Stoker was running for his life, again. He had to admit, even if he had
no breath for it, that he was definitely getting too old for this shit,
on any planet. He dropped down behind a monolithic tombstone, hiding and
praying to any deity he had ever heard of that what was chasing him would
stop. His hand went to the vicious tears in his throat, and came away bloody,
the brownish green staining his fingers.
"This is insane!" he gasped, running for miles leaving him winded, and loss of blood making him light headed. He sank down to the leaf strewn ground, his back against the monument to some dead human. He still couldn't quite figure out how he got to Earth in the first place, much less why he was in a very unfamiliar city called London. He was quite certain that his life was in immediate peril, and that was enough for him. He hadn't lived long enough to become an honorably retired Freedom Fighter just to give in to some freak humanoid that wanted to drink his blood.
His ears cocked toward a suspicious noise, and he was up in a crouch without a sound, peeking around the side of the stone. Nothing but wind in the night, a light fog blanketing the ground. He shivered; something unnatural about having so much atmospheric water that it sat in a layer over the ground. Something brushed against his shoulder, and he jumped, striking out at....a leaf. Stoker rubbed both hands over his face, trying to get his heart rate back down out of the triple digits, and blew out a breath.
"Okay, calm. Don't do no good to flip out." Stoker told himself, brushing his long ponytail back over his shoulder and straightening up, surveying his surroundings. Yep, a graveyard. He shivered again, and stalked out of the fenced family plot he had sought sanctuary in. The darkness seemed thicker, somehow, and the dark tan furred Martian mouse stood still a moment, undecided. His eyes tracked movement to the left, and instinctually, he dodged right, coming up against an immovable object, cold and hard as marble, in human form. Stupidly, he looked up into eyes as red as his own, and was lost. The last thing he felt was the icy grip of long dead arms lifting him as though he were a child, and the soft, insistent pull of a mouth at his throat.
Stoker awoke slowly, his head throbbing, a sharp metallic taste in his mouth. It was cold, and dark, and he hurt. Flashes of memory battered against his consciousness, and he surrendered to them, too weak to resist; drowning in mad red eyes, a man, taller than his bro, Modo, his mouth working at Stoker's throat, and the echo of every erotic thought or feeling he had ever had consuming him. He shuddered, and sat bolt upright, both hands up around his neck. His searching fingers only encountered two smallish punctures, puckered and dry as if they were days old.
He coughed and hung his head between his upraised knees.
"I am way out if my league here," he sighed, stomach lurching. It calmed, eventually, and he clambered painfully to his feet, staggering a bit. Brushing leaves and twigs off his fatigues, he forced his body forward, leaning on headstones.
"Cor, gimme a feckin' break." a tired voice rang thru the alley, the marked Cockney accent giving the words a strange flavor. Stoker looked up from the doorway he was crouched in and took in the young man's appearance. He was tall, though not as tall as Stoker's own 6'5", and thin, much scrawnier than the Martian's wiry though muscled frame. He sported a shaved scalp decorated with numerous tattoos, and a great deal of leather.
"Easy, citizen. I'm just lost." Stoker murmured, uncoiling to stand, topping the youth by four inches.
"Oy, yer a feckin' mouse, eh?" the punk muttered, clearly too drunk to be surprised.
"And you're a talking monkey. What's yer point, boy?" Stoker snapped back, way over the limit on his personal weird-o-meter.
The young tough goggled a minute, then began laughing. He carried on so long, he ran out of breath and began hacking. When he recovered himself, he spat, then offered, "Right, then. You look all knackered out, mouse. C'mon, I'll gi' ya flop fer aught."
Stoker spent a millisecond trying to figure out what the boy had said, but gave it up as impossible and took the chance.
"Flop fer aught" turned out to be a moth eaten blanket and a place indoors on the floor to sleep. It was a big step up from a wet, smelly doorway on a hot August night.
Late afternoon found Stoker deep in conversation with his benefactor, a local tough named Stevie. It was Stevie who filled Stoker in about the recent deaths, the attacks, and the fear that swept the small communities outside London proper, most heavily concentrated around Highgate Cemetery, where Stoker's adventure had seemingly began.
"Is there a phone around?" Stoker asked, feeling far too involved to just back out of what ever he had stepped into.
"Yeah, kitchen," came his reply, and he stood up, Stevie lay a hand on his arm, stopping him, and Stoker looked down.
"I don' fink y' can get a connect t' Mars, ol' brother?" it came out like a question.
"Naw, junior, just a collect t' Chicago."
Charley was jolted out of sleep by the familiar peal of her new phone. She sat up, rubbing her eyes, and glanced at Vinnie, who had his head buried under his pillow, grumbling.
She picked up the receiver and cleared her throat, "Uhmm. Hello?"
"Charley-girl?" static and a far away, bottom of a well sound. "Charley?"
"S-Stoke?" she gasped, and Vinnie was suddenly aware and leaning over her shoulder.
"Listen up! I've had a- a transporter malfunction. I'm in London, and I'm in deep kim-chee. How are my odds on an assist?" he called, the connection bad on both ends.
"Trouble? Where are you? Is there a number there?"
"Nah. This is a pirated phone, apparently." he returned, chagrined.
"Okay, give me an hour, then call me back." she rung off, knuckling sleep out of her eyes, and looked at the clock. 3 am.
Sighing, she flung away the sheet and padded to the bathroom to collect her robe and splash water on her face. When she emerged, Vinnie was pulling on his skivvies and looking confused.
"What's up?" he demaned, and in the half-light from the hallway, she could see, just for a moment, how the events of the past few months had aged him. He looked more mature, a little bit hard-bitten. She was fairly sure she looked the same, and, for a moment almost wished she could go back in time, but then she shook herself out of the mood. If her relationship with Vin had withstood everything so far, it was worth it.
"Stoker's had some sort of transporter accident. He's in London of all places, and he wants an assist." she yawned, and Vinnie grinned, arms folded across his chest.
"You're kiding?! Stoker needs our help? This might even perk ol' Modo up." he laughed, then sobered, "Somethin' has to."
Charley flipped on the light and squinted, rifling thru the drawer on the bedside table till she found her personal phone book, so new she wasn't sure how it could have gotten buried yet.
"I'm not gonna radio Carbine and roust Throttle and Modo unless it's something really important. If he's just stuck `cuz the transporter glitched, I'll see if I can work something out here on Earth." she told her mate quietly, and hoped he agreed. He did.
"Yeah. Throttle's got his hands full, takin' care of the big guy. I hope some Martian R&R can snap him out of it." Vinnie sat down next to Charley on the edge of the bed, his hands rubbing her shoulders. "Any ideas?"
"Well, one, but don't you dare accuse me of match making. She's got the resouces we don't."
"Danni." Vinnie smiled approvingly.
"Yeah. She's got funds and connections, not to mention a passport." Charley kept flipping thru the book, searching for a number. She found it and began dialing. After nearly fifteen rings, Danni answered, slightly out of breath.
"Yo! Make it good." Charley's cousin yelled, and Charley winced, moving the phone.
"Danni! You free anytime soon?" Charley yelled back.
"Two days left, maybe, why? Who's this?"
"Charley, you boob! Who else?" Vinnie called over Charley's shoulder, and she absently shushed him.
"Charley? Are you crazy? It's three in the morning!" Danni shouted now, over some hubbub in the background.
"I know! Stoker called from London! He's in need of some assistance."
"London?! Are you nuts?" Danni squeaked, then, "I gotta go. I'll call tomorrow and we'll figure this out."
"Okay, but he's gonna call back soon. What do I tell him?" Charley demanded.
"Tell him I'll come to his rescue when this shoot's over." Danni rung off, and Charley hung up, shrugging.
"Okay, sweetheart, what's the deal?" Vinnie leaned his chin on Charley's shoulder. She reached up and stroked his cheek, then fell back on the bed , yawning.
"The deal, Vincent, is that I'm beat. I want to sleep, and I can't." Charley rubbed her eyes.
