Lips met and hands entwined. Two hearts sped up as a muscular body pressed against a petite one. The dainty form was betrayed by the strength that lay in the small woman. Grinning, she started a contest of force that she lost in the end, happily so. He returned her smile as he collected his reward.
His blood rushed faster. As he united with her, in heat and need, everything else faded from his mind for a moment. Heavy breath, low moans and little sighs filled the air - an old dance but so completely new when danced with her.
Both of them never tired easily and when they did, the room was dark, safe for the streetlights falling in. As always, she said nothing. But she was awake, the white of her eyes visible in the half-light.
“What am I to you?” he asked.
“You heard me.”
“A friend.” She shrugged.
“‘Only’? You’d think Harlem’s Hero values friendship.”
“You know what I mean.”
A beat of silence. “Yes. I do.”
“Then why won’t you answer?”
“Not everything needs a name.”
“But some things deserve one.”
Luke startled awake. It felt like he was bathed in sweat. His upper teeth hurt and his tongue was heavy in his mouth. Somehow it was hard to breathe, even though there was nothing tangible to cause this.
At first, his vision was blurry. But after a while, his surroundings became clearer and sharper. Against the door frame stood Matt.
“Watching me sleep?” Luke asked. “Creepy, man.”
“Sorry.” The mockery of a soft smile lay on Matt’s face. “I heard you toss and turn. I feared you were uncomfortable. Maybe having a nightmare. I swear, I wanted to leave as soon as I noticed that the opposite was the case.”
“Great,” Luke said drily, trying to hide his embarrassment.
Matt lingered in the doorway. It was obvious he wanted to speak, but either he was unsure if he should or he was trying to find the right words.
“Stop fighting it, Luke,” he said finally. “Then we’ll help her, too. She will no longer be afraid, haunted by her past, just like I stopped fearing my feelings. And you two can have eternity together.”
He turned for one more smile at Luke. Then he left.
Nerves fluttering, Colleen turned the wooden stake in her right hand again and again. It was an improvised weapon at best, but apparently one of the most efficient against vampires. The blade in her other hand was more familiar, well suited for the other way to kill a vampire, the beheading. Unbidden memories of Baku’s death flooded her mind. It was unpleasant to think of the way he died, but she’d had to protect her Misty, like Misty had protected her. And they both would do so again.
With impatient gestures, Strange had the group assemble around him. Around his hands there was already the familiar orange glow, indicating that he’d already prepared the magic he intended to use.
“So how long does that sneaky magic last?” Jess asked.
“Ah, yes the ‘Thief’s Friend’,” Strange said. “If not purposefully lifted, it should last at least half an hour. However, keep in mind that, while it silences our steps and hides our heartbeats, underneath the magic we are still solid and alive.”
“Meaning, Matt can feel us displacing air and emanating heat,” Colleen sighed.
“Yes, once inside, we won’t be able to hide our presence from him,” Strange said. “Does everyone know what to do? Miss Knight?”
“Colleen and I look for Matt. Ideally, we bring him down, keep him down and make him drink his medicine.”
“And if things go less than ideally?”
“We still bring him down somehow and make him drink it.”
“Ervenar and I look for Luke,” Jess said. “He tries to weaken him so I can hopefully overwhelm him and give him the potion.”
“Alright. Miss Wing, what will you under no circumstances do?” Strange said with a stern face.
“Go anywhere near Danny,” Colleen sighed. “Because with his tarnished chi it’s easier for him to infect people and probably even easier still to infect me through the Iron Fist. Also, I will not summon the Fist in the presence of any vampires.”
“Exactly!” Strange said. “ I will locate Mr. Rand. Hopefully I can trap and immobilize him to give him the potion.” He took a deep breath. “Last but not least: Mr. Nelson.”
“I stay here, hope for the best and will not - even when Hell freezes - leave the Sanctum,” Foggy said.
“Thank you,” Strange said. “I know it’s frustrating…”
“...but I’m neither a fighter nor a magic user, I know.”
Strange gave Foggy a nod and a smile.
“Any other vampires in the house are probably beyond help,” Strange said. “We have no indication or whatsoever that any other people were turned lately. But we can’t be sure. Ervenar says, a fully, irreversibly turned vampire would be hurt by the potion. Not fatally, but enough to get a reaction. So maybe it’s worth using some of the potion to make sure we don’t accidentally kill someone who could be saved.”
