been in residence tonight, they would have felt them, as well."


"Logan, you must know that I cannot condone an act of willful killing."

Wolverine whirled on him then. "Fer yer information, CHUCK, Dracula's already been killed, he just don't know it yet."

That startled the Professor. "Dracula? Logan, are you positive of this?"

"Don't I LOOK kinda positive? Whatcha want--a game of Twenty Questions?! Sheesh!"

"At least let the rest of the X-Men come with you. Even you shouldn't face Dracula alone."

Logan was suddenly perched on the hoverchair, his hairy face about four inches from the Professor's. "Ya want yer teacher's pet Cyclops ta see what ya know I gotta do?"

The Professor looked away from him. "No. No, I do not. Then go do what you must, but leave Storm and Gambit here."

"Ya think the old leech is gonna give me the time of day if I ain't got bait of my own? Yeah, right! No way even I can sniff 'im out if he don't wanna be found. Nope, he wants these kids, he's gotta go through me ta get 'em." He hopped off the hoverchair. "Let's keep this thing just between us, howzabout it, Chuck?"

Charles Xavier didn't answer him. The hoverchair merely glided away and the door shut behind him. Then from without, Wolverine heard the Professor speak to him in his mind. 'Logan, I will expect you to return with Gambit and Storm both alive and healthy. Is that understood?'

'Then keep yer fingers crossed, Chuck. If all three of us don't come back, none of us will.'

The ticket-taker of the Orient Express had an interesting story to tell his wife one night. He was working at his office in Paris, a day like any other day--or so it seemed--when something made him look up from his exchange tables and directly at a prospective passenger. Perhaps it was because he had never before seen hands like the ones that pushed a wad of bills under his window, then began to drum impatiently on the countertop.

They were, without a doubt, the biggest hairiest hands he had ever seen in his life, with oddly thick broken fingernails and strange calluses over the furry knuckles. The arms they were attached to were unusually muscular, and even more hirsute--with tufts of fur widening in patches toward the elbows. The man they belonged to was one of the strangest-looking men he had ever seen.

He was very short, barely more than five feet tall--and nearly as broad as he was tall--but there wasn't an ounce of fat on him; all that bulk was solid muscle. One could tell it by the way he moved. He was not handsome in any remote sense of the word, wearing a face that had clearly been in too many fights, still carrying enough scars to scare dogs with. His craggy head was topped with thick coarse hair that grew in heavy long sideburns along his strong jaws and springing up along either side of his head in an unruly thicket made him look somehow wolfish.

The pugilist wasn't alone; he had two young people with him who were no less unusual.

One was a much younger man, tall, sinewy, and undoubtedly one of the most handsome men the ticket-master had ever seen. He was little more than a teenager, yet he held himself like one much older than his years. His auburn hair was quite long, hanging halfway down his back in a thick soft ponytail in spite of its being bound at the back of his neck. He wore dark glasses, which slipped off the bridge of his nose when a groom bumped into him while leading a prized Thoroughbred mare bound for the racetracks toward the traincars that housed animals. The short man was quick to to snatch the glasses off the station floor and hand them back--but not before the ticket-master saw the younger man's eyes: These were glowing crimson like live embers in twin pools of black coals. The young man hurriedly put the dark glasses back on, and something in the pugilist's glare made commentary a dangerous prospect, so the ticket-taker elected not to mention the handsome man's eyes.

But it was the woman with the two men who made the ticket-master gasp: She was utterly ravishing--lovely to a fault, with her flawless sable-hued skin, regal posture, and crown of snow-white hair pulled up in a stylish chignon. While her eyes weren't quite as startling as those of her young traveling companion, they were striking in their own right--with long green pupils, like those of a cat. She was quite tall; she and the red-eyed man towered over the pugilist, and both wore expensive, well-tailed clothing compared to his ratty jeans and filthy old shirt--yet, when the tickets were paid for and exchanged, the short man seized the pair of them by the hands and went barreling off through the crowd, dragging them in tow like a wild warthog boar who'd brought down two gazelles.

The ticket-master couldn't let the trio escape; he had to look at them for as long as he could. He quickly put up his "Window Closed" sign and hurried after them. The two tall young people were easy to spot in the crowd, and it was soon clear the path the pugilist was taking them on, parting the crowd like Moses and the Red Sea, making straight for the First Class traincars, the three of them holding hands--or rather, the pugilist was holding hands.

The younger man seemed overcome by the crowd, noticeably paler and eventually stumbling in his step somewhat, nearly fainting, so that the pugilist put his arm around him to steady him. The woman, in contrast to her feverish companion, pulled at the pugilist's grip on her hand like an errant child, as though she wanted to go into the mob and leave his protection. Her cat-eyes darted about, avid and cunning, scanning the people in the crowd.

When the young man eventually did lose his fight to stay conscious and finally passed out, the pugilist had to release the woman to break his fall--and no sooner than he had did the woman bolt away from him and into the mob.

How the pugilist knew that the ticket-master was following them was nothing short of uncanny and downright frightening, the ticket-master told his wife that night: Because he suddenly whirled about without even looking around--and shoved the fainted patient into the ticket-master's arms, barked, "Here--hold this!" at him, then bounded off in search of the woman.

He found her only steps away, already on the arm of a gentleman passenger who had been unaccompanied by a female and seemed quite captivated by the unusual beauty who suddenly attached herself to him. Not surprisingly, this man was rather unwilling to relinquish his good fortune to the stocky pugilist, who had caught up with his charge and demanded she disengage herself from her new acquaintance. A few heated words were exchanged, then the pugilist snarled, "I ain't got time to waste on you, bub," and suddenly there were CLAWS extending out of the back of his paw--that is, his hand. This immediately cooled the surprised man's interest in the beautiful lady, and he happily returned her with many profuse apologies to the pugilist, who then went back to the ticket-taker, collected his unsteady young friend, and herded his charges straight to the First Class passenger cars--whereupon he physically PUT the both of them aboard their railcar before mounting the steps behind them and surveying the milling throng of people in the station. Apparently satisfied that they were not being followed--or whatever concern it was that he harbored--the pugilist stepped inside the passenger car and closed its doors to any other who would enter.

And that was the last the ticket-master saw of the extraordinary trio.

Logan had once done a cherished favor for the chief operating officer of the Orient Express; hence, he had simply made a phone call to his old friend, and voila! -- An entire passenger car was reserved exclusively for his use, much to the ire of a gaggle of would-be First Class passengers who had to settle for the Second or Third Class traincars. But even though he had several staterooms at his disposal, he ensconced himself and his companions in a single compartment.