"Ahh, sweetheart, I'm sorry." Vinnie lay down next to her, his arm around her. She turned toward him and curled up, just on the verge of sleep when the phone rang again.
"Hell." was Charley's only comment, but she answered anyway.
"Stoke?" her voice was strained.
"Charley? Any luck?" his sounded tinny and very far away.
"Danni'll be free in a few days. She says she'll come to the rescue." Charley assured him, and was a bit taken aback by a bitten off curse.
"Charley, I hope that'll be enough. There's somethin' wrong here, and I'm in it hip deep." Stoker was less than thrilled with her solution.
"Do you want me to get ahold of Throttle?" she asked, worry begining to creep into her tone.
"Nah. As of yesterday, there was no change. Leave it an' send Danni. We'll muddle thru. Damn. Hey! You got a handle on that remote for the mini tranproter?"
"Not yet. It's more complicated than the older models. I'm hoping for a breakthru soon, tho'." she reported, then leaned toward Vinnie and whispered, "Turn the fan on, please?" before returning her attention to the call.
"Shit. Alright. I'll call day after tomorrow. Same time?" he queried, to which Charley almost screamed, "NO!"
She regained her calm in a moment and added, "Stoke, it's four in the morning. Call like three hours from now, your time, okay?"
"Sorry Charley-girl. Will do." he rung off.
"Aaarch." Charley flung herself back down to the mattress, and Vinnie helped her off with her robe and cradled her back to sleep.
"Damn." Stoker said, softly, drumming his fingers on the table top.
"S'matter, the colonies uncooperative?" Stevie stood in the doorway, a bundle of black leather in his hands.
"No hope of rescue fer a few days, pup. I guess I'm stuck." Stoke dropped heavily into the one rickety chair in the room and lowered his head to his arms on the table.
"Cum on then, granther, buck up. "Eres' some clothes t'cover yer odd bits. They was a mate `o mine's, he's long gone- don't need'em no more." Stevie tossed the leather onto the table with a dismissive shrug, and wondered back to the other room.
Stoker picked up the disguise, and shook it out. One look convinced him it was an unexpected wind fall. Though old and a bit frayed in places, it was a very long black trench coat and, after a quick inspection, he found it fit adequately. It fell to his ankles, and the sleeves were a bit long, but with the collar up, it would be a good beginning for a disguise. This wasn't Chicago, after all.
"Stevie, hey, thanx, bro." he called, rolling one sleeve, then the other.
"No great shakes. I been thinkin' about ditchin' all of `is stuff, I just been real lazy about it. All in that crate over there, if y' want any o' the other stuff." Stoke's new friend lounged on the dilapidated couch that served as his bed.
"Sure beats `answerin' uncomfortable questions." Stoker muttered as he rummaged. A long grey scarf came to hand, and a pair of battered Oakley wrap around shades, both went into the capacious pockets. He straightened and asked, "What can I do t'pay you back, kid?"
"Naw, s'alright. S'not every day I get t'meet a mouse from Mars, oh? Consider it all a gift." Stevie sat up, "But, if y' really wanna do me a favor..." he let the sentence hang.
"Yeah?" Stoker grew cautious.
"I got a bouncer gig goin' at a little club tonight. Me partner got his head broke last night, y' could cover `im a day're two."
"Yeh. Tiny club, they got a naf band, an' it gets a bit rowdy. I throw arse holes out, doncha know. You on fer it?" Stevie waited expectantly.
Stoker couldn't refuse. "Yeah. I guess I owe ya that much, at least."
It was 2:30 in the morning by the time they were on their way back to the little flat off the alley. Stevie was stinking drunk - again. He was hung mostly over Stoker's shoulder, rambling away. Stoke stopped momentarily to pull the big wads of cotton out of his ears, his only protection from the very bad, very loud band that had played at the club. He huffed with annoyance when Stevie went limp, and hitched him up entirely over his shoulder, his articulated mechanical tail lashing, billowing out the long tails of his coat.
"Boy, that band was worse than my bros singin in the shower." he growled, fishing a key out of Stevie's pocket and thrusting open the flat door. He was about to enter, when the weight of his companion was ripped from his shoulder with contemptuous ease, and he was shoved face first into the wall.
White spots danced in front of his eyes as he fell to his knees, and he struggled to stay conscious, pushing himself up with the wall as his support.
Implacable, rough hands spun him around, and all he could see was a wild swathe of white, cobwebby hair, behind which burned those evil red eyes. He was caught, but he knew the trick now. Averting his gaze from those orbs the color of human blood, he fought against over whelming strength. It was a very brave and very hopeless battle. One mallet-like fist caught him under the ear, and he slumped to the garbage strewn alley floor, his eyes rolling up. The last thing he registered was that cold, cold mouth engulfing his wrist, and the over powering wash of sensual euphoria.
Danni packed her duffel, said good bye to her stunt team, and climbed aboard her 69 hog, her helmet looking even more battered than usual after the last grueling day of the shoot. With a wave, she lit out, heading south from Toronto to Chicago.
Charley yawned and sat up, looking over to Vinnie's side of the bed, which was empty. Curious, she glanced at the clock, saw that it read 1 pm, and wailed, leaping out of bed.
"Vinnie!" she screamed, struggling to button her shirt and pull up her pants at the same time.
He popped his head in the door, laughing, "You look great when you're flustered,"
Charley growled at him, stuffing her shirt into her pants and trying to run a brush thru her hair. "How could you let me over sleep? I've got work to do!" she howled, but he just grinned at her.
"I already did the 9:30 tune up, and I'm in the middle of your 12:00. Relax, sweetheart! You needed to sleep." he wiped grease from his hands.
"Aww, Vin. You didn't have to do that." she pulled her hair back into a ponytail.
"What, I'm supposed to let you work till you get sick just to support me? And my bros, when they get back, just like you've been doing for, what four, almost five years? It may take me a while, but I catch on. I do have some pride, y'know." he startled her with his impassioned speech, and with his adult attitude. She didn't know what to say. So she just grabbed him and hugged him, hard, regardless of the motor slime coating him.
"I don't know what I'd do without you, Vin." she muttered, wiping at her suspiciously moist eyes, and he pecked her on the check.
"That makes us even, babe."
The phone rang again, and Charley made a disparaging tst noise.
"If I had any sense, I never would have put the phone in here when I had the place rebuilt." she grumbled, picking up the receiver.
"Last Chance Garage."
"Cuz. I'm in New York. D'you have anything I need to pick up, or should I just book a flight across the pond?" Danni asked, straight to the point.
"Uh, I can't think of anything here, but are you gonna be all right? I mean, just like that?" Charley demanded back, still hanging onto her significant other.
"No problemo, Charley. I'm ready to roll. Next flights at midnight, and I'll be on it. Tell Stoke to try and meet me at uh, Gatwick airport, probably around 2 pm, just to be safe. Schedules never hold. I'll wait for him at the Virgin/Atlantic terminal. Okay?"
"Okay, Danni. Luck." Charley hung up, and Vinnie wiped a smudge of grease off the bridge of her nose with the collar of her shirt.
"Rollin?" he asked, and she replied, "Oh, yeah."
Stevie, vaguely aware of someone heaving nearby, painfully raised his head, looking around. He ached, his left arm bent up under him at an awkward angle. He managed to get himself into half-sitting position, and turned his pounding head in the direction of the retching sound. It was Stoker, and he looked like stir-fried Hell. His eyes were sunken and scared looking, and he hacked and spat, on hands and knees. Green- brown stains made the fur inside his right wrist spiky.
"Oh, feckin' hell." Stevie moaned, and Stoker's head came up. He crawled over to his companion, and sprawled inelegantly.
"That's twice. Whatever this thing is, it seems to have some kinda liking fer green Martian blood." Stoke gasped, not even trying to lever himself up off the ground.
"Inside, mate. Crawl inside b'fore y' pass out. I'll follow." Stevie croaked, a look of fear on his face.