Everyone nodded in understanding.
“Speaking of magic,” Strange then said and lifted his hands.
It felt weird. The spell Doctor Strange cast on Colleen and the others seemed to dance across her skin. Tickling and prickling, the sensation engulfed her whole body until it finally faded.
“That was it?” Jess asked.
Experimentally, she lifted her right foot and slammed it on the ground with full force. Her boot hit the wood but made no sound.
Foggy whistled. “Nice trick.”
“Magic, Mr. Nelson,” said Strange. “Tricks are for the circus.”
As if to emphasize this point, he gestured dramatically and magic sparked. A portal, a familiar picture by now, opened.
“It will bring us as close to the vampires’ hideout as possible without them seeing it,” Strange said. “Let’s hurry. The sun will set soon!”
Matt heard familiar steps. Like Matt had requested, Caroline had awoken Danny an hour before sunset. Danny yawned and slouched through the house, getting adjusted to the changed rhythm. Matt sighed when he heard Danny bump into a door frame. While it was not completely new for either of them to be awake in the night and sleep during the day, now it would be a permanent thing. Danny better pull himself together.
Sighing, Matt thought about Luke. The gift was already coursing through his veins and would take over sooner or later. Sooner, if Luke stopped fighting it. And Matt really wished he would. After all, their friends would come to them soon.
Caroline and the others of the old circle were already on the move as well. Their way led them to the storage first, to feed.
It was right, wasn’t it? Finally, embracing the night fully. She had been a reliable ally for Matt for years. The day, never granting Matt its benefits of color and light, did not treat his true self kindly. Only after dusk, he was fully free. But Matt did not begrudge his friends not understanding it yet. Being honest, Matt wouldn’t have either a few days ago.
A few moments later, Danny entered. After greeting Matt, he began to train. Good. He needed to stay at his best. But Matt had to make sure nobody overdid it tonight. After all, Jess, Colleen and Misty would probably attack tomorrow morning. They’d bring Strange, most likely. But not Foggy.
Matt sighed. He had hoped Foggy would be the first he turned. But as long as their friends were not all on the same page, they would keep Foggy from Matt.
The thought sent a rush of anger through Matt. Nobody had the right to stand between him and what was his! No. Matt took a calming breath. They meant well, they didn’t understand yet. As soon as they had received the gift as well, they would no longer stop Matt. Like Danny they would even help him get Foggy.
Foggy. A smile found its way on Matt’s features. He shivered at the memory of Foggy so pliant and willing in his arms. How Foggy’d surrendered and offered his throat, breathing out Matt’s name. For a moment Matt felt a pang of regret that their bodies would never meet as humans. No sweat to mingle and no hearts beating against each other.
Matt shook himself out of it. His old, restrained self would never have made any move on Foggy. Having him in the moonlight only, was better than not having Foggy at all.
There was a shift in atmosphere. Subtle and easy to miss. Matt himself was not sure if it was noteworthy. But right now, at the brink of something new and important, he could not dismiss anything.
Matt focused. There was nothing that should not be there. No heartbeats, no breath, just steps, all from inside this house, all from his fellow vampires. But there was this odd feeling, like a low hum, vibrating in his head. Magic. While not something Matt encountered daily, the sensation it caused to his enhanced senses was hard to forget.
“Doctor Strange,” Matt whispered before he stood. To Danny, he said, “Our visitors came early. Be ready.”
“You got it,” Danny said and his hand’s wild movements suggested he was making fingerguns at Matt.
Shaking his head, Matt sent him to inform the others.
That was surprising. Their friends came sooner than anticipated. As Matt thought about it now, it made sense. Some time was left until dark and he had not expected them yet. But it did not matter. Maybe they were less prepared than they would have been in the morning, but they would win either way.
Danny moved to his spot at the back entrance. It was one one of two possible entry points. Diirectly after taking over the circle, Matt had organized the defense. Because of course he had. For a moment, Danny wondered why Matt had not gone to guard the front door, but Matt probably had a plan. He always did.