This stateroom included two twin-sized beds against the mahogany-lined walls on opposite sides of the chamber. Logan put Gambit on one side of the room and Storm on the other, then told them to unpack while he roosted at the foot of Gambit's bed. He didn't dare leave them alone, or let them out of his sight for that matter. She was hungry, and the Cajun couldn't refuse her anything on his best days; he was too anemic by now to resist her even if he'd wanted to. Logan worried, too, about the extent to which Gambit was already turned toward vampirism; it was going to be hard enough to keep Storm in line: The last thing Wolverine wanted to put up with was a pair of underaged leeches coming at him. He felt like a determined, battle-scarred nanny with two troublesome children. But so far, so good: LeBeau still hadn't developed any unusually pointed teeth (and Logan pried his jaws apart every few hours to check his incisors--just to make sure) and seemed only weak and chilled. Storm, however, promptly stripped off her suit and began to strut about the cabin naked.

But she was just wasting her charms at the moment. Gambit had difficulty remaining conscious and so collapsed as soon as he sat down; Logan threw a nightgown at her and told her to cover herself.

Ororo merely laughed at him and ripped the gown apart with her dreadful teeth.

Logan countered by back-handing her so hard he made a swollen bruise on her lovely face. He had no intention of playing her games. She darted away from him into the corner, hugging herself.

It took all his strength to remain tough with her, even though he knew she was shamming. He tossed another gown at her and brusquely informed her that she was going to make herself decent or he would carve the naughty bits off her.

He meant it, too.

Storm dressed herself in the cheap gown Logan had picked up for her. It was a white long-sleeved flannel garment that covered her from head to toe.

Privately, Logan considered it a crying shame to cover up a body that beautiful.

But that was the way it had to be.

He rigged up a makeshift clothesline and hung a sheet over it to give her some measure of privacy, although he made sure that he was between her and the doorway--not to mention between her and Gambit. Eventually she either joined LeBeau in sleep--or just curled up on her bed to play possum.

Didn't matter to Logan: He kept his post at the foot of Remy's bed and fixed Ororo with his most reptilian glare. Sleep was something he'd learned to do without decades before these kids were glitters in their daddies' eyes.

The Kenyan and the Cajun still had their eyes closed (Logan wouldn't put a sporting bet on their being asleep) when someone knocked on their cabin door. Logan unbolted the door to admit the waiter, who had brought a tray laden with food.

This waiter was clearly an unhappy man--likely the loser when it came to drawing straws to bring room service to this particular cabin. The sight within was no more encouraging, either; the short wolfish-looking man had an entire passenger car for his own use--yet he had locked himself into a single cabin with two extremely fetching young people. The Orient Express staff who had ventured into the traincar heard hammering sounds earlier in the evening: The hapless waiter could now confirm that the Canadian had pounded nails into the exquisite burled wood paneling in order to chain the beautiful woman to the wall. The younger man was in the farther bunk, bundled into all the blankets in the railcar--yet he shivered uncontrollably and his shallow breathing was painful to hear.

"Where are we now?" Logan asked the waiter.

"Somewhere in rural Romania, sir. You may have noticed that the train has been traveling uphill for some time now. And then, perhaps you haven't."

Logan seized the tray in both hands, then looked at the disapproving waiter. His one long bushy eyebrow puckered into an angry knot between his bloodshot eyes. He didn't care what the hired help thought of him. "Yeah, an' ain't they cute in their little jammies, too?" he snarled, shoving the waiter out the door and slamming it shut behind him.

(Of course the waiter would dutifully report the damage to the paneling to his superiors, as well as the unwholesome appearance of the situation, but he would be told that there were orders from the very top brass of the company to humor the short man's wishes--whatever they were. They made a cell call just to confirm that it was all right for him to drive nails into the walls--and were informed that if Mr. Logan wanted to take the entire train apart, rivet by rivet, he was quite welcome to do so.).

He'd ordered enough food to feed a small army (or a Summers family reunion, take your pick), and he was hungry enough to turn cannibal and eat that small army himself. Setting the tray down on the low table between the beds, he sat down next to Gambit and lifted the metal lid, allowing the hearty aroma of a delicious meal to permeate the cabin.

"Want some grub, 'Roro?" he asked, knowing the answer before he asked the question.

"It makes me sick!" she snarled at him, rattling her chains, trying to cover her nose.

"Awwww, an' here I wuz takin' credit fer that all by m'self. Well, ya can't say I didn't try ta feed ya, darlin'."

He leaned over and shook the Cajun. "C'mon, kid. It's trough time."

"We will fight you!" Ororo had pulled at her manacles until her wrists bled; by now she'd resorted to licking her own blood from those torn wrists. Her vampire teeth were fully developed now--long, ugly things in such an otherwise inviting mouth.

"That's what I'm countin' on, darlin'."

"He wants Remy, too."

"Well, bully for Drac. I wish him lots o' luck." He shook Gambit again, then sat him up against a mound of pillows, lightly slapping his face. "Vittles' gonna get cold, Gumbo. Ya gotta eat something. C'mon, now--I'll leave ya alone an' let ya sleep if ya eat some supper."

"What 'bout Stormy?" Remy demanded, even though his voice was barely more than a whisper. "She hungry, too."

"Yeah, 'Roro wants ta sink her tusks into a rare steak that looks a lot like me."


"Don't talk Frog at me, boy." He tore a roast chicken, the centerpiece of the dinner, into hunks with his bare hands then stuffed half of it into his mouth, grinding the bones between his mighty molars and swallowing most of the bird whole. "Here." He ripped off a drumstick and handed it to Gambit, who only sat pallidly where he was, staring at the meat as if he didn't know what to do with it.

"Eat it," Logan ordered.

"Remy not hungry."


Gambit nibbled at the drumstick like a gerbil.

Logan crunched down the last of the chicken, having picked it clean as a vulture--except for the wishbone. That he waggled at Ororo and said, "Wanna make a wish?"

"I wish you dead and your stinking carcass rotting in the sewers of Hell."

"Oops, ya went an' said it out loud, darlin'. Now yer wish won't come true." He snapped the wishbone in half, then ate it, too. Then he washed the entire lot down with a few liters of beer, drinking out of the pitcher. Only after he finished drinking all the beer and lapping up the dregs did he wipe his mouth with the back of his sleeve and say, belching as loudly as he hammered nails into walls, "Warm beer! Yecccchhhh!"

He took the drumstick back from Gambit, and felt satisfied that about a third of it had been eaten. If LeBeau was turned beyond the halfway point, he'd be puking up his Cajun guts by now.

