Three years before Laughlin City…
The last man to step into the cage that night was big and angry, and he went down hard, blood dripping from the ruin of his nose. Logan gave him a parting kick in the kneecap, then sauntered back to his corner to take a long drag on the smouldering stub of his cigar.
The boos and catcalls resonated through the wire mesh of the cage.
This was one of those rare and nasty occasions when Logan felt it. When the hatred and hostility of the crowd prickled through his skin and pooled in his gut, solidifying as a vehement disgust.
Tonight he felt sick of it all. Tonight he wasn’t kidding himself that he did this for the money. The truth was that he did it because he liked it—because it made him feel a little better to hurt people, the way someone he couldn’t even remember had hurt him. Because if any of these swaggering idjits who stepped into the cage, or jeered and made bets outside it, ever knew what he was… well, they’d want to hurt him, too.
He just did it to them first.
That made a lot of them, or at least the ones who bet against him, want to hurt him anyway—but at least this way he gave them a good excuse.
Tonight, though, there was no satisfaction in it. Tonight his hatred was directed only at himself. Tonight he was tired of spilling the blood of others, blood he couldn’t even stay hurt long enough to spill from his own veins.
He just wanted it all to end.
It wasn’t that he hadn’t tried. Oh, he had—and failed every time, held hostage by a body that just wouldn’t die.
Logan let the grumbling crowd thin out before he stepped from the cage, shrugging into his layers of shirts and his battered leather jacket. He collected his winnings and made his way to the bar, feeling in the mood for something stronger than beer.
He was downing his second whiskey when the fat, bald bartender placed a third in front of him. "From the lady at the corner table." The announcement was backed up by a pointing finger.
Arching a quizzical eyebrow, Logan turned to look in the direction indicated. There was a woman at the corner table—one who looked very much out of place in that dive. She was tall, statuesque, porcelain pale, her long dark hair almost disappearing against her black clothing. She had been watching him, and when he met her mischievous gaze, she smiled.
Something about the expression reminded Logan of a hungry shark.
He turned back to the bartender, deliberately and quite visibly pushing away the proffered drink. "Tell the ‘lady’ no thanks."
The bartender simply rolled his eyes and walked away, leaving the glass where it sat. The drink had been poured, and somebody was going to pay for it, whether anyone drank it or not.
Mentally shrugging, Logan continued to do away with the rest of his own drink, but his senses remained tuned in on the corner table. Through the background noise—music from a tinny radio, the bawdy chatter of two drunken truckers—he could hear the woman’s movements as she stood up and stepped toward the bar. It took a moment more for him to catch her scent, and he realized there was something incredibly wrong about it. Beneath a layer of cheap rose perfume, she smelled of…
"You know, it isn’t nice to say no to a lady." Reaching his side, she propped one elbow on the bar and rested her chin on a slender hand, regarding him coolly. Logan couldn’t decide whether her narrow face and slightly sunken cheeks made her look impish or cadaverous. She was attractive enough… but creepy.
Maybe she was a mutant.
Logan rolled his eyes and turned away from her. "Look, I’m not buying, lady."
"Who said I was selling anything?" The woman leaned closer, almost leaning over his shoulder, and her voice dropped to a whisper in his ear. "I know what you want."
Grimacing, Logan turned, prepared to tell her where she could go. Instead he met with her gently silencing fingers against his lips.
Her hand was as cold as ice, and her scent—
It was the smell of death.
His elbow took out the untouched glass of whiskey she had sent him as he spun off his barstool, backing away. Were it not for the rather bemused bartender looking up from the cash register, his claws would have come out for air as well. If the woman wasn’t a mutant… then she was something worse. He wasn’t sure what, and he was not particularly eager to find out.
The smile she gave him then was rueful—a tangible emotion of regret. She laid a handful of cash on the bar, turned and started for the doorway, but as she passed him, she paused briefly.
"Then maybe life does mean something to you."
It was only a whisper, but his hearing could not have failed to miss it. He turned to watch her walk past him, his heart thudding against his metal-laced ribs.
Her hand was on the door when he called out in a rough voice, "Wait."
She paused. The predatory smile came back as he approached her warily, and when she stepped out into the snow, he followed.
Halfway across the darkened parking lot, he seized her arm. "What are you? A mutant?"
She smirked at the hand which held her, then lifted her eyes to his with placid amusement. "They say we’re all mutants."
Logan let go, drawing back his hand as though she were something unclean. "I don’t know if you’re even alive."
"You might be surprised how relative that is." She folded her arms and gazed steadily at him, and he took a notion that her night vision must have been just as good as his. "But you’re interested in something a little more absolute, I think."
"What makes you say that?"
"Call it feminine intuition."
Logan growled in his throat and cut to the chase. "So what are you selling?" He flicked his fingers at her disdainfully. "If it’s this—"
"Of course not. After all, that isn’t what you want." She leaned closer to him, her long fingers reaching up to toy with the rough hair on his cheek. "You want release. I know—I’ve seen it all before. I’ve learned how to recognize the look. The one you had when you walked into the bar."
Logan scowled, but did not quite find the will to pull away from her hand. "So what’s it to you?"
"Call it a mutual favor." Her finger trailed lazily down his jawline, coming to rest on the pulse at his throat. "I think you know my part of the bargain."
