§ § § - October 28, 2007

Jesse Stormwater knew he really didn't have a choice in the matter, after all was said and done. Roarke was right: if he expected to be freed of this existence, he was going to have to face down his age-old nemesis once and for all. He had the weapon he needed—a carefully prepared wooden stake, one end of which he had whittled to the sharpest point he could make—but just destroying Dracula wouldn't be enough. He'd inferred from Roarke's words that this was only part of what he needed to accomplish in order to be cured; however, Roarke hadn't explained what else needed to be done.

But he'd been thinking while he whittled, and he had a feeling it must have something to do with that stubborn Claudia Barneveld. So now, with the clock nearing that all-important hour of midnight, he was keeping a sharp eye out for her on his meanderings through the jungle paths, in hopes of warning her and making her see sense. Precisely why he was so fixated on that, he wasn't sure. Had it been anyone else, he might have just allowed her to go on her merry way and let her face her own consequences. Claudia, though, had touched him somehow, somewhere. It must have been the silly banter they'd traded for a couple of minutes at the luau the previous evening, before he'd discovered who she really was.

In truth, deep within he had a feeling it was more than just the need to deny Dracula another victim, but he wasn't ready to face that right now. Maybe when he'd dispatched the count, he could concentrate on other affairs. That bit of business was taking up all the space in his brain at the moment; and while he would never have let it show, he was terrified. The count had such power—he must, if he had found some way to reanimate himself and get to this island even after his destruction all those years ago.

He was thinking so hard that the gradual increase of bushes rustling somewhere ahead of him made only the slightest impression, until he rounded a bend and actually came upon the cause. Not ten feet away, Claudia Barneveld stood gazing up into the face of a very hungry-looking Count Dracula. Stormwater froze in shock; the terror boiled up in him and he ducked back around the bend before either of them saw him. A voice in his head berated him for cowardice, but his courage had deserted him and he needed a chance to regroup.

"So what did you think of Bela Lugosi's portrayal, anyway?" Claudia was asking, to Stormwater's disbelief. Was the woman really that shallow?

Dracula simply stared at her, as if unable to understand the language she spoke. "I know not of what you speak. I merely want to know if you have seen Jiroušek Viharviz, and if you tell me once again that you have not, I have no other choice."

"I haven't," said Claudia, frowning. "I told you that before. I've never heard of this Yeer-oo-shek person, and I wouldn't know him if I saw him."

Dracula growled, then seized her and pushed her head back with an almost audible snap. Claudia gasped, struggled briefly, then seemed to realize what the count was about to do—and, unbelievably, submitted. Stormwater watched in horror as her eyes drifted closed and a tiny smile spread over her features. "Now," she whispered.

It was as much a signal for Stormwater as for the count, and he knew it. It was his very last chance. "Stop!" he shouted, exploding out of the foliage with as much noise as he could make. Claudia and the count both gaped at him, startled. "I'm the one you want, Dracula. Leave her alone." He grasped his stake so hard his hands trembled.

"What are you talking about?" Claudia demanded. "And what do you think you're doing here, anyway?"

Stormwater glared at her. "I know what you're trying to do. I know your intentions, and I also know that you're a great fool."

Dracula silenced the nearby night noises with a harsh laugh. "It is you who are the fool here, Jiroušek Viharviz. I should have known it would be necessary to come here before I could find you again. Prepare for your end."

"Perhaps you should be preparing for yours," Stormwater suggested low, raising the stake. Dracula snarled, knocked the long staff out of his hands with a ferocious blow, and leaped on him.

Claudia Barneveld stood gawking speechlessly, unable to believe her eyes. Dracula had never quite been like this—wanting vengeance—and why he wanted Jesse Stormwater was an utter mystery to her. Dracula's voice rose in a roar just then: "I told you long ago that you could never truly get away! What you are will follow you forever!"

"I-I'd rather be dead," Stormwater gasped out, fighting against the count with all he had in him. That, Claudia realized suddenly, wasn't going to be enough. Stormwater didn't have the necessary strength to do more than barely hold his own against the count, who would eventually gain the upper hand. The two men rolled around on the dirt, snarling, struggling, trading the occasional insult, but clearly Stormwater was losing.

"You will never be dead," Dracula managed. Strength he might have, but Stormwater was giving him a fair run for his money. "This is the existence you are doomed to, for all eternity. Could you not have been…an obedient childe and simply…accepted it?"

"Never!" Stormwater panted. "Never. You may own my body, but you will never own my mind. I am…not…your…puppet!"

Dracula's voice rose again in an enraged roar and he lifted a hand containing something sharp and shiny. Claudia could take no more; she screamed and leaped on the count, yanking him away. "No! Let him go! You can't have him," she screeched. "I love him!"

Dracula actually cringed, baring his fangs. "I should have sunk my teeth into you last evening when first we met," he growled.

"Claudia, don't get involved," Stormwater begged, breathless but trying to wriggle out from under the count with whatever energy he had left.

"I'm not letting this…monster take you without a fight," Claudia shouted frantically. "I love you, Jesse Stormwater."

