So sorry for the unforgivably long delay. I've finished my degree (did rather well, too as it happens), moved house, battled through Christmas, New Year, relatives and have finally finished this chapter in a haze of enormous guilt.
This chapter is dedicated to the loyal, amazing and wonderful Guest Reviewer Koalamarch for the sweet review that got me off my arse and reminded me that I had a fic to finish! Seriously, you are so cool. I am so grateful to you.
Warnings: Some violence at the end, nothing too graphic (I think?).
Swearing. Lots of bad swearing. But seriously, if there's a someone reading this who doesn't already know these words, then all I can say is that you're a stinking liar, because I've already used them in previous chapters.
Disclaimers: Only the OCs and plot are mine. Any quotes or concepts you recognise are probably from Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series, that have slipped in subconsciously.
Also, since this is being posted at 1:30am GMT, any mistakes are due to sheer exhaustion and are not meant to insult the loyal readership.
Tony walked back to the others with Fury at his side, and the Director was worryingly quiet. But something was in Tony's mind and he had to ask.
"You're going to tell Coulson and Hill?"
Fury glanced at him and sighed. "Some of it. They saw too much today to not dig for answers. They'll accept what I tell them."
Since Tony trusted Coulson more than Fury, he decided he would have to take this on faith and tell JARVIS to scramble any recording devices that they might have on their persons. Just in case.
And he'd have to warn Eleanor.
He was not looking forward to that conversation.
Then they were back in the parlour, with the new bloodstains on the carpet and a full deck of outraged team mates, agents and girlfriend.
For once, he was grateful that Fury took charge.
"Alright!" the Director snarled. "Everyone drawing a regular SHIELD salary is to come with me back to Headquarters. The rest of you will hear from me in due course. Do not get comfortable."
And then he stormed out, with Coulson, Hill, Romanova and Barton in tow. Steve looked like he might follow, but paused, seemed to think about it, then stayed where he was.
Tony turned back to the others and sighed. "Right, well, I've got to clean up this mess, and then I'm going back to bed because this has been an extremely exhausting morning. I know we've all got questions that need answering—but can they please wait till this evening?"
"What about Loki?" Thor demanded. "I want to see him."
"That's not up to me," Tony said, shrugging as he walked back to Pepper's side. "He's his own psychotic trickster god, isn't he? JARVIS?" he asked.
"Sir, I can confirm that Miss Tolvay's party have left the building."
Thank God for small mercies.
"So… did the spy kids explain Chloe and Silas?" he asked.
Pepper's blue-grey eyes blazed. "No, because we were left with Agents Hill and Coulson," she said icily.
Tony gave them the run-down, punctuated with so many pop culture references that it was a miracle that Steve and Thor's brains did not explode.
The reception was mixed, but could be summed up as unencouraging to negative.
"Tony," Steve said, through gritted teeth. "I swear to God that if you get denim dungarees and goggles for them, I will join forces with SHIELD and do everything I can to take you down. You are not allowed to steal the moon." And then he grinned.
Bruce also smiled, and Thor gave a shout of laughter. Pepper's expression of pinched anger dissolved and she smiled faintly.
"Agreed. The moon is off limits," she said.
Tony pouted. "Not even if I kept it to just the dungarees?"
"No. That's a slippery slope," Bruce said, wagging a finger at him. "Let Chloe and Silas choose their own clothes."
"Fine." Tony yawned. "But now I am going back to check on said minions and then sleep till sunset. If that's alright with you."
Pepper stepped forward and kissed his cheek. "Sleep well."
Back at Christopher's, Eleanor and Loki took rooms at the top of the house, away from the other residents.
Christopher had dragged Brandon to his suite, declaring that he had enjoyed more than enough excitement for one day, but would happily resume play the day after tomorrow.
Eleanor curled up on the sofa, tucking her feet under her. She tipped her head back onto the cushions and closed her eyes.
Loki watched her. "Does your skull till ache?"
Eleanor's eyebrows twitched down slightly, but she said nothing.
"Do you want something to drink?" Loki asked.
Eleanor didn't respond except to sigh deeply.