Once inside with the door shut, Stevie leaned his back against it and drew in a shuddering breath. "That was it. That was the killer. I seen it afore, but never so close. You're under a death sentence, ol'mouse, an' no mistake."
Stoker just sat in the middle of the floor, head bowed, shaking. He was woozy, his head rolling drunkenly. He had lost a great amount of blood in the past two days, and had no hope of a transfusion. He was worried. He maintained his near-the-floor level and crawled into the kitchen, pulling down the phone and punching for an operator. He leaned heavily against the cupboard and waited.
Charley rose from her chair and snatched up the phone, wrapping the cord around her as she reached for her cup to wash a last bite of dinner down.
"Yes?" she choked, and Vinnie got up to pound on her back, then sat back down and waited expectantly.
"Ch-charley?" his voice was weak, but it was Stoker.
"Are you all right?" she cried, and Vinnie was up again, like a demented jack in the box. Charley covered his mouth with her hand for silence.
"No, I don't think I am. When's Danni comin'?" he rasped, gravel-voiced, and cleared his throat.
"Midnight our time she gets on the plane. Says to meet her at the Virgin/Atlantic terminal at Gatwick airport 2 p.m."
"Shit, girl. These time differences really screw me up." Stoker said, and went silent, then, "Yeah. I'll find'er."
"Stoke, should I call the guys?" Charley wanted to know, and got an immediate reply of "No!"
Stoker sighed and repeated more gently, "No, Charley-girl. It's my fight, and it's bad enough I gotta get a pretty lady involved. Nobody else. You sit tight, and if Carbine calls down, tell her I'm fine. Modo needs to get himself sorted out, not come chasin' after me. Got that?"
"Yes sir, Stoke. Got it." she replied, and Vinnie made questioning noises behind her hand. She frowned at him, and he stilled.
"I'll call when this mess gets squared away. See ya. And thanx."
"By Stoke." Charley hung up, fending off Vinnie's questions for a moment.
"Well? What?! What?!!" he demanded, and she answered, "I really don't like the sound of all that."
"The sound of all what?" he yelled, leaping up and down.
"There's trouble there, and he won't let me call Mars. He said to tell Carbine he was fine if she called. This whole scene is bad." Charley said, taking her seat at the kitchen table again, as did Vin, if only to look her in the eye.
"Danger?" he practically glowed.
"Not that kinda danger, hot shot. He sounded, well, weak."
"Stoker? No way. He's not that old. He can still hold his own with all of us." Vinnie scoffed, but looked suspicious.
"I really hope so, babe. I really do."
Stoker sagged to the ground, not even able to maintain his hands and knees stance. His bionic tail clattered on the baseboards and linoleum floor as he slipped into unconsciousness.
It was near noon when he awoke again, the ratty blanket thrown over him. His eyes felt dry and scratchy, and his throat was parched. He staggered up and winced away from the weak sun leaking in thru the blinds. It hurt. Stoker fumbled the Oakleys out of his pocket and shoved them onto his face, then tottered in the direction of the dismal little bathroom. He decided he would feel better if his fur was no longer matted and his long hair was no longer straggling in limp tendrils.
Stoker poked around in the flat, but could find no sign of Stevie, or any of his personal belongings. Eventually he found a note, tacked to the front door: "Yer too dangerous to be around, old mouse. You can have the flat. I was just squattin' there any way. Sorry. Stevie."
"Huh." Stoker grunted, and dropped the towel around his waist. He picked up his own clothes, but after one whiff, dumped them back on the floor. Back to the crate of Stevie's "mate" he fled, hoping for something to wear, and not too picky at that point. What he found was not his idea of cool, but at least it didn't stink; A pair of very abused black jeans, somewhat too narrow at the waist and a trifle too long in the leg, and a black t-shirt bearing the legend "Charlie don't surf." He put them on and felt a small spark of panic.
"I am way too old fer this shit." he muttered, but put the coat and shades on, and his own rust colored boots. He studied his reflection in a broken mirror on the bathroom wall, and shrugged. In the pocket of his own discarded fatigues was the 30 pounds he had picked up the night before for bouncing, and he transferred it to his person.
"Right. Now the ears." he sighed, not enjoying the idea. He pulled the scarf from the bottomless pocket of his duster and, with a growl of discomfort, used it to bind his ears back against his head. He found he looked like a pirate, and grinned at his reflection, then, using one of the trailing ends, he covered his face.
Outside, the light pierced his clothes and made him curse with pain, but he stomped on, thru the alley and onto the nearest main thorofare, when he hailed a cab. After snarling, "Gatwick airport," to the driver, he sat back and tried to stay out of the sun.
2 pm passed, then 3:30, and, after skulking around like a felon, Stoker heaved a sigh of relief when Danni slumped up to the customs agent. He could hear them from his vantage point.
"No." came her tired reply.
"Business or pleasure?"
"Vacation," she huffed, pushing lank hair out of her eyes. She looked about crushed flat with fatigue. He felt sorry for what he was about to get her into, but wheels were already in motion.
She was through, and he stepped up to her. Apparently, his disguise was better than he thought, because she veered away, surveying the crowd.
"Danni." he said quietly, and she jumped.
"Stoker" she cried, vexed, then turned to and gave him a bone crushing hug, "God you scared me!"
"Yeh, I been scarin' me too, gorgeous." he returned, embracing her. She felt reassuring to him, like a safe cave in a sandstorm. He could feel her pulse. It captured his attention, and he backed off.
"You okay, Stoke?" she demanded, shouldering her duffel, a look of consternation on her face.
"I don't know." he answered, and stalked off to hail a cab.
They got out at Highgate Cemetery, and Stoker led the way. He had told her in the cab about the finicky transporter, his attempt to visit Charley, and the enormous glitch that had landed him in London. Now he squared his shoulders and told her about his adventures since. She sat on a big, flat headstone in the sunlight, while he hid in the shadows and talked.
"That was last night, beautiful," he held out his wrist for her inspection, and she clucked, sympathetically at the punctures.
"But Stoke, you're describing a vampire! They don't exist!" she finally got out, eyes wide and wondering.
"Yeah. Neither do macho Martian mice, Danielle," he parried, and she had to bow to the facts.
"Okay. I've been a horror movie fan for years. Vampire lore-uh, let's see, Garlic? Yeah," she started pacing around headstones while he sat with his back to a tree trunk and watched from deep shade.
"Okay, I think I remember. Dracula-uhmm, roses, garlic, crosses, Hawthorne or ash stakes, holy Eucharist, sunlight!" her eyes locked on Stoker, hiding from the sun.
"Uh, oh" she gulped, and he stared back thru the black shades.
"Uh, oh, what?" he demanded, spring to his feet.
"Stoker, how many times were you bit?"
"Twice, the first time he just grazed me, and I ran." he supplied, pulling the scarf from his head.
"This is bad. Three bites and, if you don't die and turn immediately, you still turn into a vamp after you do die." she bit her thumbnail, trying to dredge memories out of her uncooperative brain.
"But there's so many conflicting theories! Dammit, why can't there be real experts on this crap!?" Danni yelled, and flopped down onto a different headstone, thinking.
"D'you mean I'm gonna end up like that white haired son of a bitch? Oh, no. Not this mouse." he bashed furiously at the tree, gouging the bark into a fist sized hole. It caught her attention.
"Sunlight hurts?" she asked. He nodded, and she continued, "Have you eaten?"
"Some weird fish n' chips at the club last night. Look, I gotta get outta these pants, my tail's killin' me, even if it is metal. We'll go back to the flat Stevie left over t'me, an' think this out. It's not far." Stoker wrapped the scarf around his head again and grabbed Danni about the waist, pulling her along. She barely had time to grab her duffel.
Sundown had come and gone, but they were no closer to a solution, or even a grip on the situation. Stoker had modified the black jeans with a shard of broken mirror, and sat on the kitchen chair he dragged in near the couch, his arms folded along the ladder-back, his tail angrily lashing the floor and tearing up bits of the threadbare carpet.