"S'okay, kid. Ya did good," Logan sighed heavily, like Atlas, then opened the cork on a bottle of wine he'd vainly hoped would tempt LeBeau. "Still cold?"

Remy nodded, hugging himself.

"Well, get back under th' covers."

The Cajun snuggled back into the mountain of blankets, but continued to shiver miserably. "Logan?" he asked after awhile.


"D'you t'ink dere be hope f' her?"

Logan set his glass down. What could he tell the Cajun that he didn't already know? If Storm were in her right mind, she'd never have taken her best friend's blood.

"Go back t' sleep, LeBeau," was all he could say.

Logan sat shotgun duty for several hours. He didn't have to worry about drifting off to sleep; Ororo kept him awake, raining curses and a mini-monsoon down on his shaggy head with amazing finesse. He didn't care. Let her wear herself out with all her yelling and squalling. That'd make one less bloodsucker to contend with when the time came. She wasn't his 'Roro anymore, and the sooner Gambit took it to heart that she was no longer his Stormy, the better off they'd all be.

Then he felt his innards wake up: Damnit, the mother of all bowel movements was charging through his guts like a freight train. He could either shit in the corner like an unhousebroken dog, or he could step across the hall to the plumbing facilities. Well, he was still a man, wasn't he? He didn't want to drop his drawers in front of the kids. Ororo had been fighting her chains for hours; she'd have broken free long ago if she could have. The Cajun was still out like a light. They weren't going anywhere for a few minutes.

Later, a few pounds lighter and in a considerably better mood, Logan went back into the cabin.


That was all he felt like saying.

The chains were pulled out of the wall, splintering the priceless paneling into so much kindling.

But how could she--?

Then Logan saw the empty bed

And the puddle of blood on the floor before the spot where Storm had been standing.

"Cajun, first I'm gonna save your skinny little ass--then I'm gonna crush your skull."

But he had to find him--and Ororo--first.

He didn't have far to look:

Shoving open the door to the back of the traincar, he came face to bellybutton with Storm, standing out on the landing between the cars as if she were just out for some fresh night air. Her hair whipped wildly and her gown billowed about her bare legs in the rush of wind about the speeding train. She cradled an unconscious Remy LeBeau in her arms as easily as she might a very young child, his head resting against her shoulder and his throat bleeding gently from a new gash in his pale skin.

"You know, Logan," she said absently, as if her mind were already on other matters, "Remy and I used to wonder which of us is the better master thief. I would say that it is I; after all, I have stolen HIM."

"Don't make this any worse, darlin'!" he roared at her above the roar of the engine and the tracks, fighting back the tears he didn't want her to see. Even he--perhaps the ultimate realist--hadn't wanted to admit what she was. "For the sake of any soul ya might still have in ya, leave the Cajun out o' whatever filth yer wallowin' in with Dracula."

"How dare you!" she seethed at him. "Jonathan is the gentlest, the kindest, man I have ever known. And yet you continue to persecute him! You truly are nothing but an animal!"

That hurt. "I ain't even BEGUN ta persecute yer precious Jonathan Alucard yet, sister! Why don't you and the kid stay here, and when I'm done, I'll tell ya all about how I persecuted the hell out of that sonuvabitch right upside his ugly head."

"I will no longer endure your lies, Logan. Jonathan would never hurt Remy or me."

"So tell me, 'Ro: If nobody's s'posed ta get hurt, how come there ain't enough blood left in th' Cajun ta fill a shot glass? How come he's in shock? How come you've killed humans when ya swore never ta take a life? Well? Gimme some answers, girl! I'm waitin'!"

"You are trying to confuse me."

"Ya don't need any help from me in that department. So what's it gonna be, darlin'?"

"Jonathan is calling me."

"Then fight him, 'Roro. You go to him, you leave me here and take the Cajun, you give that kid over to your shithead master, you snuff out any more lives, I do you like I'll do him when I catch up with th' both of ya--won't be no diff'rence between you an' him ta me then. Do ya get my drift here?"

She looked away from him, toward the black mountains that beckoned to her.

For a moment, for just the briefest instant, she hesitated.

Logan took a step forward.

He held out his arms.

His heart pled with hers.

Then she cried out. She cried the name of their tormentor


And then she was gone, borne aloft on winds of her own calling.

Logan leapt from the hurtling train, tucking and rolling like a tumbleweed down a ravine over a hundred feet deep. Rocks and branches struck his body as he scudded down the cliffside into a culvert, breaking several of his bones. Would have bruised his skin, too, if that hide of his wasn't as tough as thick buffalo leather. He would have even felt the pain if he'd cared to, but the fractured bones and cartilage were much less bothersome than her betrayal. Finally, all that momentum accumulated by a considerable distance and his considerable weight brought him to a brutally hard stop against a boulder.

Any other man would have been killed. Wolverine stood up on his haunches and craned his eyes toward the night skies

There she was

He'd given her a white gown for a reason

He wanted to be able to see her in the dark

Thank the stars she couldn't fly at supersonic speeds like Rogue; she merely rode the wind currents and traveled even slower due to carrying LeBeau's weight as well as her own.

Yet Logan cursed her name.

To follow, he had to drop to all fours and lope after her since he couldn't cover ground as fast on two legs as he could on all fours. And he hated Ororo for reducing him to that. Hated her for making him run like a dog. Like a wolf. She had to know what giving chase to her cost him, the bitch.

She had to fly under the clouds due to the high elevation they were already at; the air was too thin for her to climb higher into the atmosphere and out of his sight.

Logan kept his beady eyes trained on the two younger X-Men as he ran scampering over the hostile terrain; high above in Ororo's arms, Gambit showed no sign of struggling. Which meant that he was in no condition for fighting, probably more than half dead by now. No surprise there. Another bone of contention Logan had to pick with Storm and her boyfriend.

When a sheer wall of rock blocked his way, Logan extended his claws and dug handholds in the stone, bellycrawling like a lizard hand over hand only a little more slowly than he could run. His bones had to knit in his stride, because he had no intention of slowing down to lick his wounds.

Right now, there was Hell to pay.

The air was fetid and cold in his lungs. Gambit dreamed that he was being strangled. There was a noose knotted around his throat, and it tightened a millimeter at a time, just enough to choke that much more oxygen out of him. He tried to get his fingers under the rope, but he could only fumble helplessly with it. He thought he was being hanged, and his first response was to flail and kick his way free before his neck snapped. Yet, even though his body was weightless and without substance, like the body of a ghost, it could feel the icy chill around him like the embrace of newly turned dirt in a grave.

He awoke coughing and gasping, and sat bolt upright, his fingers touching cold stone under his body. He couldn't see at first for the darkness, but his mutant eyes quickly adapted to it and he began to get his bearings.

