Though Drake was at rest, he was anything but restful. He twisted in his sleep, kicking off blankets one second and grabbing for them the next. Pain coursed through him while his body slowly stitched itself together.
Cassius sat at his bedside, never once looking away. He reached for Drake’s jacket, which had fallen to the floor, and pulled it back over the wounded vampire’s chest. The green, vegan leather was smooth to the touch, but lacked the earthy smell that was part of its character. All Cassius could smell was the garlic, onions and spices so liberally applied to the curator’s meatballs. Who would have thought that mere foodstuffs could make him so pitiful.
Spike balanced on the bed rail and applied a washcloth to Drake’s forehead. She fretted, fiddling with tiny claws. “I hope the others are alright,” she said.
“They will be,” Cassius said. “They’re strong, and Lindsay’s there.”
The little bat flapped and whined. “But-but there’s only three of them, and-”
“Curs’tac is a dangerous enemy, but worrying isn’t going to help. We have to trust that they’re strong enough to handle the situation.”
“You trust their strength, but not your own… right, Cass?” Agony flashed in Drake’s failed attempt to sit upright.
“You need to take it easy,” Cassius said.
“Not when… the team… needs me…”
“They need Green Fang, not an invalid,” Cassius said.
“What about Blue Fang?”
Cassius drew a sharp breath. “I’m no good to them as I am.”
“Then let me breathe your strength and I’ll go,” Drake said, and fought through pain to become vertical. His frown deepened. Drinking his teammate’s essence would help, if only a little. “Maybe you can sit around and do nothing, but if I can stand, then I can fight.”
The little bat flapped her wings. “Please don’t go, Drake. One more hit from Curs’tac and then you’re done for!”
“Then I won’t let him hit me,” Drake said.
Cassius pressed a hand to his chest, and thrust the vampire back onto the bed. “You’re not going anywhere.”
“You can’t stop me,” Drake said. “At most you can give me your blessing, or not. It’s up to you.”
The vampires glared for a time. Both were equally determined in their intent, but it was not Cassius’s place to keep his teammate there, not while his heart lay in the battlefield. Perhaps he could have stopped him, but were he in the same situation…
He leaned down, pressing his brow to Drake’s. The two closed eyes and parted lips. In a moment of stillness, heat filled the air between them. Cassius exhaled, and Drake breathed him in. New life filled the wounded vampire, causing him to writhe underneath Cassius. Then, just as quickly, it was over.
No sooner had they broken away than a familiar rhythm climbed the steps. “Hello! Is anybody home?” It was Mr Nowack, the curator. His timing, as always, left much to be desired.
Cassius composed himself. Though Mr. Nowack had chosen an inopportune moment to grace them with his presence, he at least did so with a pot of tea and several cups on a tray, all of which Cassius might have sensed had he the ability to smell.
“I heard that young Drake wasn’t doing well,” the old man said. “Thought maybe some tea would do him good.”
The vampire considered his answer. “Drake is sleeping at the moment, but if you’d like to come back later…”
Drake, however, was already out of bed, and quiet as night danced on the rafters toward the exit. He moved out of Mr. Nowack’s awareness, but not his teammate’s.
“Of course. Of course,” the old man said. “Then perhaps I can interest you in a cup?”
“Um…” Drake was gone. There was no point in refusing. “I… suppose so.”
Mr. Nowack poured the hot brew into a pair of bowls, not cups. They were shallow, and did not have handles, not to mention that the color of the liquid was different to what he expected.
“This is ‘tea’?” he asked.
“Green tea,” Mr. Nowack replied, “like they drink in Japan.”
Cassius raised a curious brow. “I’ve never been to Japan.”
“You don’t have to go to Japan for green tea,” the old man said. “You can buy it at any supermarket. This I bought from an Asian grocer. The good stuff! Or so he tells me.”
Mr. Nowack offered the small cup to Cassius, who held it in both hands. He leaned into it, but smelled nothing beyond sinuses. He was still reluctant to take a sip, and drank it down at the old man’s urging.
The brew wet his tongue with a light, bitter taste. It was nice to taste something, anything, other than garlic.
Cassius stopped. He glared at the cup and inhaled the steam. It smelled warm, and mild; not at all like that which dominated his nostrils! He dashed from one corner of the room to the next. In one he caught dust and dirty clothes, and in another Vincent’s perfume. He scented shoes, silver polish and disinfectant; sweat, wood and a plate of cheese left on a side table.
“I can smell,” he declared. “I can smell!”
Mr. Nowack nodded. “Must be the tea. It’s a palate cleanser, you know.”
Vanquished by a meatball, and liberated by tea; Cassius was mystified, unable to articulate the absurdity of it all.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Nowack,” he said, racing for the door. “Thank you for the tea!”