On his way, Danny heard Luke groan. Feeling guilty, Danny bit his lip. The last thing he’d ever wanted was for Luke to hurt. Had he known that the process would be so much longer and more painful for Luke…
Well, then what? What had been, had Danny known that? Matt was right. It had to be done, no matter what. Still, Danny wished Luke stopped fighting it and making it so hard on himself.
Another soft sound came through the door. This time it was a name, familiar to Danny’s ear. It was spoken pained and full of longing, making Danny’s heart ache for his friend. After a short moment of hesitation, Danny opened the door.
“Hey, man,” he said gently. “We have a situation here. But later, I’ll keep you some company.”
“Free me,” Luke breathed out.
“Can’t, Luke,” Danny said. “I would if I had time to keep an eye on you. But there are intruders and…”
Fast as lightning, Luke sat up, the chains rattling with the force of his massive body. “Let me… let me help. I’m ready!”
“Ready? Are you sure? I mean…”
Danny stopped mid sentence as Luke smiled at him with razor sharp fangs.
“Oh, Danny,” Luke whispered. “I am sure!”
Lying right into Danny’s puppy face was as hard as it had always been. Was it really a lie though? Luke almost cut his tongue on his teeth and there was an unknown feeling of power surging through him. All his wishes, no matter how small, slowly turned into urgent demands, all the love he felt bit by bit became possessive need. He had to fight it. Most of his thoughts were still his own. Somehow he had to get out of here, find his way back to the Sanctum and drink the medicine that weird old man was cooking up.
Quickly, Danny removed the chains and Luke stood. Blinking, he waited for his blood to settle while Danny - as Luke had hoped - stayed close and waited. Alright. Now or never.
Luke was just about to go through with his plan and overwhelm Danny. But something stopped him. Not far outside the building was something he wanted, he needed. Luke could feel her in his blood, in his bones.
“Jess,” he breathed out.
“Yeah, she and the others are on their way here,” Danny said. “It’s good that you can feel her. You’re coming into power. But the wolfsbane will keep you from calling her to you.”
“Then I’ll go to her.”
The front entrance was unlocked. Not that Misty had expected otherwise. This was not a match that was decided by mundane things like sturdy doors and complicated locks. Carefully, Misty slipped into the building, Colleen right behind her.
Recalling the simple map of the house Jess had drawn, Misty oriented herself. If Jess’ had remembered everything correctly, the stairs to the left led to a corridor full of sleeping quarters. On the upper floor reached by the righthand were two large rooms, one of them a former library with few books left, the other mostly empty save for some old chairs.
That was what they were heading for. When Foggy had heard about the room, he had immediately chuckled, “I bet Matt made it into a training slash meditation center asap.” Misty intended to trust Matt’s oldest and best friend with that. So it was likely they would find Matt there.
Misty and Colleen nodded at each other. In silent understanding, Misty went first, stake in hand. Their steps were silent on the wooden stairs thanks to Strange’s magic, but Misty was under no illusion about their secrecy. Now that they were in the building, Matt must know someone was here. Since Matt wasn’t stupid, he also knew who it was.
On top of the stairs, a worn old rug served as a floral patterned pathway through the corridor. Misty halted and strained her ears. Nothing. At her sign, Colleen sneaked to the first door and peeked through.
“Library,” she mouthed silently. “No one there.”
Nodding, Misty signaled Colleen to move onwards. There was but one room left - the one Foggy suspected would be Matt’s sanctuary. Side by side, Misty and Colleen crept closer, unsurprised of finding the door wide open, an invitation as much as a dare.
The room was spacious. Black paint on the glass kept out the sunlight, the lamp on the ceiling was switched off. However, the one in the corridor provided enough light to see some training mats and an old punching bag. It also revealed the figure of a man in the center of the room.
Matt was not even trying to hide. With his back to them, he sat in a lotus position and appeared to be meditating or relaxing. There was no doubt that he was aware of the women’s presence, yet he did not acknowledge it at first. A smug smile lay in his tone when he finally spoke.
“Hello, Misty. Hello, Colleen. I admit, I didn’t expect you so soon.”
“Sorry to drop in like that,” Misty said, trying to hide her nervousness with humor. “But we do come bearing gifts.”
“Yes, I can smell it on you,” Matt said, voice strained. “Not to be rude, but it’s nothing I want.”
“Matt, please,” Colleen said. “We’re friends. Let us help you.”