"I'm sorry am I boring you with such solicitous inquiries?" Loki said acidly.
"Taibhse!" he said, turning fully to glare at her.
Her eyelids did not so much as flutter. Worried, Loki crossed the room and shook her shoulder. She didn't respond.
Hm. She must have decided to rest for the day. Loki knew that in this state she would be comatose for at least a day and a night, if not longer. So he picked her up and carried her to one of the two bedrooms in the suite and laid her on the bed.
Now at a loose end, Loki looked about the plush suite and decided that he'd be best occupied in watching over his old friend's protégé—who just happened to be one of his own adversaries.
Playing games with Anthony Stark was going to be most amusing.
It was the work of a moment and a spell to return to Stark Manor. He strolled the empty corridors, invisible and undetected by the computer, looking at the inhabitants of the building.
Captain Rogers was idly sketching in the solarium overlooking the garden.
Dr Banner was reading a scientific journal in his rooms.
The Great Thundering Idiot was eating the contents of one of the fridges in the kitchen.
Miss Potts was attacking a mountain of paperwork with diligence and a large glass of wine.
Stark's strays were hiding in their suite, gnawing at their fingernails in anxiety.
Stark himself was… asleep on a sofa in his underground laboratory.
Loki leaned against the wall and looked down at the new vampire, considering. His enemy—an erstwhile foe now, he supposed. Perhaps. He could not decide how he felt about this new development. There had been no resolution between himself and the Avengers before Thor had dragged him back to Asgard.
There he had been put on trial for the realm's entertainment, rather than to enforce justice.
His sentence had been brutal, the punishments savage. As a Jotun he was able to survive the torments, but he had no intention of being a good little prisoner writhing in pain in a mercilessly blank white room. He escaped a few months into his incarceration and wandered the other realms as a hunted ghost.
He ended up on Midgard, the last place Odin and Thor would think to look.
And then he ran into Taibhse. He had thought her long dead, so seeing her again was a wonderfully pleasant surprise. Then she had offered him sanctuary. She would not be able to do much against Asgard, but he had a feeling that almost anything on Midgard could be avoided or destroyed.
And now—through some cruel twist of fate—she had taken Stark under her wing. Clearly there was some hidden agenda in play, but she was not telling anyone about it. Certainly not Stark, whose rabbit-like panic had been extremely entertaining to watch.
On his sofa, Stark snuffled and threw an arm out so that his fingers brushed the floor. His sleep was still like a mortal's, unlike Taibhse's almost corpse-like repose. Loki wondered where and what Stark would be in a hundred years' time. In a thousand years' time.
If he lived that long. Taibhse had told him that most vampires rarely exceeded their human lifespan due to mental and physical instabilities. And Stark had been an unstable human—so how on earth would he survive even the next few months as a draugr? And why did Eleanor have such a vested interest in Stark?
Questions that could not be answered until Taibhse awoke from her slumber, which might not be for over a week. At least she was safe at De Courtenay's residence during this time, because Loki had a feeling that she had managed to win the enmity of SHIELD through the force of her personality alone. He found this impressive, amusing and exasperating. He had been hoping to continue to deal in secrecy on Midgard a while longer. But now that Thor was aware of his presence, it would be impossible. At least the Great Idiot had no orders from Odin to drag Loki back to Asgard. With this in mind, Loki returned to De Courtenay's and rigged up a nasty magical alarm system on the building before settling down to sleep.
He had a feeling that there would be little chance for rest in the near future.
Eleanor rarely dreamed during her rest, but when she did, they were vague and unmemorable. The darkness pulsed, like a calm sea rocking her gently on the spot. If she could remember her childhood, she might have likened it to how a mother would hold their child. But Eleanor could not recall ever experiencing the sensation in another being's arms with that intent, and so she dismissed it out of hand.
She drifted on the currents and knew nothing.
Pepper Potts, CEO of Stark Industries, girlfriend of Tony 'I am Iron Man' Stark and bearer of the most stunning stress headache, put her face in her hands and heaved a sigh. She felt overwhelmed and wished that Natasha was still Natalie Rushman and could help her keep a lid on things. As it was, she was surrounded by superheroes, vampires and paperwork.
