Disclaimer: The characters of Forever Knight are owned and copyrighted by

Challenge: How Nunkies Got His Groove Back(1/5)
Copyright 1998
By Bonnie Rutledge

     LaCroix hated August 24th. He had the date marked out on his social
calendar (because one day really did seem like another once you'd seen over
half a million of them), a forbidding box of black magic marker that dared
anyone to tread on it. He would have added a skull and crossbones if he
thought it would have made a difference.

     LaCroix had learned long ago that you couldn't stop someone bound and
determined to make you happy. *They* wanted to celebrate his Conversion Day.
*They* wanted to please him with presents in a spectacle of one-upsmanship
that sometimes reached legendary proportions. Poodle skirts had been one of
Janette's attempts to give him a good laugh. Nicholas had secretly financed
the first excavation of Pompeii one year and presented him with an
interesting windchime found within the wreckage.

     LaCroix reasoned that the best way to punish them for not listening to
his statement that he wanted no bells or whistles on his Conversion Day was
to remain decidedly unimpressed with all their exertion to find 'the perfect
gift.' Watching their faces fall in disappointment, their shoulders slump as
LaCroix didn't exhibit the merest sliver of a smile or appreciation, well,
*that* was almost enough to make him happy  despite the pesky day. What
would have truly made his Conversion Day perfect would have been if they
learned their lesson - LaCroix is right - and never do it again.

     The problem was that never happened. They would sigh, then straighten
their slumped shoulders, vowing with renewed determination, 'There's always
next year!' They kept coming back, and, after 1900 years, they were scraping
the bottom of the barrel trying to find him a present. So his Conversion Day
merited a black box on the calendar - abandon all hope, ye who gift this

     At first, LaCroix dared to hope that maybe, just maybe, this year was
going to be different. The morning came and went with no phone calls
featuring Nicholas warbling "Happy Conversion Day To You" (though the year
he'd had that Monroe woman sing it hadn't been too awful). The afternoon
passed with no special deliveries of exploding volcanoes or Blood-O-Grams.
It was night-time, and he had just taken a seat behind the microphone at
CERK when the first gifter attacked.

     Janette swished into the small room amidst the crackle of her black
leather outfit, beaming excitedly. She had an oblong package sequestered
behind her back, as though he wouldn't be able to spot the ends wrapped in
crimson foil paper that jutted out behind her right calf and over her left

     "How has your day been?" Janette asked, her voice full of expectation.
Her eyes were bright and wide, and LaCroix expected she was imagining all
sorts of Conversion Day pageantry: toga parties, parades, Nick singing,

     "It was delightful," LaCroix said. "No one phoned, there were no idiot
packages decorated with clowns and puppies or visits from bouncing buffoons
trying to make me giggle as if I was approaching two instead of two
thousand. It *was* a perfect day."

     Janette correctly interpreted his statement as a complaint, but she
mistook exactly what he was complaining about. "Oh, no! Mon cher!" Her face
fell. Her pout reminded him of the day she first tried to sit down while
wearing a hoop skirt. "Poor, poor man! Had I know those ingrates had
forsaken you on your Conversion Day, I would have come over last night!" She
grinned, then, and brought her present into view. "I found just the thing to
bring a twinkle to your eye! Open it!"

      LaCroix regarded the gift as though it contained a holy water cooler.
The box wasn't quite wide enough, causing him to glower slightly at the
sudden snippet of curiosity that flashed through his brain. The present was
over a meter in length and only a hand's width, but that didn't necessarily
mean anything. LaCroix allowed his thoughts to tick off several humiliating
punishments he could inflict upon Janette if she had dared to tease him with
the ignominy of boxes wrapped within boxes. 

     He placed his long fingers upon the folded paper at one end and pried
back a corner. Janette couldn't help herself: she released a gleeful,
excited sound that almost qualified as a squeal as she anticipated his
reaction. LaCroix angrily ripped the paper away from the box in response and
tossed the bow and foil into the wastebasket after cramming them into a ball
so compact a jeweler could have given the trash a marquise cut and sold it
as an engagement ring.

     Janette translated this decisive unwrapping as enthusiastic expectation
on his part. "I knew it! You always act so gloomy on your Conversion Day, as
though you didn't like the presents and fuss, but you're really just
disappointed that we haven't found the right gift! I think you'll approve of
what I bought for you this year," she said proudly.

     LaCroix indulged in a doubtful snort as he tore the lid off the gift
and threw it across the sound booth. His eyes raked dismissively over the
contents of the box.

     He froze.