With one elegant move, Matt rose to his feet. He chuckled lowly as he turned to face Misty and Colleen.
“Funny,” he said. “I was about to say the same thing.”
Jess opened the back door. As quiet as possible, she stepped across the threshold and froze. All the magic had been for naught. Right behind the door, stood Danny and someone else. She was not certain, but she might have seen the other man on the fateful night she and the other Defenders had come here for the first time.
While pale and thin, the other man did not look weak. His body was sinewy and his eyes awake, almost shining in contrast to the dark half circles of their sockets. In his hand, he held a baseball bat and casually swung it by his side.
While Danny’s palms were already glowing, he held them up in a placating manner. Worried, Jess took in the changed shine of the Iron Fist. The usual yellow glow was half gone, maybe more, replaced by an uncanny dark red, growing like a tumor. Apparently Danny had been training as he only wore a pair of trousers. His feet and chest were bare and the tattoo of Shou-Lao appeared to have washed out.
“Hey, Jess.” Danny sounded as usual. So much so that it was hurtful to listen to it, just as Jess’ heart ached at the sound of the warm timbre in his voice. Admittedly, sometimes Danny’d annoyed her with his sunny, cheerful, ever optimistic spirit. But he was a reliable and steady beacon of hope and kindness in a very cold world and she was terrified of the possibility of losing him.
“Look, Jess,” Danny said. “Doctor Strange and… um…” he looked at Ervenar, “friend I haven’t met yet. We don’t want to fight.”
“Neither do we, boy,” Ervenar said, letting his stake sink. “But needs must.”
Impressively fast (for someone his age), Ervenar jumped forward. Like a magician, he suddenly produced one of the phials with the healing potion and doused the two men with it. The thin man next to Danny hissed in pain and jumped back. Danny only stared confusedly, first at his wet chest, then at his cursing companion.
“What?” he asked.
But before the other vampire could answer, Jess charged. Stake in hand, she stormed towards the nameless vampire, knowing now that he could not be saved. In the corner of her eye, she saw Strange move his arms and hands.
The opponent was strong. But so was Jess and the element of surprise was on her side. She jumped at him, her full weight colliding with his upper body, bringing him off his feet. Sitting on his chest, she held him down with her left hand, the right lifting the stake. She did not allow herself to think. Without hesitation, she rammed the stake into the man’s heart.
A moment later, she hit the ground. The solid body underneath her was gone and she was surrounded by dark gray dust. Doing her best to keep her mouth closed, she struggled to her feet and stumbled away from the cloud.
Ervenar’s hand found her shoulders. The hardened features were suddenly very soft as he steadied her.
“You had to, girl,” he said quietly. “You did good.”
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Jess nodded. Afterwards, she turned to Strange who appeared to hold Danny in some sort of magic stasis field. Danny was writhing inside the white glow, but he was trapped.
“Go!” Strange ordered. “I got this. Find Cage!”
Jess and Ervenar nodded and went upstairs.
At first, things were going fine. Following her instincts, Jess led Ervenar to a wooden door, guarded by two vampires, one a tall lanky guy, the other a woman of average build. Ervenar reacted quickly, sprinkling the potion on them.
They were visibly hurt by it. Also, they were distracted for a moment so Jess did not hesitate to tackle the man to the ground and proceed similarly to the last time. Why change a working tactic? The vampire screamed when Jess’ stake pierced his heart - then he was dust.
The woman was a lot faster than she looked. It was obvious that Ervenar had underestimated her as she had gotten him into a defensive position, his stake only used to keep her at distance rather than to do any damage. But Jess came to his aid, staking the remaining vampire through the back.
Breathing heavily, Ervenar leant against the door.
“Puh, I’m getting old,” he said. “But you’re good at that.”
“Thanks,” Jess said drily.
Then the door flew open.
Stephen did not see but hear Miss Jones and Ervenar leave. Good. He had to focus on Mr Rand. As wielder of the Iron Fist, Rand was unsurprisingly strong, in more than one sense of the word. However, the vampirism had changed the special kind of magic the young man carried inside him, but his ability to wield it had not yet adjusted.