What had her life become?
She went to Tony's drinks cabinet and poured herself a large amount of whisky. It was after lunch and that was all the excuse she needed after such a stressful day. She slumped back down in front of the reports and letters she had to read before the end of the week and sighed again.
All she was doing—could do—was sigh.
She picked up the nearest document and stared at it, unable to see the words, much less read them. She felt an almost overwhelming urge to cry.
She had lost Tony all over again—but to an enemy that could not be beaten: Death. His scarred up heart no longer worked and his skin was corpse cool. No more rare and fine whisky—he thirsted after blood! His dark brown eyes were no longer warm and gleaming, they had a reddish tint and grew colder every. He looked at people in a more openly calculating manner than before. And after seeing him fight Eleanor, she was afraid of him.
But she would stick by him. Vampirism was not going to beat her! She was stronger than a bunch of unscrupulous, underhanded…
She realised she'd said it aloud and clenched her hands together tightly, willing down the shakes. She had not believed in God for a very long time, but something about this whole situation made her want to cry and pray and hope that Someone Else would take care of everything that had gone wrong.
With an angry snort, Pepper pushed these thoughts away and got to her feet. She had to get out of here, a change of scene would at least help her to finish her paperwork. So she stuffed it all into her briefcase and summoned Happy to drive her back to Stark Tower. She also left a voicemail on Tony's phone, telling him that she had to bury herself in work or else lose the company. This, she knew, Tony would understand as a valid reason to leave.
And with clean-up from Doom's latest escapade still underway, she was confident that things would be quiet for a little while.
She worked in her office until the evening and then decided to crash in the penthouse at the top of Stark Tower rather than trek across town to the Manor again. She wiped her make-up off, brushed her hair and changed into her pyjamas before curling up in bed with her StarkPad to organise the New Year's Eve party, to be held in the Tower's lower penthouse.
Tony went to see Christopher the following day, as soon as the sun had set. And he was stunned to discover that Eleanor was doing a stellar impression of a coma patient.
And Loki was missing.
"Where did he go?" Tony asked.
"Mmm, not sure," Christopher said. "And that's not what's important tonight. I need you and your little charity cases to be present at a soiree later this evening that's happening on neutral ground in Marquee tonight. A private function, we've booked the place out before Christmas and New Year's gets in the way." The elder eyed Tony's worn jeans and faded Black Sabbath t-shirt. "In something a little more… tailored."
"Er, right. What sort of time?" Tony asked.
"Let's say ten o' clock," Christopher said.
So Tony retrieved a dark grey suit for himself and then sent Chloe and Silas out with one of his credit cards to stock up on partywear. For all that they had more experience as vampires, the pair seemed almost pathetically submissive to him. He'd have to ask Christopher or Eleanor about it later.
"Okay, guys," he said. "Game faces on, we may be the new kids on the block, but we're going to rock their boring little lives."
"Like rock and roll?" Silas asked.
"Exactly. Imagine that we're punks crashing some preppy kids' drinks party."
Chloe smiled and fiddled with her hair.
Then he made his way to Marquee, one of the most exclusive and…
… quietest nightclubs Tony had ever been inside. Odd. Usually, it was so loud that ears bled and brains throbbed.
True, there was some pleasant music playing, but it was very much in the background. The room was full of vampires, all of whom were now looking at Tony. He swallowed hard and wanted to believe that Eleanor was lurking behind him, texting into that shit-brick of an ancient phone and not at all impressed with the scarlet-eyed poseurs arrayed in the club.
Oh well, time to own his space. He thought about how Eleanor had taken command of the room in his house. He'd have to do the same. So he deliberately tucked his hands into his pockets and sauntered forward, smiling genially at all the intrusive stares. He had been seen enough times at Christopher's for it not to be remarkable that he was here. But the appearance of two ex-strays at his side was cause for chatter. He ignored them and moved through the room, looking for any of Christopher's people. He chanced upon Evan coming down the stairs, and the other vampire beamed at him.