He wasn't in a grave, but in his Stormy's arms. Yet this didn't feel like Ororo: This woman's body was hard and . . . cool. The two of them sat on a large flat stone surface. Remy's fingers traced an intaglio in the stone: Mortis. Latin for death. They were sitting on someone's tomb.

Then he remembered the Orient Express:

He had been sleeping in a night infested with malevolent dreams, as thought he were trying to wade through a swampland filled with poisoned flowers and quicksand. The fragrance of the flowers was sweet to his nostrils--yet he could smell the marsh gases just beyond the veil of perfume--the heavy, malodorous stench of sulfur and decay.


There were creatures with teeth beneath the surface of the brackish water he waded in; he could feel the teeth pricking his feet and legs. When he was a boy skinning-dipping in the warm swimming holes on Jean-Luc LeBeau's plantation, the little fish would swim up to him and tickle him, then playfully dart away. These things hiding under the water's surface were biting into his flesh, and the dirty water around him ran scarlet with his own blood.


His eyes snapped open. Ororo strained against her chains, trying to free herself. She stilled when she saw that he was awake.

"Remy. Come here for a moment. I want to talk to you."

The sound of her voice made him tremble.

Where was Logan?

Remy scooted as far away from her as he could get, until his back was against the wall. "You talk to me fine from over dere, chere." He sat up, pulling the blankets with him. "Gambit hear you jus' fine from here."

"Please, Remy. Do you not know how difficult this is for me? Logan has put me in chains."

"For your own good, chere."

"I cannot stand this, my friend. This tiny room, these chains. I feel as though I am in a box." Panic was beginning to rise in her voice.

He knew well the cause of her panic--she suffered from claustrophobia; the cabin WAS relatively small, and chained as she was, she had no way to quell her terrors.

"Hold me," she whispered. "Just come to me and hold me. I will not be frightened if you hold me."

"Logan, he say I 'ave t' stay here on my own side of de room."

"Then it is true," she said softly, as tears began to flood over her cheeks. "Even you have deserted me."

"Non! Remy never 'bandon his Stormy!"

"Then prove it, child. Come here to me. You do not have to release me; I understand that you cannot. But you can put your arms around me, can you not? You can do that much for me, or is it more than I may ask of you?"

That tore at him. He shakily stood up, belting his robe around the pajamas Logan insisted he wear if he was going to sleep in the same room as a lady, then crossed the few feet to his partner and slid his arms around her waist. "It okay, p'tite. Remy here, he look after you."

"You always do, Remy. Always so kind to me, so tender, so . . ."

With that she plucked one set of manacles out of the wall, then the other, tossing nails and splinters around them both. Her arms were around him, bearing him up, she had to because he didn't have the strength to stay vertical on his own anymore, her mouth was cold against his throat, her teeth so sharp.

Remy LeBeau closed his eyes and slipped his arms around her neck, not much of a purchase to break his fall. He was too weak to stop her. And he loved her so much. Even now. If his blood would help ease her suffering, he would gladly give her every last drop of it.

That was the last he remembered, until now. She still wore the white gown Logan had given her, her wrists still bearing the weight of his chains and their moorings. She smiled at him, and the sight of her red mouth made him cringe. Unable to look at her anymore, Remy turned his head to try to figure out where he was, try to make some sense of his situation.

They were in a huge burial sepulchre. His eyes spanned a high arched nave above them, and walls lined with tombs surrounding them on all sides, stacked one upon the other as high as the ceiling. Looking more closely at the ceiling, he saw that it was painted as lavishly as the Sistine Chapel (Remy LeBeau's lifelong ambition, as a master thief, was to steal the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but he hadn't quite figured out all the logistics yet). But these paintings were horrible, lurid depictions of devils cavorting about in a great charnel pit, celebrating perdition by guzzling wine and gobbling the raw flesh of humans and animals. Some of the demons depicted were engaged in ghastly acts with the bodies of men, women, children, and beasts; others rode about on the shoulders of gigantic two-legged monsters with cloven hooves, brandishing long bones as clubs and herding humans like cattle to a pen where the chiefest devil among them--an chainmail-armored manlike-looking being with black hair and monstrous teeth--impaled the victims one after another on steel spikes, then set the spikes into the ground to watch them writhe in agony.

Remy turned over onto his stomach and tried to crawl away from the terrible mural--only to find himself facing a cohort of corpses, all of them lined up and staring eyelessly at him, their bodies mangled and grotesque in the moonlight. Most of them had been put to death centuries ago, horribly so judging by the condition of the bodies flanking the stone slab on which he lay with Ororo. Yet there were other kills, recent ones still decaying alongside their elder brethren, many of the bodies still embedding the weapons that had impaled them.

"They are witnesses, little one."

Remy's heart sank in despair, even while Ororo jumped to her feet and cried joyously, "Jonathan!"

"Ah, Beauty, you HAVE come!" Alucard strode into the center of the chamber, took Storm's hand and kissed it. "And I have missed you so. How like you my preparations for our wedding and the birth to Darkness of our first child together?" He turned to Remy and said, "And you, little one? Ready to become a prince?"

"Can't be Prince," Remy croaked. "I too tall an' I can't sing."

Dracula didn't get it, nor was he interested learning in the allusion behind the sarcasm. It was enough that the youth was here and his. He sat down beside Remy, stroking his long auburn hair as though he actually felt compassion for him. Remy swatted his hand away.

The vampire grinned. The child would keep for later. For now, he missed his Beauty. Oh, and she was so willing and ready it made his black heart soar. He took both her hands in his and broke her dangling chains apart with one snap, then drew her closer, chafing her wrists, kissing her palms slowly and hotly. She obediently lay down on the dusty floor, holding out her arms to her lover.

Gambit curled up into a tight ball on the crypt on which he lay, covering his head with his arms, trying to block out the sights and sounds taking place on the floor below. Unfortunately, he still had all his mutant kinethetic senses that told him exactly what was occurring where around him, not to mention his excellent hearing. He was too weakened by blood loss to stop them in their obscene carnality; he couldn't even block it out of his senses and pretend it wasn't happening. Where was Logan? Dead, or perhaps never existed.

Then those cursed kinethetic abilities told him that they had finished their ravenous lovemaking and had risen to sit on either side of him like two serpents. He could smell blood--his own--on the both of them. Too scared to even open his eyes, too tired to struggle at all, he felt Ororo's icy hands grip his shoulders and turn him over. "Dear Remy," she sighed. "You have no idea how much I love you. It is because I love you so much that Jonathan and I want to share this with you." She unbelted his robe, then began to unbutton his pajama top, and pulled the shirt and robe down over his shoulders, effectively pinning his arms to his sides. "Let me bare your throat, Remy. Let me perform this kindness for you." She drew his head onto her lap, then pushed his jaw back to expose his throat.