So Stephen managed to immobilize Rand and could cast his sleeping spell. Bit by bit, Rand’s movements slowed down, his hands stopped glowing and his eyes fluttered shut. A sigh of relief escaped Stephen. Not taking his eyes off Rand, he pulled one of the phials out of his pocket. He uncorked it and carefully stepped through the magic barrier.
By taking hold of Rand’s chin, Stephen opened the other man’s mouth.
“Please do not operate heavy machinery for 24 hours, Mr Rand,” Stephen jested.
Something hit his arm. The bottle flew out of his hand and reach. Stephen looked up and found himself staring into the intense blue of Danny Rand’s eyes. Somewhere in the room, the phial burst on the ground, but Stephen barely registered it.
“I’d rather not drink that, Doctor,” Danny Rand said and he smiled, eerily polite.
She was here! Jess had come to him and Luke would never let her go again. Nobody would stop him. A few feet away lay the unconscious form of Ervenar and the others were kept busy by Matt and Danny.
There was no way she could beat him. Luke knew that while he was stronger, she was faster. Right now, she dodged and evaded easily, but she would tire, he would not. Once more, he tried to grab her, once more she slipped away at hair’s breadth like cat.
“Luke! Listen to me!” she said. “This is crazy! That’s not you! Just drink the stuff Ervenar cooked up so you’ll be yourself again!”
“Myself?” he laughed. “And who is that? Luke Cage, ex-con, party trick and punching bag?”
He launched at her and she jumped aside.
“What are you talking about?” she yelled, breath becoming labored. “Everyone loves you! You’re the fucking Hero of Harlem.”
“They love the idea of me, Jess,” Luke corrected. “They don’t love me. No one does.”
“Why would you say that? Danny loves you. Matt, in his way. Your friends love you,” she said and after a short pause, “and… I do. I love you.”
With a cry of rage, Luke charged again. This time, she so barely escaped that he could feel her skin under his fingertips.
“Don’t you dare,” he roared, “to change your tune like that, thinking I’d be dumb enough not to notice. I waited so long for you to say it and conveniently now you do?”
“It’s true, dammit,” she yelled back. “I… I was scared. Still am. I… I’m always scared! Of caring, of loving, of letting my guard down. The last time I let my guard down…”
She stopped. Tears gathered in her eyes, but she was not one to let them fall. Luke’s anger slid off of him immediately and he relaxed. Slowly, he took a step closer. She did not flinch.
“I know, Jess,” Luke said. “I was scared, too. Not of loving you, never of that. But of other things. People on my watch getting hurt, people judging me, people coming after me or my friends. But now, there is no fear.”
Discreetly, Jess wiped her eyes. “What do you mean?”
“What we thought is a curse, is a blessing,” Luke told her. “All our worries and concerns are just drops in a vast ocean. It matters when you know you’ll never see more than a square of it. But if the whole ocean is yours? Eternity, Jess.”
“You mean… you are no longer scared?” she asked, hesitantly. “Not at all?”
Luke shook his head. Softly, he smiled at Jess. “I want that for you, too. Let me… let me show it to you, please. Everything that was before… Jewel, Killgrave, Trish… it won’t matter anymore. Just you and me and our friends, our real friends. Forever.”
“I… would be free…”
“Yes! Exactly!” Luke pointed at his room. “Come with me. I’ll show you.”
Smiling, Luke reached out to Jess. She put her small hand into his large one and he pulled her into his arms.
Luke sat down on the cot. Brimming with anticipation, he pulled Jess down on his lap. Combing his fingers through her hair, he pressed a kiss on her lips. As he tilted her head, she winced.
“What’s wrong?” he asked
“Will… will it hurt?” Jess suddenly looked so vulnerable, it made Luke’s heart ache.
Never again should she have to be afraid. He would make sure of it.
“I won’t lie,” he said softly. “It won’t be pleasant, but it will be worth it.”
Jess bit her lip. Locking eyes with Luke, she asked, “Can… can I see them?” she gestured at his mouth but it was clear what exactly she meant.
“Sure,” he said with a smile and showed off his fangs.
“Wow.” Jess carefully let her fingers slide over the pointed tips. “Never again a steak too raw to eat, huh?”
Her giggle was almost girlish. Luke found his heart warming at her nervous curiosity. Fascinated, she examined his teeth, gently pushing his mouth open wider. A happy feeling flooded Luke. She was willing, just a bit scared. But she was working on getting over that.
