"Stealthy" wasn't a word one could use to describe Techie and she knew it. In her early twenties, her joints had started to prematurely creak. Now, in her mid-thirties, she was a walking bowl of Rice Crispies, giving off a snap, crackle or pop with almost every move. Other than the occasional muttered acknowledgement that accompanied a particularly abrupt popping sound--usually along the lines of "Damn it, must be gettin' old"--she ignored it, but it was clear to Jonathan, as he snuck along behind her, that her days of unencumbered, independent movement were most definitely numbered. As she dropped into a wobbly crouch in front of him, a duffle bag full of various tools and superstitious nonsense slung over one shoulder, her kneecap angrily snapped. He frowned. Ten years ago, that crouch would have been only a little unsteady; what would it look like ten years from now?
The thought of her with a cane bothered him a little but more than it probably should have.
He shook it off and dropped down next to her as she relieved herself of her duffle and started rifling around inside it. Jonathan took this opportunity to examine their surroundings.
Techie had managed to pinpoint the Captain's location through deductive reasoning and more than a little bit of luck. With it being a cultural melting pot, there were many exotic restaurants in Gotham City, but only three places served Hungarian cuisine. The henchgirl had dismissed the first two because they were in the heart of the city--the tourist heart--and there would be far too many people lurking about for a vampire to get away with anything, even in an alley. The third lay on the outskirts of Gotham's most upscale neighborhood, straddling the line between the richest and poorest districts quite well. Between crime alley and Fifth Avenue were several blocks of gray area, neither affluent, nor truly destitute, and The Hole in the Wall--which was the name of the restaurant--was smack dab in the middle of it. It was nice enough that some of Gotham's upper middle class might occasionally drop by, but there was still a significant chance of getting stabbed behind the building, so the city's real elite would never set foot there.
Techie and Jonathan were situated across the street from the restaurant, crouched behind some box hedges that lined the front walk in front of Erica's Exotic Imports. The emporium had gone out of business long ago, the place having been set ablaze by 'persons unknown' (and by 'persons unknown' what the police really meant was 'the Penguin, we just can't prove it yet') and still sat empty and gutted. The box hedges had survived the fire, for the most part, and gave just enough cover that they couldn't be seen from the other side of the street.
Jonathan peered through the greenery, scanning the front of the restaurant. The Hole in the Wall was housed inside a modest brick building, the face of which was lined with sumptuously decorated picture windows. The table where the Captain and her dinner companion were seated happened to be dead center, looking out on the street: perfectly positioned for spying.
"October twenty-seventh." Jonathan glanced over at Techie. She was muttering into the Captains dilapidated, near obsolete digital sound recorder. "Subject is one 'Ambros Almos'--note to self, investigate family name. Subject possesses typical vampire characteristics. Devastatingly handsome, pale skin, magnetic personality, speaks Romanian with the flawless accent of a native."
Jonathan pursed his lips. "As if you would know what a native speaker sounds like."
She didn't stop recording, but narrowed her eyes at him slightly. "Subject is also charismatic. Hypnotic or psionic ability suspected, but unverified."
"Subject can also stand in broad daylight without bursting into flames," he mocked.
An angry glare was his reward. Techie turned off the recorder. "Do I bother you when you're working?"
She pursed her lips and continued to glare at him as fiercely as she could. "Could you just be serious, Jonathan? Please? It's for science!"
"Some perverted fictional brand of science."
"Would you like to go home?" Her tone was that of a mother threatening to leave her misbehaving child behind at the grocery store.
He gave her a nasty sneer. "I thought you didn't want to go up against Count Dracula all by yourself?"
She looked perturbed at his reminder that she needed him but didn't respond. She turned back to watch the building across the street through the shrubbery, flipping the recorder back on as she went. "Unknown what species subject is, but it is assumed that the Stoker-esque mythology applies."
Jonathan looked at her disbelievingly. "You are completely out of touch with reality."
"If reality wants to get in touch, it knows where I am. I..." Techie trailed off and leaned forward through the brush. "They're leaving the restaurant."
Despite himself, Jonathan turned his attention to the restaurant across the street. The Captain and her escort were leaving the establishment, the Captain's arm looped through Ambros' and her head resting comfortably on his shoulder. Jonathan's nose wrinkled with distaste. They looked like lovesick teenagers. Disgusting.
Techie's eyes narrowed to slits behind her glasses. "They look awfully chummy."
"That a technical term?" he asked dispassionately. "'Chummy'?"
"They're going down an alley."
Without warning, she tried to leap to her feet. Jonathan stopped her, grabbing one of her wrists. He almost threw her off balance in the process. She looked down at him.
"Squish, she's in an alley. An alley in Gotham," she said. "Vampire or not, she's in trouble."
He scoffed, unimpressed. "It's just an alley."
She pursed her lips and gave him a steely look. "And just how many have you walked away from unscathed?"
On considering this, he released her. "Point taken."
The Captain released a contented sigh as she strolled with Ambros. What wasn't there to be contented about? He was a handsome devil, more charming than all the conmen in the east end combined and he was a delightful conversationalist besides.
A real shame about the whole being a vampire thing…
Yes, believe it or not, without any help from Techie whatsoever, the Captain was bright enough to figure out that her beau was one of the living dead. Oh, sure, to begin with, she'd been just as mesmerized by him as she appeared to be, but as the day wore on, his hold on her slipped a little and some of her sense came back. He was wonderful, but he was too wonderful. He was too everything, really: too charming, too attentive, too polite, too pretty and above all else, too perfect. He was positively flawless. When she studied his face and didn't find a single scar, wrinkle or blemish, she started to get annoyed.