"So glad you could make it. Come with me, there's people I'd like you to meet."
He led them to a lounge area at the back and urged Tony to sit. "You two," he added, pointing at Silas and Chloe. "Stand next to the couch and look bored."
Tony sat on the couch and found himself arranged in a lazy, cat-like sprawl. But when he made a move to straighten up, Evan wagged a finger. "Uh-uh," he said. "We need you to look super relaxed, so you just stay put while I fetch them."
Who was 'Them'?
It turned out that at least twenty vampires were waiting to see him. Most were individuals who drifted over to him, making a show of insouciance, but scrutinising him closely. They talked elliptically about inconsequential matters, making the occasional reference to the Graf von Eppensteiner and then listening to his responses with raw interest. Tony tried to communicate that he was not in contact with his father in darkness, and instead kept company with Christopher de Courtenay and Eleanor Tolvay.
Then, towards midnight, he was approached by two groups of vampires.
The first was led by a tall, commanding woman with skin the colour of burned cinnamon and the widest, whitest smile he had ever seen. Trailing behind her were six other vampires, and if it weren't for the reddish tint to their eyes and the fangs peeping over their lower lips, Toy would have sworn they were business types out for drinks after work.
"Mr Stark," the woman purred in a rich alto voice. "A pleasure to finally meet you. I am Sarah Lewison and I have long wished to meet you."
"Pleasure's all mine," Tony replied, gesturing to the sofa opposite his own. "Please sit."
Sarah disposed herself elegantly, crossing her ankles and sitting primly upright. Tony saw that under her black mackintosh she wore a deep purple dress and a simple gold crucifix on a chain around her neck.
"So," Tony said. "What can I do you?"
Sarah's lips stretched in a small smile. "I wish to see if you really are as good as Evan says you are."
"Oh, better, he's jealous," Tony said flippantly.
"No." And there was a finality to that single word. Sarah's smile was still in place, but her dark eyes had turned to ebony chips, beady and sharp. "I propose a test of strength between you and my friend here," she gestured behind her, to a young man who looked like he had been into weight-lifting and puppy murdering while still alive.
Still, he wanted to be taken seriously by New York's vampires, so he had no choice in the matter. "Sure," he said. "But can it wait till after I've met everyone else? I've got a warehouse down town that'll be perfect for a little light sparring."
Sarah inclined her head. "That will be no problem."
She rose, as did Tony, and they shook hands. There was no attempt to crush each other's fingers, but Tony caught an impression of the plant rot unique to swamps, of fire, of mud and sweat and cruel iron bands—
He pulled his hand out of her grip and forced himself to hold the smile. No point in showing his hand. Sarah had to be over two hundred years old, then, to have once been a slave in Louisiana.
That party left and another group approached him. This lot were less well put together, but moved with the calm and collected synchronisation of a wolf pack. A teenage spokesman stepped up. He didn't look to be much over fifteen, but then Tony got a good look at the youth's eyes and saw decades of hard graft and deep anger there.
"Mr Stark," he said, his voice tinged with the remains of a southern accent. "We wish to join you, if you would permit it."
"Join me?" Tony repeated, nonplussed.
"Yes," the youth said. "You've taken in those two," he said, jerking his pointed chin at Silas and Chloe. "And I can assure you that we're far more useful."
It was then that Tony realised just Christopher had set this up as a recruitment drive for Von Eppensteiner vampires who were not affiliated with the Graf.
God damn it!
But now was not the time to lose his cool, flip the coffee table over and storm out while cursing a blue streak at Christopher—wherever that shifty bastard was hiding.
So he gestured for the whole group to sit down, which they did. It was no mean feat, considering that there were six of them. But Tony made no move to invite any of them to sit on his sofa, nor to get Silas and Chloe to sit down with them. He'd watched enough mob films to know what the cliché required.
"So…?" he drawled, raising his eyebrows at the Angry Youth. "What do I call you?"
"Eric." The boy said. "We're all Von Eppensteiners," he added, gesturing to the others in the pack. They all stared at him like feral dogs would gaze upon a wolf—wary, but with a clear degree of anticipation.