"Dammit, Danni, this is not the reunion I envisioned with you." he growled, furious, "I didn't dream that horror-show with Rave and Modo would happen, either."
"Hey, she saved is life." Danni reminded him, a sad smile on her face.
"Yeh, she did, at that. Too bad she can't save him from himself." he said bitterly, not looking at her.
"Stoke, I gotta take a shower or I'm gonna pass out." she informed him, and stood up from the couch, looking expectantly at him.
"Straight thru that door. Can't miss it." he nodded to his right, and she headed off with a grimace.
"Water's cold!" he yelled after her, and she retorted, "Good!"
Carbine's low voice pealed staticky from the big Plutarkian radio the bros had pirated, and Vinnie ran to answer.
"Vinnie?" her voice demanded imperious.
"Yeh, Carbine. How're they doin'?" was his immediate response.
"Better, but not best. Frankly, if Throttle hadn't gone to Modo's mama's place with the big guy, one of us would be hospitalized by now." she confided, then her tone was back to professional, "How's Stoke doing? He was supposed to have called in by now."
"Well, he's been, uh, busy, y'know, with Charley's cousin." Vin temporized, not quite a lie.
"Is that the one he came back here grinning about last time? The one who Throttle..."
"Yep." he cut her off, not wanting to go into the sticky details.
"Huh. She must be something. Right. When Stoker comes back in, have him radio me." she signed off, and Vinnie wiped sweat from his brow.
"Charley!" he called, running back to the new triple bay garage to find his light'o'love.
Danni emerged from the shower stall shivering, her icy dowsing a definitive wake up call. She slipped on the wet floor and banged her hip before she caught herself on the counter, several shards of glass cutting into her palm.
"Shit!" she screamed, and immediately tried to shake the pain from her hand. Blood droplets flew, and she desisted, bringing her injury up close to her eyes, intent on picking any remnants out of her wounds.
Unnoticed by her, Stoker stood in the doorway, brought by her cry.
His eyes were dilated, his nose working to catch the scent of her blood. He was silent as he came up behind her, and tense.
With no warning, his arms were about her, and he spun her, taking firm hold of her wrist. She gave a little hiss of pain as his mouth came in contact with the cuts, but it died away to a groan of raw pleasure as he licked away the red fluid, then began sucking at her. Her back arched, her bare skin flush against his body, and she melted, giving in to the fierce ecstasy that rushed thru her.
When she stopped bleeding, he stopped drinking, and his head raised. His eyes cleared, and he stared in mixed awe and horror at Danni's upturned, rapturous face, flushed and orgasmic.
"No..." he whispered, and tried to let her go, but she slumped and would have fallen, so he swept her up and carried her to the couch. He gently laid her back, patting her cheeks and whispering, "Oh, Danni, baby, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, please..."
She shook her head and slowly came back to herself, a strange feeling of embarrassment and satisfaction warring in her.
"My God, Stoker, what happened?" she gasped, blushing for no reason she could name.
"You, ah, cut yourself, Danielle. I don't think you're safe around me." he held up her wounded hand for her inspection, and she saw that it was - well, old looking, not freshly damaged.
"I feel so... Stoker, did we...?" she began, but he shook his head.
"No, baby; I attacked you. I saw the - the blood, and I had to have it. You have to go."
"Whoo." was her only comment, and she lay her head back down, ignoring her nakedness. Stoker could not, and flung the huge black coat over her. He had already violated her, he seriously doubted she'd appreciate the advances his body was suggesting he make.
"No wonder vamps have willing victims, if that's a side effect." she finally commented, sitting up, the coat falling down to her waist.
"Danni, look, I can't trust myself around you. I couldn't live with myself if I really hurt you." he looked away, from her inviting, well remembered attributes, trying to think of other things. He felt better than he had in days, almost wired, and randy.
"Stoke, look. I'm not bleeding anymore. It was the blood that triggered your, uh, problem. I'll be okay. I feel fine, I will stay, and I will help you deal with this." she reached out and turned his face toward her. She leaned close to him and kissed him. He was so busy trying to get a handle on his own appetite, he had completely forgotten about hers, and how insistent she could be, up until she removed his shirt and pulled the band that held his hair in a ponytail loose. He gave in and joined her on the couch. Once started, she had no inclination to stop.
Late, late into the night, Stoker awoke, an atavistic chill seizing his spine. He glanced up at the window, and his heart froze. He clutched at Danni, waking her, and gestured, incapable of speech.
There, just outside, was his nemesis, his attacker. It tapped at the window, at the door, rattling the handle, and glared in.
"No!" yelled Danni, as he rose to confront it.
"Stoker! It can't get in! Everything agrees- if it's not invited in it can't enter!" she was frantic, hauling on his hair, his tail, anything she could reach. Her words finally penetrated his terror induced fury.
"It can't come in here?" his voice was hoarse, his eyes huge as they swung toward her.
"No. Don't open the door. Don't go out. Please..." she begged, and he turned his back on the creature, walking back to her and holding her tight, his whole body shaking against hers.
Eventually, the specter moved on, and Stoker and Danni sank to the floor, still clinging to each other for life and sanity.
"We can't leave here tonight. It could still be close." she murmured, gently stroking his long, unbound silver shot hair, his head resting on her shoulder.
"I can feel it, like it's calling me," he gritted, his arms around her waist so taut they felt like steel bands. She could feel his fur all along her body, standing up with dread, where just a few hours ago it had been so soft, like down.
Slowly, agonizingly slowly, he began to relax, his heart beat against her own ribs slowing, his tensed muscles loosing. She sighed and continued to stroke his hair, his shoulders, his back, until he pulled away from her slightly, clearing his throat.
"Huh. Guess that wasn't the most butch thing you've seen me do," he sounded shaky still, and his shoulders drooped.
"Stop that line of thought, mouse. I won't hear that crap. Not from you." Danni was stern, her fingers now gripping his chin, forcing him to look her in the face. He looked tired, beaten, and shaken to his soul.
"Danni, it called me. If it had kept it up, I would have gone. You wouldn't have stopped me." he dropped his gaze.
"Stoker, you listen to me!" she roared, rocking him back and capturing his complete attention.
"You will survive this! I won't allow defeat." she hissed, scant centimeters from his face. Then she kissed him, desperately. He had very little choice but to reciprocate, she was so intense.
When she let him go, he sat back on his heels and looked at her, seeing her in a new light.
What he saw in her face must have slapped him out of his funk, because he straightened, his posture announcing a new will to fight back.
"Yer my rock, Danni. S' a good thing yer not my enemy. I'd be in really deep shit then," he laughed, the first time in many long days and longer nights. He rose and pulled her up as well, escorting her to the couch, where he left her to go shower.
The next morning saw her re-entering the flat, the sun at her back. It shone in a moment before she shut the door, and Stoker was off the couch and in the shadows before she could blink, giving vent to a string of scalding curses that burned her ears.
"Sorry, Stoke. I forgot for a minute." she held out a huge, wide brimmed hat in black felt, almost like a Zorro hat, but plain. "I thought this might help. We need to go out and do some research in a libray. I've already been to the bank and changed over some money."
"Great, gorgeous." he panted from the other side of the room. He clutched at his belly and fell to his knees, groaning. Danni was at his side in an instant, supporting him, dragging him to the couch.
"What is it?" she demanded, feeling his forehead, trying to look into his eyes.
"My guts..." he grunted, trying not to pass out.
"You need some food." she said with authority. "Something with iron and protein. You did lose a lot of blood."
"Aww Danni, I've gone without a lot longer..."
"Not with some weird vampire infection running thru you." she brooked no argument, tossing him the jeans and shirt, then helping him get them on, tail thru the new hole, shirt in place. She then handed him the duster and shades, scarf and new hat.
"Not really summer wardrobe, but at least you're covered." she commented tartly, and dragged him out of doors.
Stoker sat behind a veritable barricade of books, head in his hands, a tome open on the table before him.