Once she made up her mind to be irritated, she started noticing other things. Over dinner, he requested that his goulash be made without any garlic. When she spilled the salt, he didn't throw any over his shoulder--but he did pick up every single granule, counting them under his breath. She supposed that these things could be easily dismissed. Explaining them away was simple enough. He could just be a man who took good care of his skin, didn't care for garlic and suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder.
She could have accepted that he was a perfectly normal human with perfectly ordinary neuroses save for his obsession with her neck. All through dinner, she caught him covertly looking her throat. It was not a casual glance; it was a visual caress. It was the look of a connoisseur faced with a bottle of the rarest, most expensive wine in entire world.
He broke the silence with his deep baritone. "Did you enjoy dinner?"
The Captain looked up at the man on her arm and the world tilted when their eyes met. For a second, nothing mattered outside of him. She couldn't for the life of her remember what she'd been thinking about just a moment earlier but she was pretty sure it wasn't important. The seconds stretched until she snapped out of it. She immediately pulled her attention back to the alleyway before them, trying to walk without swaying.
"Yes," she said pleasantly, pretending that her kneecaps weren't made of jelly. "Thank you, Ambros."
Without warning, Ambros put an arm around her waist and spun her until her back was to a wall. She flailed a fist in his general direction instinctively. He caught it artfully and twisted her wrist just enough to cause a twinge of pain without doing any damage. With his free hand, he caught her chin and turned her face up to his. This assault ballet took a mere matter of seconds, but it felt like much longer.
The Captain had never understood how the heroines in romance novels could so easily get lost in the limpid pools of the hero's eyes, but confronted with Ambros', she finally got it. Like an animal caught in a trap or a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck, she couldn't get away. Her will was still her own, to some extent, but her thinking processes were pretty muddled. His grip on her wrist loosened and he finally let her go, bracing his hand on the wall behind her. He loomed large in her field of vision, bigger than anything, twice as threatening as Lugosi and more sensual than Lee.
"Fear me. Worship me. " His voice was thick and reminiscent of Vincent Price at his creepiest when he leaned towards her and rumbled, "I am Nosfaratu."
She blinked. "You're Italian?"
When she realized, through the haze of hypnosis, what she'd said, the Captain burst out laughing. The vampire's spell broken, she waved a hand at him. "Okay, okay, I'll be serious now."
He suddenly lunged at her, fangs bared, only to come to an abrupt halt when he realized she had the sharpened tip of a stake centered over his heart. "None of that!"
Ambros peered at her curiously. "Where were you hiding that?"
"Sleeve." Her tone suggested there was an unspoken duh, stupid tacked on the end of that sentence. "Now, before we go any further, let's get one thing straight: you want to eat me, right?"
He lifted one practiced eyebrow. "Eat you?"
"You want to eat me," she repeated, "not turn me?"
He laughed heartily and she felt the stake quiver under her hand. "Turn you? Mei savuros nimic certainly thinks very highly of herself."
"I'll take that as a no." The Captain's lips pressed together into a thin line.
He tried to catch her eye again but she staunchly refused to look at anything above his nostrils. "I have no need for another bride."
"That's all I needed to know."
Without hesitation and without remorse, she plunged the stake into his chest. He made a noise like a balloon with a pinhole in it, the air slowly escaping, and his body went rigid. The texture of his perfect skin changed to that of white marble. Everything was silent for a moment and then, he shattered into a million pieces, flying apart like a glass vase with a stick of dynamite inside.
It was at this precise moment that a furious shout of "Reach for the sky, suckhead!" came from the mouth of the alley.
Pushing off from the wall and brushing bits of powdered vampire off herself, the Captain straightened up and looked down the alley. Framed by the buildings on either side stood Techie, looking like she belonged in a bad seventies movie. She held her shotgun at eye level, the butt braced against her shoulder. Around her neck hung a gleaming silver cross and a clove of garlic and slung over her back was her duffle bag. Jonathan stood next to her with a shaker of salt and…a water gun.
When she realized that Captain was alone in the alley, Techie let the gun droop. "Where'd he go?"
The Captain raised the stake and waved it. "Taken care of, Ops."
Techie dropped her arms and held the shotgun loosely at her side. "You're carrying a stake?"
"I also have a pistol with silver rounds and a lighter on me." She said it as though they were the most natural things in the world to be carrying.
Jonathan tossed his 'weapons' aside entirely, feeling foolish for having taken them up at all. "What, in case Lon Cheney and Boris Karloff rise from the dead and stop over for tea?"
"Lon Cheney Junior was the Wolf Man," the Captain corrected primly. "And there's a horror film festival on in Gotham. You can't be too careful."
Techie stared dumbly at her friend, not paying any attention to the conversation she was conducting with Jonathan. "He was a vampire!"
Jonathan looked at her: wasn't that what she'd been trying to convince him of all day? Why did she sound so surprised?
"Well, yeah," the Captain said with a roll of her eyes.
"But…you dusted him!" If she hadn't been holding a high caliber weapon, she would have pinwheeled her arms. "You! You've been waiting for a vampire to bite you since you were like, five years old!"
The Captain shrugged. "He wasn't going to turn me."
"Oh," Techie said flatly. "That makes sense, then."
Jonathan cleared his throat. "Are we quite through with this insanity?"
Techie gaped at him. "She just staked an honest to goodness vampire--for God's sake, she's standing in pulverized Prince of Darkness--and you're still calling it insanity?"
"Racing to her rescue was insanity, whether the threat was real or not," he replied. "I told you she could handle it herself."
The Captain's face lit up instantly. "You did? Squishy, you have faith in me?"
He glowered at Techie. She looked at him with wide, innocent eyes. "Don't look at me. You walked right into that one."