When Luke registered the swift move of Jess’ arm, it was too late. She stuffed something into his mouth and in the next moment a strange liquid poured down his throat. It tasted like nothing, but somehow that made it worse.
Choking, Luke jerked upwards. With a shout, Jess slid off his lap and landed on the ground. Luke jumped to his feet coughing, and pulled the little object out of his mouth. Disbelieving he stared at it. The little minx had somehow managed to open a phial with the healing potion and stuffed it into his mouth.
Angrily, he grabbed her and threw her onto the cot. He pinned her wrists and snarled at her.
“Liar!” he accused as his vision slowly tunneled. “All these sweet words so you could make me weak again.”
An unknown softness lay on her pretty features when she firmly held his gaze.
“I wasn’t lying,” she said, calm and collected. “And you’re never weak.”
The world went black.
That was not good. Rand had tricked Stephen into believing him helpless. Maybe Rand had not yet mastered his altered abilities but his resistance against sorcery had obviously increased notably. His hands were glowing again, the infected chi seeping into Stephen’s own magic field.
Unfortunately, one of those glowing hands was at Stephen’s throat. At the last moment, he had managed to form a thin barrier around his body, keeping the infection out. The wavering red mass began to envelope the thin veil, creeping, growing, waiting for a weakness.
“I hadn’t thought you’d be joining us,” Rand said, excited like a kid that gets a dog. “At least not so soon. Not that I’m complaining, of course.”
Stephen did not answer. For one, being choked made talking hard. For two, being in the grasp of the Iron Fist, feet dangling in the air left him rather speechless. For three, he needed to focus on getting out of here.
“It’s too late, Doctor,” Rand said as if reading his mind. “Colleen is with Matt. She can’t beat him, he will turn her and with two Iron Fists on our side, we’ll be unstoppable. I never would have thought the Iron Fist could be any better, any stronger, but it is now!”
Danny smiled and Stephen felt the pressure on his protection spell increase. The tainted chi slithered around his neck, pricking and poking at the magic shield. Desperately, Stephen struggled and kicked, but his magic was no good right now and physically Danny Rand was far superior to him.
Stephen felt the protection fading. It would not be long now.
Loud and painful, Misty’s back hit the open door. The phial slipped from her fingers and shattered on the ground. Even more than her rattling bones, her pride was hurt. Matt had thrown her through the room like a children's toy.
Colleen managed to dodge Matt’s next swing. Going low, she tried to kickflip against his legs, but he jumped up to avoid it, and came down again, landing right on Colleen’s knee. She screamed in pain. Distracted, she reacted too late when Matt bent down and grabbed her collar. Easily, he lifted her up and carried her towards the nearest wall. Cornering Colleen, he grabbed her hair to expose her throat. Her attempts to wind out of his grip were futile as his body trapped hers against the wall. Like Strange had told her, she held the Iron Fist in. But it was clear that soon she would have no other option.
Misty pushed herself forward. Forcing herself through the pain, she stumbled forward. Injured and weakened, she failed at getting Matt away from Colleen. In her desperation, she grabbed his hair to at least keep his mouth off Colleen’s neck.
This got a reaction. Matt growled and so fastly whipped around, that Colleen - still struggling - slid to the ground and Misty was knocked off her feet as well. She half-expected to have Matt sit on her in the next second and rip out her throat. But he was already focusing on Colleen again. Damn it. It was obvious that he wanted the Iron Fist. He must have figured out that it was easier to turn people with it.
Frantically, Misty looked around. Finally, her gaze lingered and she jumped to her feet. She had to save Colleen.
Groaning, Luke came to. He found himself on the hard floor of his “guest room” in the vampire lair. A pair of familiar booths came into view and he looked up to Jess who just threw something on the cot.
When she turned to him, she grinned, “Back with me? Sorry I needed the cot for him.” She pointed at the cot where Ervenar was now lying. “I had to decide and he was easier to get up there than you.”
She held out a hand and helped Luke up.
“How are you?” she asked.
Luke groaned. His face was very hot all of a sudden and he was too embarrassed to met Jess’s eyes. But she deserved an answer, nonetheless, after what she had done for him.
“I’m dizzy, have a headache, almost killed you and made a fool of myself.”