"You got anything?" Danni asked in a stage whisper, bringing him a styrofoam cup of coffee, extra sugar and half cream.
"I've got a headache." he rumbled, his head coming up.
"Poor Stoke." she stood behind him, massaging his neck. He groaned in appreciation, rotating his shoulders to ease the tension.
"Y'know, babe, with all the conflicting accounts, I may as well just close my eyes, drop a pin, and take whatever advise it lands on." he lamented, throwing up his hands.
"Okay, stress less, my main mouse." she grinned, and took a seat next to him.
"Now look. We've got more lists here than we know what to do with. We'll compare and combine. Right. Anything more than 4 agree on, we'll take as serious, and try to test, okay?"
He looked at her over the rims of his shades. "You are incredible, Danielle."
"No, I went to college for a year." she corrected, and patted his hand before gathering scattered papers, a pen, and a pad of notebook papers.
Charley danced out into the garage, grabbed Vinnie by his greasy hands, danced him around, and let him go, spinning off and laughing happily.
"Charley-girl, are you okay?" he pulled a bandanna out of his back pocket to wipe his hands, and passed it to her.
"I am better than okay, my love, I am on top of the world!" she cried, and bounced over to hug him.
"Carbine called. Modo and Throttle are coming back. Modo's much better, and they'll be home tomorrow."
"Great news, sweetheart!" he joined her in bouncing a moment, then, "Wait, much better?"
"His mama said he needs to visit Rave and get some closure. You know how she always knows what's best for her boy." Charley had a momentary, mental picture of the ancient Martian matriarch, pontificating with one finger pointed, the only time she had seen Modo's mama.
"Visit Rave?" Vinnie was worried. He remembered the scene last time Modo visited her, the bellowing, raving, crying giant grey mouse, and the sedative required to remove him.
"It'll be different this time. He's not in denial anymore." she assured him, then, "and I'm fairly sure Carbine's more than anxious to get Throttle off Mars before he either kills her mate, or she kills him."
"Oooh, bad juju." Vin shivered, and glared out the garage door.
"I really would like a happy ending. Remember when all we had to do was blow up Limburger tower, toss back a few root beers and call it a day?" she reminisced.
"Never thought I'd miss ol' barnacle butt, y'know." he stood behind her, arms around her waist.
"Yeah. Well, tomorrow we have things to put right, so let's get the garage in order, cute guy, and go out to eat."
He grinned and released her, setting to work.
"So what have we got." Stoker asked, falling back onto the couch and flinging his disguise as far from him as possible.
"Well, sunlight, which we know is true. Okay, crosses, garlic. Wooden weapons. Uh, maybe silver." she read off a list.
"How're we gonna test it?" he demanded, irritable.
"On you, first. If we can get hard data, we can come up with a plan to wipe out the creature, and, according to all the books, once he's died for good, you should return to your normal, sweet self." she made a face.
"You've been a real bitch today, Stoke." she admitted, taking off her shoes.
"Have I? Sorry. I don't know what came over me." he spat sarcastically.
"Look, you! Don't lash out at me!" her temper flared, and she got into his face. "I have every sympathy for you, Stoker, but I will not be used as a punching bag! Get off your persecution pony right now, cuz I'm not gonna play that game."
"Yer not the one gettin' weirder and weirder every damn night! Yer just the one I'm afraid o' hurtin'!" He roared back at her, hackles raised. They went on in that vein for several minutes, before Danni started laughing.
"What's so freakin' funny?" he snarled, turning his back on her.
"Oh, oh oh oh. This is too strange. Our first fight, and it has to be about supernatural agencies and transformations. I thought for sure it'd be about which of you I liked better!" she gasped, and he actually managed a brief laugh himself.
"Well, then, which one do you like better?" he needled, and she busted up again at the sly look on his face.
"Oh, Stoke, lover, you are not gonna pin me down so easily. I enjoy you both far too much to choose." she giggled, and he shrugged.
"Can't blame a mouse fer tryin'." he grinned, then sobered, "Okay. I'll stop bein' bitchy. Let's get a move on these tests."
Danni nodded and collected a paper sack she had brought from the library.
"I went shopping while we were out." she held up a jar of garlic puree, a carved wooden knife from some street peddlar, an earring of silver, and a cross wrapped in plastic.
"Garlic." she informed him, unscrewing the top. He took a big ol' sniff and grimaced, rubbing his nose.
"Eew! Stuff is rank." he commented, and stuck his left pinky in the jar. For a moment, nothing happened, then he let out a foul curse and shoved the jar away, nursing his blistered fingertip, wiping it on the carpet.
"Delayed reaction?" she questioned, scribbling on her pad.
"I guess it was slow cause I'm only half-vamp?" he conjectured, and she nodded.
"Let's get the big guns out, see if they work." she unwrapped the cross and held it up in front of him. He blinked at the gaudy design and shrugged, then took it from her hands, examining it closely. With absolutely no effect.
"Guess that let's that out." he grimaced, and set it down.
"Maybe you have to be a Christian vampire for it to work?" she gave a shot in the dark.
"Yeh. Maybe we'll try it on ol' white face if he comes around tonight." Stoker added, and picked up the silver hoop earring.
"Yer gonna pierce me, huh? He assumed, and she nodded, an apologetic smile on her face.
"I pierced all my girl friend's ears in high school, if it makes you feel any better."
"Oh, yeh. Loads better." he sat in the chair and braced himself. "Well? What are you waiting for?"
"I need a pin or something." she dug in her back pocket, coming up with a safety pin. "It's a girl thing." she explained, "I always put a safety pin on some article of my clothing, just in case."
"In case what, you need to pierce some poor unsuspecting person's ear?" he riposted.
"In case my bra strap breaks, my zipper fails, my pal's pipe gets clogged, what ever." she elucidated, and before he had time to think about it, plunged the sharp end thru his left ear lobe.
"Oww!" he hollered, looking at her in grumpy dismay.
"Quicker the better." she yanked the pin out and immediately stuck in the thick silver hoop, closing it as fast as possible.
"Wow." he said quietly, and she watched with round eyes to see what would happen.
"Well?!" Danni demanded with some asperity, hands on hips.
"Tingled for a minute, then went numb. Nothing, nada, bupkis." he looked almost disappointed.
She sighed and reached for the wooden knife.
"What were you planning on doing with that, little lady?" he wanted to know, wary.
"Not me. I couldn't just stab you. You do it." she handed it to him.
"Do I look that self destructive?" he dangled the wood from his fingers, then, "Wait! The tree, that was wood. I cut myself on the tree trunk yesterday. Nothing unusual happened."
"Well, shit. We've got sunlight, garlic, and maybe a cross, if our vamp is a religious fellow. Maybe we should just look in the phone book under vampire slayers."
Stoker smirked, "Yeh, where's Buffy when you need her."
"Ooch, bad Stoke, bad Stoke." Danni mock punched him, and he grabbed her, Do that again, I liked it," he laughed, and she slapped him lightly.
The transporter hummed in the pre dawn at Charley's garage, and two very large forms stepped out of the blue glow. Throttle supported his large, grey buddy, Modo, who looked around cautiously.
Charley ran up to them, followed by Vinnie. After much hugging and back slapping, Modo cleared his throat and choked out, "It's good to be home."
Charley hugged him reassuringly, and led him to her new living room while Throttle questioned Vinnie, "Where's Stoker? Carbine's hell of pissed."
"Problems, bro. He never came here." Vinnie reported, to which Throttle barked, "WHAT?"
"Cool yer jets. He got glitched in the transport and ended up in London. We sent Danni to help, but there's - complications."
"There always are, Vincent." Throttle wanted to know more.
"We don't know any details, but I think it's pretty serious. And pretty strange." Vinnie allowed, and Throttle groaned, then looked toward Modo and Charley.
"Stoke's family, and I really like Danni in the worst way, but Modo comes first. We'll deal with any other fall out later." Throttle finally decided, and began to walk away, but Vinnie stopped him.