The curator tilted his head. What possessed young Cassius he couldn’t say. Resigning himself, Mr. Nowack sat on a recliner and leaned back. No use letting tea go to waste.
Lindsay clutched to her limbs, relieved to find they were still a part of her. A smarter woman would know to stay down, but Red Fang rose from the debris.
All around were the remnants of battle; fire, rubble, a scar on civilization that would take months to heal. At the very least it came without a human cost, for the moment.
Curs’tac showered in the accolade of the freaklings, and clapped his pincers in anticipation of victory. He considered the heroes, all of whom struggled to their feet.
“Who should I clip next?” he mused, pointing as he sang. “Eenie meeny miney mo, catch a tiger by the toe…”
The nerve of him, making a game of her friends lives! Red Fang sprang up to shut the monster’s mouth.
“Oh, look! We have a volunteer!” Curs’tac swung the blunt side of his claw. It bowled the woman from her feet, smacking the ground, hard. Just another in a long line of blows she was too soft to take.
Yellow Fang and Pink Fang scrambled, but couldn’t maintain their footing. Lungs burned and heads spun; ot, shallow breaths clouded the inside of their masks.
The monster raised his pincer high. From all sides the freaklings urged him on, though their hoots came out as a low ‘huh’ sound.
“It’s curtains for you, hero!” he said.
Curs’tac reeled when a sharp boot landed on his shell, pushing him so that he tripped on his victim. The creature turned to the cause of his fall; the Green Fang!
“You!” he seethed.
Green Fang pulled his ally to her feet. Somehow, the most injured of the team was the most stable.
“You can’t order me away,” he said. “You made a promise, remember?”
How could she forget? Like her ancestor, Lindsay had the power to bend vampires to her will. With only a word companions would flee to safety; but they were her friends, not her slaves. She vowed to never steal choice from them, even if it spelled their end.
The others gathered, ready to defend from their knees if they had to.
“To the bitter end,” Pink Fang said.
“Not that it will come to that,” said another.
A fifth hero appeared with cape billowing and blue costume untarnished. Blue Fang returned to their ranks without the dark cloud hanging over him.
“Oh, it’s you,” Curs’tac huffed. “Guess you liked eating dirt so much you came back for seconds.”
Blue Fang’s resolve did not waver. “Drake. Get the others to safety. I’ll handle this.”
“No…” Red Fang stumbled to reach him. “He’ll only hurt you!”
The vampire sniffed the air and hummed. “I have this well in hand,” he said matter-of-factly. “Please, trust me.” Blue Fang rolled his shoulders and redoubled his stance.
“You’re cocky. I’ll give you that,” Curs’tac said. “Tell you what. I’m a good guy, at least as far as bad guys go! I’ll give you a free shot.”
He waved the freaklings back, offering the vampire plenty of room. Curs’tac lifted his pincers, offering an armored belly as unbreakable as the rest of him. He laughed as the enemy approached.
Blue Fang sniffed the air, and on the monster’s invitation delivered a jab to the underside of Curs’tac’s arm. The creature squealed, and stumbled back. For the first time the monster tasted pain.
“That-that hurt, you… you-!” Words failed Curs’tac, who fell back the more Blue Fang advanced. “How did you do that?”
“I can smell you,” Blue Fang said.
The monster pushed through the wall of freaklings, and shoved them in the path of the guardian. “What do you mean you can smell me? You saying I’ve got BO?” He laughed, but it was no longer a confident laugh.
The hero knocked the freaklings away, reducing them to dust. “I can smell the soft, sweating flesh between the cracks of your shell,” Blue Fang told him. “They’re as plain to me as the sun in the sky.”
“So what you’re saying is I need a better anti-perspirant.”
The vampire struck without mercy; not with force, but precision strikes in corners most fighters wouldn’t think to look for. With a single sniff he found weaknesses all over, along Curs’tac’s neck, underarms, and behind his joints. For what the monster had done there would be no forgiveness, and in a handful of blows Curs’tac was curled on the ground.
“You think you’re so hard, but you’re soft where it counts,” Blue Fang seethed. Bubbles of rage broke his exterior. Curs’tac whimpered as he delivered the final blow, cutting into his black heart.
Blue Fang turned to his friends, victorious, standing over the shell of their enemy; but the fight was not yet over. Freaklings by the dozen surrounded them, eager to pick up where their general left off.
Lindsay locked eyes with the other hero. With his strength at her side she found her own again.
“I think I’ve found my second wind,” she said. “How about you guys?”
Yellow Fang, Pink Fang and Green Fang banded with renewed vigor. The freaklings didn’t stand a chance.
To be continued…