“So, great then?” Jess smirked.
“Perfect,” Luke said sardonically and sighed. “Look, Jess, I…”
Before he could continue, Jess stood on her toes and pressed a kiss to his lips.
“Later, okay?” she said. “We’re in the middle of something.”
Stephen was losing. It was not something he was used to and he had the feeling he wouldn’t live to experience it again - at least not as a human.
Then he fell. The hand at his throat was gone. Before he could fully process it, he hit the ground, hard.
Desperately, Stephen sucked in air. The world appeared at bit hazy right now, but he saw someone wrestle with Danny Rand. As everything came into focus again, he recognised Luke Cage. He held his friend’s upper arms and tried to subdue him. Usually an easy task, Cage struggled now. One reason surely was Rand’s vampiric strength. But there seemed to be something else wrong with the indestructible hero. He moved clumsy and slow, not wielding the force behind his body with the usual vigor.
Rand twisted out of Cage’s hold. With a spin, he brought himself to Cage’s side and kicked him in the ribs, making Cage stumble sidewards. But Cage caught himself and stood tall, Jones joining his side.
However, Rand did no longer attack. With wide eyes and an amalgam of shock and sadness on his face, he stared at Cage.
“Oh, no,” he sighed. “How… Why would… I’m not sure we can… Not again, I think… but… Oh, Luke....”
The Iron Fist began to glow. They all prepared for the worst, but Rand made no move towards them. He simply slammed his fist onto the floor, the chi release knocking Strange, Jones and Cage to the ground.
When they, moaning and groaning, had scrambled to their feet, Rand was gone.
“Danny?” Cage asked.
“Dammit,” Jones cursed. “Where’d he go?”
“Dunno,” Cage said. “But we should check on Ervenar first. I got him pretty good.”
“Sorry, Matt,” Misty whispered as she reached the window.
With full force she punched her mechanical arm through the glass. At once a small stream of dying sunlight flowed into the room.
Hissing, Matt jumped backwards. Colleen took the chance to push away from the wall and run towards Misty. The women positioned themselves near the beam so Matt would have to walk through to get to them,
Matt retreated to the door. Again, he was annoyingly calm while he took in the situation. The bastard stood completely still and had the nerve to smile smugly.
“Careful,” he said. “I think I heard glass break. Don’t cut yourself.” When the women did not answer, he said, “The sun is sinking. This won’t protect you forever, you know?”
Stubbornly, Misty remained silent. What could she say, except that Matt was absolutely right? All they had won was catching their breath for a moment.
After dusk, they had to fight Matt again. Which was a grim prospect with the two of them hurting and tired. Especially since even before nightfall, they had not even come close to wrestling Matt down, let alone making him drink the potion. That was not going well.
Still blocking the door, Matt suddenly went rigid. He tilted his head in that manner of his when he heard something.
Then he left.
It took Colleen and Misty a moment to grasp that he was actually gone. They shared a confused look before following. Peeking out of the door, they found that Matt was not in sight. So they hurried along the corridor, quickly checked the old library and then went for the stairs. But Matt was nowhere to be found.
They gathered outside. Jess was supporting Luke who said he still felt a bit nauseous but actually looked like he would pass out any minute now. Ervenar insisted he was fine and waved off Luke’s apologies. Meanwhile, Strange was looking at Ervenar’s injuries. Colleen and Misty were the last to join them.
“Secret exit in the basement,” Colleen said. “Seems to lead to the sewers. They could be anywhere by now.”
“Why didn’t you tell us about the basement?” Misty asked Jess.
“Erm… because I didn’t know about it?” Jess gave back. “It’s not that I had time for sightseeing the first time we were here.”
“Fair enough,” Misty sighed.
“Damn,” Luke said. “Danny was right there… How did I let him…”
“At least we got you back,” Jess said. “And we’ll find Matt and Danny, too.”
“Yes… Yes, of course we will.”
“Not a sign so far,” Foggy said into the phone.
“How much time is left?” asked Karen.
“I don’t know.” Foggy shrugged though she could not see him. “Not much.”
There was a pause.
“Don’t give him up yet,” Karen said after a while. “Don’t lose hope.”
“I won’t,” Foggy said. He heard the door and spoke, “Sorry, Karen, gotta go.”