"Bro, about Carbine..."
"Uh, uh, Vin. Y' can't flog a dead saber squid. My life's here, now. Same as yours an' Modo's." he said quietly, and entered the house.
The darkness was like a warm, wet blanket as Danni stood in the alley. Stoker was dead asleep, exhausted, and she felt undeniably foolish for risking her neck this way, literally. She had to test the theory, though. In her hands was the ornate cross, and her back was to the flat door, which was ajar. She had been standing outside for over an hour.
Her eyelids began to droop in the second hour, and that was when the attack came, with no warning, sound, or even a puff of displaced air. It was on her, one massive, cold hand pushing her head to one side, the other clamped down on her shoulder, those jagged teeth looming in her vision. She screamed, and jammed the cross up and into it's - his -face. It - he shrieked even louder, releasing her, the cross burned into his cheek. The white vampire clawed at the injury and glared with hateful, pained crimson eyes. Danni jerked her gaze away and held out the cross with one hand, digging in her pocket with the other for the jar of garlic, which she flung at her enemy. It shattered against his chest, and he howled, smoke bellowing up. With one final cry, he raked at her with long nails and was gone.
She went limp with reaction, and stumbled into the flat Stoker was only now coming groggily to consciousness, and poked his head out of the blankets. He saw her and leapt up, catching her as she fell. Only then did she register the burning along her left forearm where a claw had caught her. So did Stoker. He swallowed convulsively and tried to tear his attention away from the injury, but he couldn't.
In a soft voice, she informed him, "Do it, Stoker. You need to be strong to fight."
"No." he denied, but his mouth had barely formed the word before it clamped down on her arm. Both of them were transfixed, she by glorious, voluptuous feeling, he by sustenance.
The wound sealed soon enough, and Stoker stayed on his knees in the middle of the floor, cradling her shuddering body, feeling ashamed, sated, and very close to tears.
Danni regained her senses rather more slowly than she had the last time, but her arms curled around his neck and dragged his head down to hers. She sought his mouth, even smeared with her blood as it was, and then whispered, "It worked, my mouse, it worked." she was elated, and he couldn't grasp it.
"What worked?" he delicately licked the last red from his lips, and stared down at her.
"The cross. The garlic. It worked." she repeated, and he nearly dropped her in his anger.
"You took it on alone?" he choked, shaking her.
"It called you, last time. It had no hold on me. And it's a he, definitely." she added, almost inanely.
"Ah, yer crazy, yer crazy." he cried, rocking her, and she chose to show him exactly how crazy, pressing against him, letting her body demand it's own payment for protecting him. He submitted.
Leaning back against the couch with his Lady in his arms, for a moment Stoker could almost forget the dire straits he was in, and the danger she had put herself in.
"You are crazy, y' know," he murmured drowsily, and she just snuggled tighter against his chest.
"Wait! I got it!" she exclaimed suddenly, going from cuddly to combustive in a nano second.
"What?" he gulped, fully awake and pulse racing.
"Sunlight!" she was up and running naked to the kitchen for the phone while he was still trying to make sense of her epiphany.
He ambled in after her, wondering what was up. She was frantically pushing buttons, and he cringed, wondering what time it was.
"Hello? Hello!" she called, then, "Hey Fuzzy-butt. I need to talk to Charley." she listened, then pulled the phone away from her ear. He could hear Throttle yelling on the other end.
"No, baby, we're not idiots, but thanx for the sweet thought." she rebutted acidly, "Yeah, yeah, you promise, but can you deliver?"
"They're back down?" Stoker demanded in her free ear, and she shushed him.
"Yes, Throttle. I think we've got a handle on our little problem here. Can I please talk to Charley now? Thank you." Danni grinned at Stoker, making a gun to her head motion with her hand. He had to laugh.
"Yo, cuz! Hey. I need you to rig something for me, and send it via transporter to Highgate Cemetery. Yeah, pronto. Rush job. Life and death, like that." she listened, then, "Okay, I need a light, like a sun lamp, UV and all, big firepower, battery powered and portable."
Stoker was about to crawl out of his skin, he was so antsy, and she wasn't helping.
"No Charlene, this is no joke. And I need it there in the day time. Yes our time, you twit! Please." she nodded at something Charley said, then made kissing noises in the receiver. "Tell'em Stoke says, hi, and hug Modo for both of us. Bye."
"What was that all about?" he wanted an immediate report on the call. She just smiled and patted his rear end.
"What the Hell was that all about?" Throttle pounced on Charley as soon as she was off the phone.
"She wanted a light, a strong UV Sunlamp, delivered by teleporter to a damn cemetery, in daylight. They're both nuts." she replied sourly, "And they need it yesterday."
"Why?" Throttle followed her, close on her heels.
"I don't know. All I've heard are dark mutterings and innuendoes about how Stoker's life is in danger, things that go bump in the night..." she flung her hands up in defeat. "At least they're both alive."
"Why am I so worried?" he suddenly wanted to know, stopping dead.
"I dunno, bro, but if you start pacing, I'm gonna have `ta sit on ya," came a mumble from Modo in the other room. He sounded almost normal again, unless you looked at him. His fur was dull, and he had lost weight. He seemed to have lost the spark that made him Modo, and was only just finding it again.
"Stoke says hi and Danni sends hugs and kisses, Modo," Charley told him, and blew a kiss in his direction. He mimed catching it, and gave a tired ghost of his old smile.
"What're they doin' over in England?" he wanted to know, but neither Charley nor Vinnie could help. Charley shrugged, "Hunting vampires? Why else would they need a sun lamp in a cemetery?" she laughed it off.
Throttle huffed, then looked concerned, "D'ya think?" he ruminated, and Charley tossed him a LOOK.
"Vampires aren't real, Throttle." she said, as if to a small child.
"Neither are Martians, Charlene." was his reply.
"Maybe tomorrow. Or the next day. We'll check every day." Danni was saying to Stoker, as she rinsed her hair in the kitchen sink.
He held a towel for her as she dripped her way to the couch, where she flopped down, letting him towel dry her hair.
"Y'know, Stoke, even after this chaosfest is over, you should at least keep the trench coat. You look good in it." she commented, and he replied ingeniously, "Huh?"
"The leather trench coat. You really should keep it." she reiterated, sitting up.
"Y' think?" he puffed up a little.
" `Course, you look better naked, but why make everyone else on Mars feel bad?" she laughed, and he swatted her with the wet towel.
"Yer a brat Danielle, and no doubt about it. Hey, what crawled up Throttle and died earlier?" Stoker asked, settling back and enjoying the show as Danni got dressed.
"Oh, he was bein' stress-boy about your disappearance, my being here as your backup, yadda yadda. The usual." she dismissed it.
"Well, whaddaaya know. I think the boy's a mite jealous." he crowed and she deflated his ego faster the Superman to the rescue with the tart remark, "Whatever for?"
"Aww, Danni. Yer kickin' my ass, here." he moped, but grinned when she wasn't looking.
"Stoke, you are not gonna get me to choose, so quit fishin' fer compliments. I love-er, like you both..." she blushed, and he let it slide, having flustered one concession out of her. He was content to let the matter rest, even though he could feel his chest puffing up, his heart thumping.
"So, y'think this light gadget'll work?" he eased around the faux pas, and she directed a gratified look in his direction.
"We'll have to try on you first, and if it does, it'll hurt." she answered, adjusting her belt.
"I'm game. I want this shit over and done with." he shifted uncomfortably away from the rising sun.
Danni grabbed a stray brick from a corner of the room, snagged some tacks from a cardboard box, and the lone, moth eaten blanket. Using the single chair, she wrinkled her nose at the smelly cloth, but used it to cover the window, securing it with the tacks, pounding them in with the brick. It plunged most of the room into darkness, including the couch.
"I'm going out. Get some sleep, Stoke, so you can function tonight." Danni was out the door in one quick, smooth move, and Stoker was alone.