"Please not do dis, Stormy," he sobbed. "Let me go."

She didn't answer him, only smiled like a harpy.

Then Dracula's arms slid around Remy and drew him against the vampire's chest. Holding him effortlessly, the fiend buried his face in the crown of reddish-brown hair and deeply inhaled the scent of someone yet warm and alive. What a pleasure to have something this young and frightened again. Dracula had to admire his courage: LeBeau still fought him with nothing more than sheer force of will to animate his hands into fists and strike out with them.

"Brave and proud to the bitter last, eh, little one?" Dracula found all that renewed struggling amusing. "When you stop fighting me, I shall give you back not only your own strength--but mine, as well." He wrenched Gambit's arm behind his back, twisting it hard to break the bones if the flailing didn't stop, then grabbed a useful handful of auburn hair and cruelly pulled Remy's head back.

Strangely, Remy felt no pain at all when the vampire took him. It was as if he had already been anesthetized, like a fly in the sticky web of a spider--as though he had no pain left to pour out upon this altar of horrors.

But he was wrong about that. He screamed when Storm's fangs sank into his wrist, a long wail of anguish he'd never imagined could come from his own throat. Perhaps Dracula no longer possessed the power to hurt him, but she did. Part of him still couldn't believe her capable of this heinousness; that part of him told him that she had a right to take his life, for such a life must be worth very little in the universal scheme of things.

Then Dracula leaned back, still holding Remy close, stroking his hair, and smiling. With his free hand he opened his own shirt, hooked his hand into a claw and raked it across his chest, opening five deep runnels of seeping crimson. "And now I make you mine forever," he whispered in Remy's ear.

Jonathan Alucard: Why, the child is almost as delicious as my Beauty. This, then, is what I needed all along: New blood. Beauty and my child will invigorate me and lead me out of my boredom with the world. They will be my avatars, and just as I bend them to my will, so shall they bend their mutant powers for me. She will lay the wind at my feet, and he will bring me fire. He still tries to turn his face from the nourishment I would give him; he doesn't go into Hell willingly, but he will learn better, with time. Beauty holds fast to her friend, urging him to accept his lot with us and take the blood I am offering him, but he has begun to lash out at her, as well. I grab his face in my hand and force him to look at me. "Your fighting is done, child," I tell him. "You are lost."

"No, he ain't. I know 'xactly where he is."

We have been interrupted. Who is the man who stands impudently in my shadows? Who has the gall to speak so to me? "Come out into the open, stranger."

He steps out where I can see him.



My oldest enemy.

My deadliest enemy.

"No jambalaya for you, asshole," he says flatly. "Give up the kiddies. Now."

And what if I do surrender my toys, Logan? You'll let me live?"

"That part ain't negotiable."

I suddenly tighten my grasp on the Acadian, causing him to cry out. "You pick an inopportune time to confront me, old friend. I hold your young ally in my arms, and the woman is utterly in thrall to me."

He shrugs. "Don't matter when I throw down with you, ya bastard. Th' result's gonna be the same either way." He extends the middle claw of his left hand and stabs it at my Beauty. "Yer next, bitch. An' wanna know something else? Forge is too good fer ya."

She gapes at him, then releases her hold on the Acadian, slumps to the stone floor, and begins to cry piteously. She must have loved this man Forge so much that I couldn't make her forget him. But never mind her: I must deal with the Canadian first before I teach her a lesson she will remember the rest of her days.

"Come now, friend Logan," I say genially. "There is no need for us to be at odds; we are two of a kind, after all. These tender creatures are nothing but pleasure for the likes of us. Throw in your lot with me, and I'll give you your choice of them. Why, I might even gift you with both these children if you serve me well enough."

"I don't bargain with scum."

Of all his foes, I know most of all how dangerous this man is. If he reaches me with those claws, I am finished. Best to stop him in his tracks before he takes one step closer. The woman is out of reach, but I pull the Acadian tightly against my chest and say, "Leave now, Logan, or I'll tear his throat out. I'll do it with my teeth and my bare hands, and I can do it long before you can reach me."

Ah, Logan. For all your fearsomeness as a warrior, you have such a weakness for innocent blood; you can't bear to see it spilled. Especially when it's drawn from the veins of those close to your heart.

Did the room suddenly become colder?

The four of us are bathed in a flash of lightning hurled from a nimbus of black clouds forming just below ceiling level. I can no longer see my lovely murals.

"You DARE threaten my friend?'


How can this be? My Beauty has broken my shackles upon her. She stands there, majestic, tall as a queen, and all her love for me has dissipated. I realize my error then; I swore that I would do no harm to her or her young friend, and here I am threatening to break his neck. One does not make idle oaths to a goddess, the more fool I.

But it is not too late for me. I still hold the Acadian, and they will not risk him while he is weakened and unable to defend himself. They will die before they give him up, and I will be more than glad to oblige them. To that end, it is they who are the fools, and I will be victorious. As always.

Logan: That's it, ol' hoss. Just keep talking. Keep your eyes on me and not on 'Roro or LeBeau. You got a bad vantage point, ol' hoss. Unlike me 'n 'Roro, you can't get a close look at Gambit. Good thing, 'cause if you could, you'd run for the hills. Y' see, I don't know yet whether it's deliberate or if he's just too weak to contain his own mutant energies anymore, but he's leaking power like a sieve--I've never seen anything like it--and hope I never do again. He must be desperate and scared to death, poor kid; normally, he's got the most exquisite control over his powers of any of the X-Men. Light drips from his fingertips like liquid fire, sparking as soon as it touches the floor. Most of the time, with some sunglasses and gloves, he can pass for human, but not now, no way: Not while his eyes burn like ground zero after Hiroshima and his skin is going white-hot. You're not holding a human against you for dear life, ol' hoss, you've got an Alpha Class mutant there--and I think he's had enough of ya. He's gonna go nova, and you can't even see it comin', can ya? More, we're gonna see critical mass soon--'cause his kinetic powers are igniting the air molecules in this room in a spreading chain reaction that can only have one outcome; it's hazy in here, like I'm seeing everything through gasoline fumes. And it's not just the air, the rocky slab you're sitting on, this entire tomb that'll blow--oh no, ol' hoss, YOU'RE starting to glow, too.

Of course.

That's it.