Stormwater, for his part, noticed with amazement that every time she said those three words, Dracula flinched and shrank away from her, as if there were something about them that harmed him. Experimentally, he offered, "I love you too."

"Noooooo!" howled Dracula, raising his arms as if to shield himself from some overwhelming force. Claudia spotted the stake on the ground and grabbed it, raising it.

"No," Stormwater gasped, rolling onto his hands and knees. "Please, Claudia. I must do it. Please."

"Hurry," Claudia cried, giving him the stake. Stormwater fell back, getting into position, just as the count gathered new strength and realized what was about to happen.

"You'll never succeed," he said, and for the first time Claudia caught the full force of the evil that Dracula exuded. She staggered back a step or two, her hands going to her mouth as if to prevent being sick.

The count grabbed hold of the pointed end of the stake and pulled at it, hard. Stormwater tried to reassert his grip, but the stake was slowly slipping through his hands, and he released a desperate cry. "Claudia!"

She saw it too. "Jesse, don't let him take it!" she screamed. "I love you—I love you!"

Dracula fell back, howling again, and Stormwater seized the chance. Throwing all his weight behind the stake, he lunged at the count. His aim was true, and Dracula loosed the most unearthly scream Claudia had ever heard before collapsing to the ground.

Stormwater hovered over the motionless body, still pushing down on the stake with all his fading strength, trembling violently. "He must be destroyed," he muttered feverishly, eyes glazed. "He must be destroyed…"

"He is destroyed," Claudia insisted, kneeling beside him. "It's all over, Jesse. You've beaten Count Dracula."

Stormwater fell to his hands and knees again, leaving the stake quivering in the lifeless body. Even in the dark, he seemed paler than ever; he looked depleted, as though whatever force were keeping him going was finally draining from him. "I need…" he whispered.

"You need me," Claudia said firmly, pulling him into her embrace. "Just as much as I need you, Jesse." She heard his rasping breath, took in his white face, registered his shaking body and retreating energy; and she knew all of a sudden what he most needed in order to be whole again. "Jesse—take my blood. Now, please." She tilted her head, exposing her neck to give him access. He moaned in anguish and began to lower his own head.

"No, stop," said someone, and both Stormwater and Claudia jerked abruptly around, afraid that Dracula had somehow circumvented his demise. But it was Roarke, watching them from a small distance, smiling gently.

"Mr. Roarke," they said as one, and Claudia added, "But look at him. He needs my blood or he…"

"No, that's no longer necessary," Roarke told her, his smile widening. "You need not become a vampire yourself, and Mr. Stormwater no longer needs blood to sustain himself. Please rise, both of you."

Claudia clutched Stormwater's hands as she stood up; and Jesse himself arose slowly, feeling drained, yet somehow newly energized. "How…I feel better," he breathed. "I don't have that desperate, gnawing craving anymore. How has this come to be?"

"You have both brought it about," Roarke explained. "You performed a selfless act by intervening to save Miss Barneveld from Count Dracula's fateful bite; and then she returned that selflessness by declaring her love for you and entering the battle on your behalf. And she completed that act of selflessness by offering herself to you, knowing full well that it would doom her to the existence of the undead. It was the final step needed to at last free you of your affliction." They stared at him, and he smiled more broadly still, nodding. "Yes, it's true, Mr. Stormwater. You are no longer a vampire. You are free."

Claudia's face lit with exuberance. "Jesse, it's true! We did it! We really did it!"

"Yes," he agreed through a disbelieving chuckle that began to grow into a delighted laugh. "We must have done it, because for the first time in centuries, I'm hungry!"

Roarke grinned and Claudia joined in Stormwater's laughter. "Why don't you two come along with me," Roarke offered. "I'm sure we can accommodate you."

§ § § - October 29, 2007

Jesse Stormwater and Claudia Barneveld arrived together on Monday morning, and stopped only long enough for hasty but heartfelt thanks before turning as if to head for the plane. "Hey, wait," Leslie exclaimed. "You're welcome, of course, but what's the hurry?"

They paused, looked back and laughed. "We didn't mean to seem rude," Claudia said. "We really do both appreciate everything you've done for us."

"More than you can imagine," Stormwater agreed, nodding for emphasis. "But you see, we don't want to waste another moment planning our wedding. Neither of us is getting any younger, you know." He winked, then urged Claudia forward and started for the plane with energetic, ground-eating strides. "Come on, Claudia, I want to know what they're serving for breakfast on the plane!"

Leslie let out a laugh, returning their final hasty waves from the dock. "Wait till he finds out what airplane food really tastes like."

Roarke laughed too. "No matter, Leslie. He now has the rest of his and Miss Barneveld's lives to reacquaint himself, not only with food, but with all the pleasures life has to offer." He watched them for one last moment, then gestured to his daughter. "I daresay we have just enough time to get home for our own breakfast."

I hope to have something else up much sooner and faster next time, but don't hold me to it…summer vacation will be here soon and my stepsons will be around all day long within another month or so. But I'll do my best to try to get another story posted before then. Meantime, I look forward to your comments on this one. Any errors contained within are solely my own; I've just borrowed the original vampire tale and played around with it to fit the story, so please be easy on me if you have criticisms.