For a bare moment, he felt the emptiness of the flat as a threat, then settled down on the couch, his tail thumping out a tattoo on the floor as he tried to sleep.
"Eureka!" Charley shouted, setting down the small welding torch and pulling off her gloves and helmet.
"Eureka, what?" Throttle poked his head out into the garage, one hand full of a six pack of root beer, the other carrying a bag of doughnuts.
"Got it!" she sang, showing off the transporter remote. It was ugly, lumpy, and cumbersome, but it worked.
"Cool. You can send that with the damn light and then we'll find out what happened." He smiled, liking neat, tidy, easily packaged ending.
Vinnie chose that moment to scream, "Sugar!" and grab Throttle's burdens away, leaving Throttle to dart after him, starting a wrestling match. The doughnut bag went flying, and Modo snatched it in mid air with his tail, settling in front of the TV and scarfing jelly filled goodies while the other two battled over what was no longer in their possession.
Charley giggled and kept the secret, turning instead to the task of creating a portable, mini sun, with all pertinent radiation.
The flat door slamming shut jerked Stoker awake, falling off the couch.
"Danni?" he called out, but the answering voice was male, and distinctly British. Stevie.
"Oh, naw, ol'mousie. S' only me. I see y'aint dead yet." he observed, seating himself as far from Stoker as he could on the chair and still talk without shouting.
"I thought you booked, boy." Stoker said gruffly, pulling the duster over his nakedness.
"I did, granther, but I had to know if you was kilt. Felt bad." he sniffed, and looked away.
"You know who this bastard is." Stoker said the words flatly, knowing they were accurate.
"Yeh. I do. He used t'be me mate, Aaron. He was messin' wi' things he shoudn't `a been, and I dunno, somehow became that thing. Two years ago. Them's his thing yer wearin'." Stevie gestured to the coat and clothes.
"Yer shittin' me, junior!" Stoker yelled, pushing away the leather. Stevie stared at Stoke for a bare second, then averted his eyes.
"Naw. We was mates, y'know, lovers, `till he slipped over the edge into that occult crap. It's what killed him, turned him, whatever."
"Yer really serous?" Stoker pulled the leather back over himself, discreetly.
Stevie noticed, and chuckled, "Yer safe from me, mousie. I dunno if I can say the same about you. You still eat food?"
"Some. I'm not changed yet."
"Got yer help from over the pond?" the youth wanted to know.
"Yeh. She's out, gettin' somethin' t'...kill...yer, uh, mate." Stoke broke off, feeling horrible saying something so awful.
"Good. Aaron's been gone a long time, Stoker Mouse from Mars. He shouldn't be - out loose. It's wrong an' needs endin'." Stevie got up and tipped an imaginary cap at Stoker, cracking the door open. Stoker winched at the late afternoon light, but Stevie blocked most of it. His parting shot shocked a weak curse from the mouse: "S' too bad y' don' swing my way, mousie, yer real naf."
Stoke collapsed back onto the couch, covering his head with the leather, only to sit back up with alarm. Danni was still gone, and it was almost sundown. He scrambled into his clothes and hat and shot for the door, only to be cracked in the head by it, as Danni came waltzing in, big package in hand.
"Stoke?" she called, and he answered from behind the door, "Here, darlin'." he held his right eyebrow.
"Oh, my gawd. I'm sorry!" she set the parcel down and held his face in gentle hands, surveying the damage. He had a good knot above his eye, but nothing worse.
"Y'missed it, Danni. Stevie was here just a minute ago, and he told me who the vamp is." Stoke could feel himself blushing as he spoke, and hoped she wouldn't notice.
"So spill it!" she encouraged, all ears.
"His-ahem-ex lover, some guy named Aaron. Two years now, he's been preying on people. I assume you know something good? Yer practically glowing." he pressed, hoping for news.
"Yeh, do I ever. Charley came thru, AND she sent a transporter remote. Not only can we get this guy, we can get you back." she was so happy she was nearly floating.
"You uh, wanna try it out?" he asked nervously, rubbing his forehead.
"Well, yeah. It's nearly night, so, let's get goin'." she unwrapped the weird looking thing, some how cobbled together out of a timing-light-gun. It had a long cord attached to a big double motorcycle battery rig in a carrying case complete with strap. Included was a small note saying, "If you catch Dracula with this thing and he looks like Gary Oldman, give him Aunt Victoria's number. C"
"Oh, funnee, cuz." Danni grimaced, crumpling up and tossing the note. She then hoisted the pack on her shoulder, thumbed the on button, and pointed the business end of the light gun at Stoker, her finger on the trigger.
"Ready?" she queried, worried about what it would do to him if it worked.
"Do it," he stood straight, only his eyes averted. Good thing, too, because when she pulled the trigger, and the light played over him, he screamed, hands up in front of his face, his fur smouldering. She immediately dropped the beam, set down the contraption and ran to him, trying not to touch exposed portions of his body.
"Shit, it burns!" he whimpered, his whole body shaking as though palsied. He convulsed, curling into a ball in her arms, then he went limp.
"No no no no no!" Danni moaned, not knowing what to do. He was still breathing, laboriously, but he wouldn't, or couldn't move. She wracked her brain, feverish with fear for him, then remembered - and began shaking herself.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid..." she berated herself, letting him gently slide to the floor from her lap. Undecided a moment, she hesitated, then dashed to the bathroom. With quaking fingers, she plucked a chunk of mirror out of the sink, and took it back with her. Kneeling by his head, she looked away and plunged the razor sharp sliver into her left hand, and when she looked back, her palm was cupped and full of blood. Her belly heaved and her chin quivered, on the very edge of hysteria, but she got ahold of herself and introduced her flesh to his mouth. Unconscious, he battened on her like a leech, his teeth holding her firm. Within moments, he surged to awareness, his eyes still closed, but his hands clutched at her wrist. She could no more have stopped him than she could have held back the ocean with a teaspoon. Her body was completely over thrown with feeling.
Stoker's eyes opened, and he realized what he was doing. He shoved her away so violently she toppled over, and scuttled as far from her as he could get. When she didn't get up, he feared he had killed his lover, and crept closer. He saw the gentle rise and fall of her chest, and gave a heart felt sigh of relief. Rising, he lifted her, bearing her to the couch, patting her hands when he got her settled, calling her name, and finally, slapping her.
He had taken so much from her; he hated the creature that had brought him to this more than any enemy he had ever faced, and vowed to exact revenge. After Danni was all right.
"S-stoke?" she coughed, groping for him in the dark.
"Here, Danni." he croaked, shame closing his throat.
"Are you all right? I didn't know what else to do." she whispered, burrowing into his embrace.
"You saved me, Lady." he felt one of those unmacho tear things squeeze out of his eyes, and wiped at it with an impatient fist.
"Thank God." she sighed leaning heavily on him.
"I - uh- I guess it works." he tried, lamely, all too aware of how close they had come to total disaster.
"Yeah." she returned then sat up, pushing her hair out of her face. She rose and went to turn on the light. When she turned back to him, she gasped and nearly fainted again.
"My god, Stoke! What's happened to you?" she cried, hands going to her mouth, her eyes enormous.
"What?" he demanded, alarmed, his hands patting his person, his face, checking his ears.
"You- you- you- got y-younger!" she exploded, unable to deal with this new twist at all.
"Yer still out of it, girl." her refuted her claim, but got up and fled to see for himself in the remnants of the bathroom mirror. She was right. He had grown younger. No silver streaked his long brown hair, his fur was darker and not peppered with grey, and his flesh lay tighter on his bones. He sat down hard on the commode, cracking his tail against the porcelain but ignoring it, too stunned to even move.
Danni followed him in and hesitantly reached out to touch his face. He flinched. She sank down in a crouch before him and just stared. "Wow," was all she could manage.
"Maybe I should bottle my blood as an anti aging cream," she sniggered with macabre humor. Stoker was not amused.
"This is too freaky. I can't deal. I'm just too old fer this." he stared blankly at the wall.