"Look at 'em, 'Ro," I tell her. She has sided with me, holding my hand to draw support from me and show me she's on my side now. See, I knew throwing Forge in her face would wake her up; didn't wanna have to do it except as the last resort, but the old tick gave me no choice. "Cajun can't charge up anything ALIVE, but he's charging Drac." Gotta hand it to him for bein' sneaky, he's a kid after my own heart on that count. Such sneakiness deserves being rescued, in this Canucklehead's humble opinion.

"I was a fool, Logan." Her voice breaks.

"Ya can roll in th' ashes later, darlin'. Fer now we gotta separate the Cajun from that bastard. Call us up a good stout tornado, 'kay? Snag the punk and fly outta here fast as ya can. An' don't look back."

"What of you, my friend?"

Her calling me friend is music to my ears.

"Don't worry 'bout me, 'Ro. Just grab Gambit an' scram."

"Plot amongst yourselves to your hearts' content, X-Men!" Drac booms at us. "See that I am not without soldiers--think you that only from the Hydra's teeth could blossom the undead legions?!"

I sense movement then, beyond me and Storm. His dried-up witnesses have waited long enough; their dessicated limbs are stiff and powdery, but he has breathed ghost life into them and the legion comes howling at us. Storm almost screams, but she's a tough lady; she keeps her cool and rises into the stale air, away from their dusty, grasping fingers. Me, I'm not so aerodynamic, but that's okay, too: The sight of a gaping socket or a foaming maw don't mean beans to me; I'll take on the venomous horde any day of the week and Sundays, too.

My claws carve a clearing through them like a Gensu rat knife through hot butter, or at least through a few dozen bags full of sawdust. They're slow in their advance because they have to move their crumbling legs against Ororo's windstorm. But Drac's sicced 'em on us for a reason; he needs some breathing room, now that he's lost 'Roro and I'm making steady progress through the pawns: Beyond their ranks, seems like four football field lengths away, I can see Drac grappling with Gambit, tearing at what's left of his pajamas, trying to get at his throat--and small wonder: Even the Lord of the Undead can't maintain indefinite dominion over all those zombies, keep hold of the Cajun, and stop me from gutting him at the same time: He's got to have more blood, and Gumbo's the closest prospect.

Over my dead body.

I drop to my belly and start crabbing my way across the room, cutting the demented dead off at the ankles or knees, whichever is easier to get at with my claws. They stumble and fall; they're just animated corpses and don't have the soul to fight.

Storm floats higher, the wind in her arms, ready to act on her part of our plan.

He's holding Gambit like a serial killer in love, got him pinned down but not for long: The Cajun looks no longer made of flesh and bone, but pure energy; he's all light, his exposed skin shimmers translucent, waves of destruction accumulating around him like a halo from Hell. The air is churning into holocaustal fricasseed frenzy.

And Dracula doesn't even notice. All he can see is me and my claws coming at him, don't matter how many walking spirits and disembodied blades he sends at me, I won't stop, and he knows my fondest wish is to run these claws of mine through his heart and cut off his stinking head. He's on the ropes, is our Drac, he's weakening, he's spent too much of his strength, and there's nothing for it but to fang the kid for a much-needed infusion of energy and blood or else he'll be no match for me once I've slice-n-diced my way to his side.

He gets the former but not the latter when he bites into LeBeau's throat again.

Ooooh--big mistake, ol' hoss.

The wooden door of the crypt flies off its very hinges as the Cajun screams, smashing what's left of the shuffling revenants. Gambit's body is sheer brilliance, blinding all of us, as if he had become the sun. Smoke gouts from fissures carved into the stone walls by a thousand lasers of pure kinetic energy, a tidal wave of explosive force. He bleeds raw power from every pore, beads of light dripping from him like sweat, fountaining from his hands and mouth most of all.

Suddenly Gambit reaches up and seizes Dracula's head in his hands. He's good in a fight, knows it's easier to get closer to your enemy than it is to get away from him. He regards the vampire for a second, as if dreading what he has to do next, then kisses his captor hard and full on the lips.

The back of Dracula's head explodes outward, scattering tatters of his skull across the painted ceiling. But that's not enough to finish him, oh no. Drac's not down and out until somebody runs him through the heart and separates what's left of his head from his neck; he's staggered, but he rights himself and comes pitching after LeBeau, who's beginning to reform a human appearance now that he's released all that energy. He grabs the Cajun by the ankle, and maybe he's just gotten his cranium ventilated but he's a glutton for punishment, our Drac. He also knows keeping LeBeau between me and him is the only way to protect his own neck.

"NOW!!!!!!" I howl.

Storm swoops into the fray, gathering up the Cajun and making a run for it, flying through a hole blasted in the stone wall by Gambit's kinetic outburst. You done yer job, kids, now I'll do mine. When I see the last tendril of her hair disappear from sight like the tail of a comet, I pop my claws out and say, "It's you 'n me now, bub. No hostages, no zombie-army. Just good old-fashioned mano-a-mano shit-kickin'."

That's not entirely true. Gambit's power residue is still here, spreading outward from the stone slab where the vampire bit into his throat, unraveling the solidity of the surroundings, tearing apart the substance of what's left of the warriors from the grave; no blood comes from their wounds, only brown flecky powder. The air hums on a subatomic level, and my senses feel the explosion building for the final chaos. Remind me to never get LeBeau pissed off at me. Time to cut our losses--literally--and make my break.

Steeling myself, I advance on Dracula with my claws out. He's sitting on the floor, trying to assemble the scraps of his skull like some jigsaw puzzle. His back is to me.

"I am undone, Logan," he says weakly, knowing that I stand behind him. "Give my Beauty a kiss for me, eh?"

I don't speak to him.

I just shove my claws through the rotten meat sack he calls a body, pushing them through bone and gristle, running through his lousy heart so hard it breaks through his rib cage on the points of my claws--just so I can show it to him before he goes boom.

And, in the end, he's just like a flamin' balloon. I slice his head off his shoulders and watch the geysers of light and blood spew out of his neck.

I'm the best there is at what I do, and sometimes it's mighty satisfying.

The room is rocking like crazy, fragmenting into falling beams, upheaving stone, and it's still humming, ready to billow out into fire and brimstone.

Time to boogie and bail.

Epilogue: The small jet taxied down one of the intact runways at the Bucharest airport. It didn't have to wait long until the ground crew put up a rickety metal apparatus that could only be described as a crude cross between stairs and a ladder.

Jean Grey was the first person to disembark. She was surprised by the copious sunlight, and fished about in her handbag for a pair of sunglasses. Walking across the tarmac, she smoothed her skirt as the wind swept across the flatland. It wasn't a crowded flight; only she and a couple of businessmen had gotten off in Bucharest, and even fewer people waited at the gate.