     Janette's offering somewhat resembled a mop. It had a long wooden
handle - that certainly didn't inspire affection - topped off at one end
with a circle of floppy, electric blue material. LaCroix reached out to
touch it, finding the texture to be unpleasantly squishy.

     What the hell was it?

     He frowned up at Janette, who clapped her hands together with delight.
"Have you ever seen anything like it?" she said effusively.

     LaCroix was truthful. "No."

     Janette leaned over the sound board and plucked the strange object out
of its container, then held it up to the fluorescent lights, brandishing it
with awe. "It's called a Shwalha. Isn't it fantastic?"

    LaCroix was truthful.  "No."

    "But...but..." Janette shook the spongy blue end in his direction. She
refused to accept defeat so quickly. "Don't you know what this does?"

     LaCroix was batting a thousand. "No."

    "With a Shwalha," Janette said, "you can wash your Jaguar without
worrying about leaving scratches. See?" She pretended to obliterate a dirty
spot in the atmosphere, wiggling the Shwalha's  handle, sending the blue
tips jiggling in a merry cleansing dance.

     LaCroix delivered the death blow. "I don't wash my own car."

     Janette stilled mid-scrub.

     He twisted the knife. "Why should *I* wash my own car?'

     Janette set the Shwalha down on his desk. She looked miserable.
"That's a good point."

     LaCroix nodded. "Of course it is." He gestured toward the door. "Why
don't you return to the Raven and leave me in peace?"

     "Come by later for a drink?" she asked faintly.

     "If you promise to not deck the place with balloons and crepe paper."

     Janette's chin drooped even lower. "I won't."

     "Then I'll join you later."

     He watched as Janette shuffled out of the room, then closed the door
quietly and dejectedly behind her.

     LaCroix leaned decisively over the microphone and switched it on. "This
is the Nightcrawler, my children. A little black bird tells me this is a
special day. *What* is so special about it? Don't even try to answer,
listeners, because you don't even understand the question."

End of Part One

Oh, I forgot. This takes place between seasons two and three.

See Part One for Disclaimer.

Challenge: How Nunkies Got His Groove Back(2/5)
Copyright 1998
By Bonnie Rutledge

     Nick flipped off the radio and covered his face in rising panic. "Oh,
no! Damn! Oh...Damn!"

     Nat set the bowl of popcorn that had been resting in her lap onto the
coffee table. She looked at him with concern. "What's wrong, Nick?"

     He began to knock his forehead repeatedly with his fist. "I am so

     Natalie scowled. "I've told you a thousand times, Nick. You're not
dead. You're just one of the living impaired. Now quit beating yourself up
about it."

     "No, you don't understand, Nat." He flopped mournfully onto the sofa
beside her. "I *am* dead. I forgot to get LaCroix a present, and he really
deserves a good one this year. He could have killed Schanke, you know. He
didn't have to just whammy Schank into shrugging off that vampire idea."

     "Oh, please." Nat rolled her eyes. "You act as though this is the first
time you've ever forgotten a birthday. Just go grab him some sunflowers and
a card."

     "It's not his birthday," Nick said, ignoring the rest of her comment.
"It's his Conversion Day - the anniversary of the date he became a vampire."

     Natalie made a rude sound. "Why don't vampires ever do *anything* like
a mortal?!"

     "Because they're immortal?"

     Natalie stood, continuing on her tirade as she paced the floor. "I
mean, is there any reason for you to *not* celebrate your birthday?" She
stopped in front of Nick, her expression fiercely demanding. "Well, is


     "No," Natalie repeated. "No! So you're telling me vampires celebrate
their Conversion Day,"  She waved her arms in the air with dramatic
flourish, "just to be different!"

     Nick wasn't sure of the right answer, so he guessed. "Yeah?"

     "That is so typical!" Natalie threw herself back down onto the couch.
"Tell me. When's the last time you celebrated your birthday? Not just
saying, 'Hey! It's my birthday!' but an honest to goodness party with

     Nick grew contemplative. "I know I've joked about it, but I've never
really had a birthday party."

    "Well, this year you are. I am resolved. It's an important part of being
human. You'll get stuff you'll never use, everyone makes fun of how old you
are, and, best of all, you'll get to eat cake and ice cream."

    Nick blanched. "Yum. So, uh, can we get back to the Conversion Day
present I haven't bought LaCroix?"

    "Why do you have to buy something?" Natalie asked.

    "Because making him an ashtray would be tacky."

    Natalie smacked him with a pillow. "Nick, I'm serious. If this is about
showing the old fang-and-chain appreciation for not siccing Schanke, why
don't you just tell him 'thank you'?"

    Nick cringed. "Uh-uh. We don't do heart-to-heart conversations so well.
You know that. It's more like heart-to-stake."