"Not any more, baby. You look maybe a year or four older than Vinnie." she informed him, at which his head snapped around and he glared.
"Quit, Danni. It's not funny." he snapped, and even his voice sounded more vibrant, more commanding. She was not, however, intimidate in the least.
"Now you have more of a chance. Welcome back to the prime of your life Stoke. Don't throw away any advantage." she growled back, her hands clenched on his thighs.
"Don't tell me how to fight, girl. I was a leader in the Freedom Fighters before you were born."
"Yeah? Then use your head, mouse. You have the smarts, now you got the ability to use them again. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." she glared back, and he shut up, acknowledging the truth of her words.
"Why are you right all the time?" he finally demanded, pulling her up to sit on his thighs.
"Occupational hazard?" she laughed weakly, and added her own question, "How do you feel?"
He stared hard at her, his arms tightening around her and redirected, "You tell me."
She had to laugh, the infectious sound making him chuckle as well. "Besides being full of piss and vinegar, Stoke, I'd say you feel pretty damn good to me." she chortled, and he stood, picking her up effortlessly and carrying her out of the bathroom.
With no warning, she found herself on the ground, and scrambled up, her eyes locked on Stoker.
"He's here. I can feel him." he gritted thru clenched teeth. She was amazed, he looked like a fierce warrior now, instead of a tired and retired ex-soldier. She grabbed up the light-weapon and shoved it into his hands, keeping the cross and ugly wooden knife for herself.
"Stoker, you can't let the light touch you. It'll kill you, and I don't think I can afford any more blood to try and keep you alive." she panted, nerves and fear drying her throat.
"I'll stay outta the light, Danielle, if you keep yourself in one piece." he returned, and flung open the door. A seven foot tall albino nightmare stared in at him. He kept his eye focused on the huge chest and said, "C'mon in, Aaron. Let's dance."
The vampire flew in, and Stoker turned the light on it, skewering it in place. It's enormous hands rose to ward off the pain, unable to with stand the false sunlight. It tried to dodge, but Stoker kept the heat on, so to speak. Danni came up from the side, the cross out in front in her left hand, the wood in her right. Aaron shied away in agony, and they pursued it into a corner. It lashed out with it's clawed hands, but mussed, Danni using her years of martial arts training to keep out of it's reach.
They were at a stalemate until the light finally over came it, and it sank down, whimpering, smoke enveloping it. Stoker dropped the light, and Danni shoved the wood into his hand, holding the cross on it like a cop with a gun.
"The heart Stoke, thru the heart!" she hollered, and he struck, a great gout of black blood welling out, sparing both of them. In one final, explosive vent of rage and pain, the beast that used to be Aaron coiled and leapt, hitting Danni in the chest and taking her down with it.
Stoker grabbed handfuls of hair and skin and hauled it away from her, screaming, "Get off my woman!"
She lay there a moment, covered in the thick, viscous, black blood, and shook then rolled away, retching.
"Did it get you? Danni!" he shouted, trying to check her body for injuries. She shook her head no, still afflicted with dry heaves. When she stopped, he gathered her close, rocking her, but keeping a weather eye on the beast. It was dead, finally, burned almost beyond recognition and foul.
"We did it, baby. We're alive." He crooned still holding her close. She didn't cry, but shuddered, fit to shake her teeth loose. He held her face tight against his shoulder. Her body went slack after a long time, and she wiped at her dry eyes, just in case.
"Yer a wonder, Danni." he chuckled drily, his thumb caressing her cheekbone, then he stood and set her on her feet. She wobbled a moment, then stood firm on her own.
"I gotta know." he explained, and picked the light gun back up, handing it to her.
"No, Stoke, not now." she tried to refuse, but he was implacable.
"Now, Danielle. I have to know." he repeated, and held his left hand out away from his body. She swallowed hard and took careful aim, depressing the trigger. He flinched, but didn't move out of the light. He held. Then he stepped into the beam, basking in it.
"I'm free!" he yelled, grabbing her up and swinging her around, then crushing her to his chest.
"We both are." she sighed, and giggled, "What're the boys gonna say when they see you."
"I dunno. Throttle's gonna take strips outta me for beating you, tho." he laughed at her expression, then explained, "You got some pretty impressive bruises shaping up, beautiful."
"Let's go home. Now." she bent and gathered up her few belonging, then tossed him the duster and hat. He looked puzzled.
"I wasn't joshin' you when I said it looked good on you." she informed him quietly, and he grinned and put them on, then hunted up the remote for the transporter and activated it.
The hum from the mini transporter brought Charley out of her light doze against Vinnie's shoulder as they sat on the couch, watching T.V. Throttle was instantly alert and Modo even looked out the door into the garage.
Stoker and Danni appeared, two dark shapes in a dark room, and Vinnie was the first out, vaulting over the back of the couch and running to meet them. He flipped on the overheads, and stopped cold. The other three followed him out and were also unable to accept what they saw. Both of the new arrivals looked like they'd been thru one hell of a war, bloody, filthy, and bruised.
"What the HELL happened to you?" Charley squeaked, and Danni managed a small grin.
"Hiya, cuz. We won." she piped, and they were mobbed, everyone talking at once, demanding answers.
Stoker, in his best parade ground voice- the one he hadn't been able to manage for years without coughing - bellowed, "Back off, you bums!"
He tossed the hat onto a work bench, and glared at the three mice. "I taught you better than this." he growled, and they all backed up two steps before even finding their voices.
Their jaws dropped, and Stoker took the opportunity to shuck out of the leather trench coat. It was hot in the garage.
Modo broke the ominous silence with the dry comment, "Hey, It looks like England agrees with ya, Stoke."
Throttle shook his head to jar his brain loose, then turned to Danni, "You're hurt."
She shrugged, swiping hair out of her eyes, and informed him, "He's worse off than I am. He's the one who nearly died."
Charley, her mouth working with no sound coming out, finally managed to voice, "Is that blood?"
Vinnie reached out and touched the front of Stoker's "Charlie don't surf" T-shirt, collecting some of the black goo on his fingers and smelling it.
"Yep." he determined, and ran back into the house. Charley watched him go, wondering. He returned in bare moments with a handful of wet washcloths and two fresh T-shirts. He handed them off to Stoker and Danni while the others just stood and stared.
"How - how did you.." Throttle just couldn't get his mind around Stoker's appearance.
"Loose twenty years?" Stoker grinned maliciously, then relented. "I had a run in with a damn vampire, got mostly turned and drank blood. I wouldn't recommend the treatment, boy. But I'll tell ya, I feel great - bein' honorably old is highly overrated." he slapped Throttle on the back, really hard.
"This is just like the old days. Wait till Command center sees you." Modo sounded better than he had in months, guffawing at the very thought.
Vinnie, a speculative look on his face, walked a tight circle around Stoke, murmuring, "They'll put you back in service, coach, that's what. You're a valuable resource again."
Stoker looked at him closely, eyes narrowing. "You've gotten deep, boy. You finally grew up." he said, very quiet. Vinnie, accepting the words, didn't blow up as he would have just a year before. He just nodded.
"I've done my time. Maybe I'll just - I dunno. Take my retirement here on Earth" Stoke thought a moment then, "Nah. Y' can take a soldier out o' th' fight, but y' can't take the fight outta th' soldier. I guess I'll just take a small vacation, see if the effects' permanent before I go back."
Danni smiled at him, most of the nastiness scrubbed off her and one of Charley's T-shirts on, her own in a wad on the floor. She collected her two mice, one on either side, her arms around both, and demanded, "Are either one of you gonna offer me some food?"
Throttle laughed and steered them toward the kitchen. Charley shooed Modo and Vinnie after them, remarking, "Big day tomorrow. Show's over, lets get some sleep."
Modo swallowed hard around a big lump in his throat, "Yeah. I gotta go see Raven tomorrow." he squared his shoulders and headed off to bed.
Charley looked after him for a few moments, shook her head sadly, and made for the room she shared with Vinnie, turning off the T.V.