"Why aren't you with Dominic?" Tony asked, relishing the slight flinch the vampire's name produced.
"We choose not to be associated with that one," said one of women sitting on the sofa.
Interesting. Tony steepled his fingertips together and looked over them at the Pack (as he had mentally labelled them). "But why join me?" he asked. "I haven't been a nosferatu for even half a year, yet."
"Because you're strong." Eric's voice was full of conviction. Oh for such faith from Fury and his team mates…
"How do you figure that?" Tony asked, barely holding back the rider of 'kid'.
"Your warm life demonstrated a sense of responsibility that the Graf lacks," said another of the Pack—a tall, powerfully built woman with a tattoo on the back of one hand.
Tony almost laughed. Most of his human life had been spent oscillating between full-throttle hedonism and inventing things that others considered impossible during the brief moments when he was sober enough to focus. His smile was self-deprecating, but they didn't have to know that. Especially when he had been rather more responsible during the past few years.
"And I've been trying to keep that going, despite lacking a pulse," he said. "Or didn't you catch my spectacular moves the other night?"
"It is the reason we are here," Eric said. "We have no delusions of heroism, but we are not… not like the Graf and his followers."
"I can see that." For one, you haven't tried to torture me yet, Tony thought. Jesus Christ, but his standards had taken a serious nosedive recently. "You do realise that I'm not really in the nosferatu community, though, right? I mean, I'm 'Tony Stark and Iron Man', rather than 'blood-drinking nosferatu of the Eppensteiner bloodline', okay? If you join me, you'll—"
"Have your protection and sponsorship. We'll have the right to be held accountable for our actions to you—our patron," Eric finished for him. "You could protect us from ostracism, from abuse and death without having to do more than acknowledge us in public as people rather than beasts. You've got connections in our world that I have failed to achieve in nearly two hundred years, and you got them within a month of growing fangs." Amazingly, the kid—no, so not a kid—did not sound resentful, but something closer to wonderment. "And you wonder why we want to join you?"
When put like that, Tony could not argue with him. But he did feel the need to finish his own point. "That's all very well," he said. "But like I said, I've got a life as Tony Stark and Iron Man to maintain, and it's a lot of work. I can't just disappear into the night to become some kind of feudal lord to you all."
"We're not asking you to," said the burly woman. "We need you in the way that you need the Leopard."
"To open doors?" he hazarded, doubtful that they wanted someone to teach them about the subtle beauty of arc reactors.
Eric smirked, satisfied that Tony had finally got it. "Exactly. And in return, we will acknowledge you as our leader, and rally to you if you ever need us."
"I'll remember that when I need to do some spring cleaning," Tony quipped, even as he reeled from the implications of a slowly massing army of vampire minions that he never asked for.
Fury could never find out about this.
In fact, no one without fangs could find out about this. Vampires weren't supposed to be organised. Especially not under his command.
Jesus fucking Christ.
Tony had led Sarah and her group to the warehouse, commissioning taxis for everyone to take them there.
The bipedal slab of muscle with fangs moved with surprising quickness as they strode into the empty warehouse. There was no need to turn on the lights, since everyone present could see perfectly well in the dark.
Tony shrugged out of his jacket and took off his shoes and socks. "So, how do you want to do this?" he asked Sarah as he popped his cufflinks and handed them to Chloe before removing his shirt to reveal a plain white singlet beneath.
"First to submit," Sarah said. It was not a suggestion.
"Fine," Tony replied, turning to face—"I'm sorry, what's your name?" he asked the hulking figure before him.
"Joel," was the rumbling reply.
"Great—always happy to meet a fan," Tony replied, trying for humour. But it sadly fell flat in this company.
Joel's solemn expression didn't budge as he stripped out of his jacket to reveal a wealth of rippling muscle. Good God, this guy was as stacked as Thor, for crying out loud! How was this fair?
But then he remembered how Eleanor had fought against Rogers and Natasha—she had been faster and more accurate than either of her opponents. She had also made very accurate blows. Tony would have to try to do the same.