“Of course, talk to you later,” Karen said. “Marci says Hi!”
“Hi her back,” Foggy said with a smile. “Bye.”
He rang off and hurried to the Sanctum’s main entrance. Misty and Colleen were shrugging off their coats, grim expressions on their faces. When Foggy came down the stairs, his eyes met Colleen’s. Pressing her lips together, she shook her head.
Foggy sighed. Three days had passed since Strange and the others had attacked the abandoned house and saved Luke. Since then, they tried to find Matt and Danny, but the two superheroes-turned-vampires seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth. Their old lair was empty and so far there were no clues to any new headquarters. The time window to heal them was closing and their friends had no idea where the two men were.
Luke had no idea either. Whatever Plan B Matt and Danny had made, they had not shared it with him. As far as Luke remembered. The poor guy was in and out of consciousness while the potion purged the vampirism inside him. Ervenar said Luke’s body reacted more intensely to the healing than other people’s - just like it apparently had to the infection itself. But Ervenar and Strange were convinced Luke would fully recover. Small victories and all that.
The door swung open again. Strange and Jess returned, their faces just as joyless as Colleen’s and Misty’s. Cursing, Jess threw her jacket towards the coat rack. She missed and the jacket hit the ground, but she didn’t even look at it.
“Fucking Hell!” she cursed. “Nothing. Nobody has seen or heard anything. We don’t even know where to begin looking!”
For a moment, everyone was just lingering in the entrance hall, scratching their heads and staring into the distance.
“Well, it makes sense that they hide now,” Colleen said. “Especially during the day, they won’t come out. Maybe if we go after dusk…”
“No!” Strange said harshly.
Everybody turned to him with shock-widened eyes. Immediately his face softened as did his voice.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn't mean to yell. But… we cannot become reckless. Maybe we… have to accept…”
“No!” Foggy interrupted him. “No! You said you would help us, you said we can heal them!”
“And both are true,” Strange insisted. “I did everything in my power to assist you and we can heal them - but they won’t let us! Time is running out and we can’t find them. We help neither them nor us if we risk everything and they turn all of us!”
“That’s bullshit!” Jess said. “I will…”
“What about Mr. Cage?” Strange asked her. “You saved him. He is on his way back. He is healing. Soon he will wake up. Do you want him to wake up to being the last Defender? The last Hero for Hire?`Or will at least you be there for him?”
Jess opened her mouth. She closed it again without saying something. Crossing her arms, she averted her eyes and stared at the floor.
“I’m gonna check on Luke,” she said and stormed off.
After watching her leave, Foggy turned to Strange again.
“Please,” Foggy said. “This isn’t their fault. They…”
“I know,” Strange said sadly. “Sometimes bad things happen to good people and sometimes we can’t do anything about it. I’m sorry.”
“I need to discuss some things with Ervenar,” Strange said. “Please excuse me!”
In disbelief, Foggy stared after him.
“He’s right,” Misty said.
“What?” Simultaneously, Colleen and Foggy’s heads snapped towards her.
Misty sat on one of the steps, head dropped and hands in her hair. Tired and miserable, she shook her head. Her skin was paler than usual and her shoulder slumped - from exhaustion and defeat.
“As much as it pains me,” she said, avoiding looking at Foggy and Colleen. “They… are dangerous, even more so at night. We can’t go out at night to find them. I want to save them, too, but I’m not willing to risk the whole group falling to achieve that.”
“Misty, I can’t believe…”
Misty stood and put a firm hand on Colleen’s shoulder.
“I’m very sorry,” she said. “I know what he means to you, but… sometimes you have to let go.”
Foggy and Colleen were the only ones left in the foyer. Their eyes met.
The sound of Jess’ booths echoed through the building. With quick steps, she hurried along the endless hallways of the Sanctum, peeking into every room on her way.
“Foggy? Luke would like to see you!” she called.
Finally, she entered the library. Maybe Foggy had gone to sleep early and she would find him on the couch he had occupied during their stay here. While Foggy was not there, the sofa was not empty. An envelope had been placed there, addressed to nobody.
Jess reached inside and pulled out a note. At once she recognized that except for one word everything was written in her favorite lawyer’s handwriting, Foggy’s handwriting.
We can’t give them up. We’re sorry.
Foggy & Colleen