With a knot of dull, visceral horror in his gut, Logan looked away. Whether it was a mutation that afflicted her, or something else, this woman honestly believed herself to be some kind of vampire. She had a sick mind… and judging by her inferences, she might well have been a very real killer.
He looked at her again, arching an eyebrow.
"Can you do it?" he finally asked, his voice quiet and rough.
The huntress in black smiled indulgently.
She had a cheap motel room down the road, a fact that made Logan distinctly uneasy. It was clear that she had expected to find someone to suit her needs… or her desires.
For a moment, as she slid his jacket from his shoulders and began to unbutton his shirt, he wondered if those desires might be something different after all—but there was no false intimacy to her movements. She was wearing soft leather gloves now, avoiding any contact of her icy skin against his, and some part of him realized that she did so for his own comfort.
"Lie down," she whispered, once his shirts and jacket lay crumpled on the floor beside the narrow bed.
Feeling his most intense thrill of trepidation yet, Logan obeyed. He was surely mad to be doing this, placing himself in the hands of a would-be vampire. After all, bleeding was one of the many ways out he had tried before. As long as he remained conscious, he could keep the wound open, but inevitably he would pass out and wake up fully healed.
Yet if she could keep his veins open… If she could take enough, quickly enough…
Still fully dressed in her concealing black clothes, she sat down on the edge of the bed, leaning over him. Her left hand settled on his chest, her right hand on his upper left arm, and she gazed down at him with the sort of grim compassion one might well have expected in the angel of death.
"Are you sure?" Her voice was soft, and utterly sincere. She had no doubt of her ability to take his life.
For answer, Logan closed his eyes and turned his head, baring his throat.
He heard her sigh softly, felt her lean close to him; her lips touched his neck, their chill making him flinch. She lingered there, in a long slow movement that was not quite a kiss, her cold breath pleasantly numbing the sensitive skin of his throat.
When the bite came, he hardly felt it.
He let out a soft, shuddering gasp, if only from the realization that she had the fangs to fit her claims about her nature. His pulse quickened. The blood welling up from his wound warmed the numbing chill, red fire mingling with the ice of her lips against his skin.
After what felt like a long time, the flow began to ebb; the wound was healing. When she pierced it through again, the pain was sharper, but the renewed rush of blood seemed quicker. Logan’s heart began to pound almost painfully, attempting in vain to circulate his diminishing blood supply. Lightheadedness aroused in him a vague panic, and he clutched the threadbare sheets of the bed beneath him, resisting every instinct that bade him to unleash his claws and fight for life.
This time, he felt that his body might finally let him go.
His dark angel’s gloved hand no longer rested on his chest. It had moved up to his cheek, almost caressing, offering the comfort of a nearly-human presence in the final moments.
Before the darkness swept him away, his last feelings were of gratitude.
It was the first thing to register in Logan’s awareness—a crawling, creeping black fire in his veins, the burn of something that should have felt like hunger, but did not. It introduced him to need and desire as he had never known them, before his mind could even begin to comprehend the object of his lust.
Something is wrong.
It was a thought. A very definite one. And that was wrong too, because he was quite certain he was not supposed to be having thoughts any longer. What was that saying—I think, therefore I am? Yet for some reason he couldn’t quite grasp, he remembered that he wasn’t supposed to be at all any more. He shouldn’t have been thinking, or feeling, or breathing…
He wasn’t breathing.
That sudden realization was enough to shock him to full alertness. As his eyes flew open, he drew a breath out of dimly panicked mental reflex. The air lingered uselessly in his lungs, serving no more purpose than to deliver information to his brain through his sense of smell.
Rose perfume, and the faintest trace of that mysterious scent of mortality.
Then Logan remembered… and as understanding dawned, he should have felt a cold upwelling of horror in his gut, but all he felt was the insidious burning demand within his veins.
That raging black fire, the need, the desire, the hunger—
It was a desperate craving for blood.
His roar of rage and fear rang hollowly against the cracked plaster of the walls, his claws sinking deep into the mattress. They emerged from his hands without pain—a wonder, a granted wish—yet that painlessness only served as another reminder of his fate. The body which for so long had held him prisoner was now only more powerful, more driven by urges he could not hope to master. Blindly he had taken the last step to becoming a true monster, an impossible freak of nature and science and the supernatural.
It should have overwhelmed him, but he faced this black reality with a mind that was all too clear.
Finding that even the refuge of madness was beyond him, he closed his eyes, and simply breathed. It was a conscious effort and useless, but the steady rhythm of that now-alien sensation helped him to center his reeling mind—to focus on something other than the bloodlust.
He thought of her.
His mind recalled every detail of her appearance, her voice, her unnatural scent, more keenly than he ever would have expected of even himself. He would know her by any of his senses, and he would feel her long before that.
He would find her.
If he found no means to escape this existence, this fate worse than life, then she would not escape him. His soul would thirst for vengeance as his body thirsted for blood. Unlike the person or persons unknown who had given him his claws, he would have no need of answers from her—and if he couldn’t send her to hell, he would create a new one especially for her.
It was the first promise Logan had ever made, and with all his silent heart, he meant to keep it.
© 2003 Jordanna Morgan -send feedback