It was just a shame that he really didn't feel like going five rounds with Joel the Undead Beefcake.
So he evaded actually fighting for quite some time as Joel went after him with surprising agility. The blows aimed at him were precise and scientific, leaving Tony on the defensive as he squirmed out of holds and dodged wherever possible. Still, he was regularly raked by the larger vampire's finger barbs, and the impact of the other vampire's fists rattled his fangs in his head so hard that he had to clench his jaw. But all the time he was analysing his opponent's moves. Joel was a very good fighter, but still not on Thor's level. The Thunderer had been trained by the best for centuries, and did not subscribe to the notion of hitting anyone 'softly'.
So once Tony finally (finally!) grasped the rhythm of the fight, he dug his toes into the concrete and crouched under the next blow and sprang towards Joel. This caught the larger nosferatu off-guard and he twisted away from Tony. But Tony twisted in mid-air and stabbed at Joel's side.
Flesh parted under his dagger-point fingers and Tony's hand sank into the vampire's torso, just beneath the ribs.
Still, he paid for it, because his momentum swung his body around as his hand turned inside Joel's wound—a gory anchor point that failed with a sucking pop!
Blood splattered the concrete yet again.
Tony landed on his toes and the fingertips of his free hand, crouched and launched himself sideways as Joel's foot came smashing down in the place where his head had been. Gouts gore spilled from the larger vampire's side, but the fighting spirit had lit Joel's eyes, and he wasn't going to give in now.
Urgh, this was going to get messy.
Tony thought back to Eleanor's training sessions, searching for something that would help him to finish the fight that little bit faster…
The throat! It was the oldest move in a vampire's arsenal—one of the original targets. Tony summoned all his strength for what he hoped wouldn't be a suicidal move and danced forward, dodging first one way, and then springing up into the air, trying to leap over Joel's head. He would have done it, too, if the huge vampire hadn't leapt up to meet him in mid-air.
Like a pair of brawling tom cats, they caught each other with barbed fingers and hisses, plummeting from twenty feet to the blood smeared concrete below. Both twisting, fighting for purchase. Tony kicked at the hole in Joel's side, while the bigger vampire's finger barbs punched through the muscles of his shoulders and upper arms.
In a moment of pure adrenaline, Tony kicked off Joel's rock-hard abs and flipped himself over Joel's head, despite still being caught in the larger vampire's grip. Joel hit the ground first, Tony still above his head—and that was when Tony flexed his back, sending them both toppling onto the floor. Tony kept up his twisting motion, trying to land on his feet, even as Joel would (hopefully) land on his back.
It sort of worked. They both landed on their sides and let go of each other. Tony, desperation pushing him up a nanosecond ahead of Joel, scrabbled forward and gripped Joel's head between his hands and twisted, hard and fast and sharply—
"Y-yield!" came the strangled yelp.
Well, thank God for that.
Tony immediately let go of the other vampire, suddenly appalled as the realisation that he had been about to twist the man's head right off his shoulders. He flopped back onto his arse for a moment, gasping for oxygen that he didn't need.
Then he leaned forward again, reaching out. "Hey man, you okay? I didn't—"
Didn't what? Didn't mean it? Wasn't really going to decapitate you after all, but hey, let's all be buddies now that we've established who's an all-round son-of-a-bitch!
Shit, who was he fucking kidding?
He shut up and let his hands drop to his sides as he got to his feet. "Sorry about that," he said. Although the phrase seemed wholly inadequate, given the circumstances. And these were not circumstances of his choosing. If it had been up to him, he'd have suggested arm-wrestling or some such nonsense and then gracefully accepted defeat.
This was Sarah's doing.
He turned to glare at the black vampire, but she was looking very pleased. Almost radiant with her smiles.
As were the rest of her little group.
"Well?" he demanded. "Do I pass your little test?"
"This is what we agreed," Sarah said, stepping forward, her hand outstretched. "Congratulations, Mr Stark. May I formally offer my petition to join you, the Challenger of the Von Eppensteiner bloodline?"
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