There was one man, however, who held up a small placard with "Jean Grey" scrawled on it. She had never seen him before; he was of medium height and rather flabby build, balding at the temples and on top of his head. He wore a cheap, rumpled suit in a style outdated by nearly two decades, but his clothes were clean and his worn shoes well-shined. He waved at her when he saw her; clearly, she'd been described to him so that he would know her on sight.

"I'm Doctor--" he said some long name that Jean couldn't have pronounced in a million years. His English was stiff; he wasn't accustomed to using the language. "I run the medical clinic in Brasov. I am happy to see you because I hope that you will help me."

"Your call was most urgent, doctor," she answered. "I believe you mentioned the name of a friend of mine. Logan."

"Yes, yes! Come, I have a car. We will talk on the way to Brasov."

The doctor had also come into the city for supplies; a small trailer hitched to the back of his old sedan carried a goat, some chickens, feed, and fertilizer; several boxes were tied with hemp to the luggage rack on top of the car. Jean felt no fear at getting into a car with a man she'd never met; she'd already read his thoughts--and he was both harmless and truthful. Still, he had spoken Logan's name, and she wondered what her friend was up to here in the Transylvanian Alps.

"Logan wanted to come himself, my lady," said the doctor after he got back into the car. The engine hadn't turned over immediately when he tried to start the car, so he had had to get out, kick the vehicle several times, curse profusely at it, and open the hood for some loud and expert repairs with the business end of a heavy wooden mallet before the engine coughed and grudgingly came to life. "However, he felt that he should stay with his friends. He said that you would understand."

"I do, thank you," she told him. "Are they all right?"

"I could not tell you, madam. Logan has commandeered an entire ward and we--the hospital staff!--are only allowed in there when he demands some chores of us. Perhaps I should start at the beginning--for us, that is:

"I myself was on duty in the Emergency Room seven days ago. It was a quiet night; we had little to do. Then one of my nurses came to me and told me that there was someone outside, and I must come at once. And I must tell you, I never seen such a thing!

"There in the field was a man. I think it was a man. He called himself Logan, and he was a short, stout thing, I wondered that he might be a talkingbear--a circus bear! When he came into the light, I saw that he had sustained severe burns all over his body, apparently in an explosion of some sort. He was naked but for a few burned rags still hanging on his raw weeping flesh--for all his skin was gone, even his face! How this man could walk and talk--he should have been dead. But he was not only alive, he was carrying two people--a young man across his shoulders and a young woman in his arms. They were both very tall, striking individuals--he looked like a tarred dwarf stamping about under a tangle of long, graceful arms and legs. The young people--he called them Ro-Ro and Lobo--were not burned at all, but they had each sustained mortal hemorrhages from wounds, uh, in their throats. I--well, you must not believe the stories about my country, madam, they are tall tales for the tourists--the young ones must have been on a camping trip and were attacked by wolves--there are no vampires in my country! There have never been vampires here!"

"Of course not," Jean said, a half-smile trying to creep across her lips.

"We had to let him in, you see. We offered to take the two young ones, and call the veterinarian for him if he would just wait in the field--but he would have none of it! He took over my hospital, madam! He did let me perform a preliminary examination on his friends, and I quickly saw that we had not nearly enough blood on hand to save even one of them. He told me to--how did he put it--shut my hole--then he sat himself upon a counter and took to raiding our medical supplies cupboard. He found some blood tubing and told me to insert needles into the young people. When I tried to tell him that we had no blood, he ignored me, opened the needle hubs, and inserted a needle cannula into each of his own arms! As you might imagine, this caused several of our staff members to faint! Once he had connected himself to each of his young friends, he opened the stopcocks in the tubing and began to clench and unclench both his fists, pumping his own blood into them. I tried to stop him, madam, truly I did! I tried to tell him that all three of them must be tested for compatibility, drugs, and disease, but when I approached him, these CLAWS came out of the back of his hands! He DARED me to stop him!

"Naturally, I called the police, but they feared the sight of him and fled! I could not bear to watch him kill the two young people, so I locked the door and forbade any of my staff to go inside. Several hours later, I did venture back in--and he was still sitting there--STILL pumping blood into his friends! He must have given each of them several liters, for their coloring was flush and they were both breathing more evenly, but where so much blood came from, I have no idea, his squat body surely couldn't even CONTAIN as much as even one of the tall beauties would need to survive. And he himself was miraculously improved--he had SKIN again and tufts of hair were already sprouting on his head, chest, and limbs. Oh, he was still frightening to behold, but he seemed to be in a better mood, now that his friends were out of danger.

"He eventually let us take the young people to rooms, then ordered us to move the rest of the patients on that ward out--and be quick about it."

"That sounds like Logan, all right," Jean couldn't help smiling.

"You will help? You will take them all home?"

She made her smile as reassuring as possible. "That's why I'm here." She touched his mind gently, just for good measure.

That made the doctor feel much better, and he began to chatter about his beloved country as he drove the car toward the hillier regions, pointing out various spots along the way that she might find interesting. Jean admired the wild, lonely country; Logan must feel so much at home here.

She found Logan lying on the old linoleum floor in the hospital wing he had declared off-limits. He was sprawled on his back between two adjoining half-closed doors, snoring gustily. Jean knew that it was probably the first sleep he'd had in many days. She stepped over him cautiously and went into one of the rooms.

The bed was empty, but she found Gambit napping up in an huge old overstuffed chair in front of the window. He was wrapped in a blanket in spite of the sunlight washing over him, sleeping peacefully. Jean smiled, and kneeled beside him. In sleep, he looked even younger than he was. Were she and Scott ever that young?

She reached out to smooth his tangled hair away from his face--to find three long claws between her hand and Remy's face. Another hand was furiously embedded in the scarf she'd slipped over her fiery red hair, pulling it away from her hair and dragging her head back.

"Jeannie!" Logan let her go, stepped back for just an instant, then caught her up in a bear hug. "M' so glad ta see ya, Red!"

She rested her hands on his broad shoulders and held him back so that she could look at him. "Are you okay?"

He shrugged. "Never better." Not that he'd ever admit it if he wasn't.

"And Ororo and Remy?"

Another shrug. "They're free."

Then she felt his mind open up to her, and she telepathically got the entire story from him in less than a minute.

"But are they okay?"

Logan glanced sharply at the sleeping Cajun. "We can talk. I fed him something to make him sleep. Y'know, one o' these days, we gotta get serious about that kid. He needs our help. Dunno 'xactly what's going on in him, but you an' Chuck need ta say ta blazes with this privacy bit, get into his head. I smell blood on him, Red. He's walkin' wounded on his best days."

"I know. This probably isn't the right time for it, but I promise you: We will. He's family, Logan. Just like you are."

He looked away from her.

"Is Ororo next door?"

"Yeah. I'm worried about her, Red. She won't see me or LeBeau. I've tried ta talk to her, but she just cries like a damned baby all the flamin' time, sez she don't wanna see anybody, wants ta be left alone. Kid thinks he's done something to upset her or else she'd wanna see him, so he's pining away, too. I dunno what else ta do for 'em. Ask me ta go kill something, I can do that. But I'm outta my element here, Jeannie."

"I think you'd be surprised. Why don't you bring Remy while I make sure Ororo's dressed for company?"

His yellow eyes were so full of gratitude she turned away so that he wouldn't be embarrassed.

Jean went into Ororo's room, and found her friend lying in bed facing the wall away from her. She noticed that Storm had chopped off her beautiful white hair again, but there was no style to it this time; it looked as though she'd simply taken some shears to it and hacked it off in uneven clumps. Despondency hung heavy in the sick air, like stale food.


"Go away, Jean."

"Would you if you were me and I were you right now?"

There was no answer.

"Logan and Remy want to see you."


Jean sat down in the chair beside the bed. "Then you HAVE changed." When Storm was silent, she went on. "If you want to torture yourself, we certainly can't stop you. But don't you think, after all they've been through, that Remy and Logan deserve to be humored a little? What would it cost you to spend a few minutes with them?"

Ororo pulled the blanket over her head, but not before Jean caught her hand. "Remy thinks he's made you angry; Logan told me that he's refusing to eat--he'll never be as he was if you let this continue. Logan is wracking his brain trying to find a way to reach out to you, but he's getting frustrated, and you know what that does to him. If you won't do this for yourself, do it for them."

"How can they bear to look at me?" Ororo hissed. "After the things I did to both of them? They should despise me."

"Perhaps." Jean knew this was no time to coddle Storm. "But there's only one way to know for certain."

Ororo continued to face the wall, unspeaking and sullen. Logan entered the room, pushing a wheelchair with a still-groggy Cajun in it. The pair of them stopped a few feet away from Jean and Ororo, not knowing what to do next.

"With my telepathy and Gambit's empathy, I can psi-link the minds and hearts of all four of us, or just the three of you, if you'd prefer."

"No, I--I would appreciate it if you would be there, too, Jean." Ororo's face remained downcast, but she was trying so hard; she wanted this so much.

Jean silently gave thanks for small miracles, then signaled for Logan and Remy to come closer. They did so hesitantly, as though they were frightened of Storm. "Remy, I'm going to psi-link your empathic powers into the four of us just as I will also connect our minds. We'll be able to see into each others' entire psyche--thoughts, feelings, loves, hates--everything. If anybody wants to keep any secrets, they can shield those from the link, but I feel that otherwise it's important there be complete openness. Are all of you up to this? Do you want it? We must open our mental and emotional channels to each other if this is going to work."

They were quiet for a few minutes, then Gambit took a deep breath and said, "I be ready, Jean. I not afraid."

"Same here," Wolverine agreed. He looked anxiously at Storm. "How 'bout you, darlin'?"

Ororo dropped her head, but extended her shaking hands to take those of Logan and Gambit, while Jean took their other hands. "Okay," Jean said. "Everybody just try to breathe evenly. Remy, I'll have to link with you first. Just relax and let me into your mind; it won't hurt."

She touched his mind with hers, and felt his mental flinch. Then his soul opened to her and she was with him. All his psi channels were blasted raw, but they were still strong in spite of being so tender and prickly.

'It's all right,' she told him, soothing his fears and coaxing him closer. He was skittish at first, still shell-shocked and exhausted from battle, but she caught him on the astral plane as soon he was within her reach. 'Open your heart, Remy. Give me all your pain, give me all your love. Ororo and Logan need it so badly. Help me heal them.'

He resisted at first, more from instinct and sheer reflex than any desire to distance himself, then it all came flooding into Jean's consciousness, and she squeezed Logan's hand for support. Then she reached out to Logan. He was easier to draw into the link, perhaps because he was older and more experienced, perhaps because he knew her capabilities better, but he was no less scarred. Jean felt his anguish at being reduced to running on all fours and assuming animal behaviors, the wounds he ignored at the price of doing battle, his fears--only for his friends, none for himself. She left Gambit with him, confident that Wolverine would keep the Cajun tethered to them, then went to get Storm.

Jean had girded her loins for a fight, but was joyous to find none in Ororo: The wind-rider was out of her shields and into Jean's arms as soon as the door to her soul opened even a crack. It was even easier than she had hoped for; Storm's love for her family made a fireline along the empathic and telepathic channels, surging straight for Logan and Remy.

Then the four of them were utterly joined together in every synapse and every cell, so close that they made one being amongst themselves. An atomic bomb could have dropped on them in that moment, and they would never have noticed.

Jean stepped back, just out of the direct rapport. They didn't need clumsy words now; the three veterans shared every emotion, every tear. There was no recrimination, no reproach.

Nothing but an open bridge and one heart for all.

Jean opened her eyes to see Logan's battered, concerned face hovering inches from hers. She licked her lips, and felt the salt of her own tears. Logan still wept freely, but he was not ashamed for Jean to see him cry; there had never been a need for any pretense or show between them, and he knew that she would think no less of him for it.

He put a finger to his lips and whispered, "I put th' kids to bed."

Jean saw Remy and Ororo sleeping cuddled in the same bed, but there was nothing lascivious in their embrace: They held each other like Hansel and Gretal. And Jean was so glad that, of all the things Dracula had taken from them, they had regained their innocence.

Remy sighed and mumbled, " 'Night, Stormy."

"I have told you not to call me Stormy. . . " she whispered back.

"They'll be fine now," Logan said, and Jean knew that it was so.

She smiled at Logan, wondering if he knew how much she loved him. For all his combat prowess, for all the lives he'd taken in his day, for all the battles he'd seen--she found herself awed that this man who had done little but fight all his life could contain so much love. Of course he did fight against his enemies, but it was more than that: He also fought FOR his family. He would have lain down and died for Ororo and Remy if he'd had to, Jean knew that without a doubt--and their salvation was reward enough for him. Greater love had no man. And again Logan had proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was a man.

"I saw a rose garden outside," she said, taking his big hairy hand in her slim fingers. "Let's go for a walk."

" . . . what a brave and gallant woman . . . some men so loved her, that they did dare much for her sake . . . "

--excerpted from "Dracula" by Bram Stoker


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