    "Mm." Natalie propped her elbow on her knee, then used her hand as a
chin prop as she considered that statement.

    "So what do you do?"

    Natalie knee slipped out from under her, and she lost her balance. "Huh?
What? I don't do anything with LaCroix."

    "No, no," Nick said. "What do you do when, say, it's your father's
birthday? What do you give him?"

     "A tie."

     "A tie?"


     "Every year?"


     "And he likes that?"

     Natalie scooted off the sofa again. "That's not the point. The point is
I remember his birthday."

     Nick was dazzled by the concept of a tie every year. "Didn't you say
your father was a retired plumber? Where would he wear a tie?"

     "The country club," Nat said hotly, grabbing her bowl of popcorn and
stalking off to the kitchen.

     "Your retired plumber father wears your birthday ties to the country

     "All thirty-five of them. Makes it hell to eat his soup."

     "Oh." Nick bought her hint that it was time to move the conversation
along. "Well, what did Richard do for your father's birthday? Not as good as
a tie, I bet."

     Natalie wasn't charmed. She pointedly dumped her popcorn into the trash
to show him the conversation had killed her appetite, then gave Nick a look
as though she was trying to figure out whether or not he would fit into the
garbage can as well. "Richie and Dad had a standing date to play golf on his
birthday. It was a male bonding thing."

    Nick's gaze drifted across the loft, landing on the closet where he
stored his practice putter. "Golf, eh?"


     An hour later, Nick dumped a bag of clubs on LaCroix's desk. "Happy
Conversion Day!"

     "Oh, Nicholas, you shouldn't have. You *really* shouldn't have."

     Nick pointed at him, his mouth spreading into a silly grin. "You should
see your face. You won't believe it, but your present gets even better."

     "Do tell," LaCroix said dryly.

     Nick stepped out of the sound booth, then reappeared carrying an
identical set of clubs. "I know how competitive you are, so I though we
could play a round tonight. You and me, mano a mano."

     LaCroix raised an eyebrow. "Indeed." He seemed to consider the idea for
several minutes. "Very well," he said finally, "but you, Nicholas, must
play..." His upper lip tilted in a small sneer, "...caddy."

     Nick practically bounced. "No problem."

     LaCroix found an appropriate recording of a previous broadcast to
mollify the airwaves while he was gone. His eyes paused on Janette's gift.
"Speaking of Caddys...do you have any use for this *thing*?"

     "A Shwahla! I've been meaning to order one of these things! They
really look great on the commercials." Nick lifted the scrubber off the desk
with pleasure. "How did you know I wanted one, LaCroix?"

     "Your quest to be a mortal again. It stands to reason you would do
something as plebian as washing your own car."

     There was plenty of room in the Caddy's trunk to house both sets of
golf clubs. The drive was uneventful. Within a short time, Nick was throwing
the car into 'Park' before a darkened gate featuring a sign that read,
"Community Course - No Trespassing."

     "The course doesn't appear to be open," LaCroix said. "Oh, well. Too

     "No, don't worry." Nick smiled as he popped the trunk open and hopped
out of the Caddy. "It's called 'Community Course,' because that's just what
it is.  All the vampires in town golf here. We all have night vision, so why
bother with lights?" Nick paused suddenly, giving a small frown. "Wait a
second. I just assumed...you've never played golf before have you?
Otherwise, you'd keep tabs on the local courses." He replaced the bags in
the trunk. "I'm sorry. It'd be totally unfair if we competed. You have no
experience." Nick moved to close the trunk lid.

     LaCroix was out of the car, his hand stilling the downward motion of
the metal faster than a gnat's hiccup. "I am *not* inferior to you in
anything, Nicholas. We will play as scheduled."

     "But I'd feel terrible taking advantage!" Nick protested. "At least let
me take a handicap!"

     "You are already sufficiently handicapped," LaCroix sneered. "Now
unload my clubs."

     Nick did as he was told. "You know, golf isn't as easy as it looks. It
takes practice. You don't just score under par overnight. Maybe this wasn't
such a good -"

     "Nicholas, enough!" Lacroix slammed the trunk closed, narrowly missing
Nick's fingers. "It is most taxing how you are so quick to damn my
abilities. If I remember correctly, all I have to do is avoid the trees, the
water and the sand boxes..."

     "They're called 'bunkers,'" Nick inserted helpfully.

     "*Bunkers,* then. Golf is simply a matter of putting a ball into a hole
the quickest route possible while maneuvering around obstacles. It's no more
complicated than tactical warfare. Less even. I've conquered nations.
Boogies should be no problem."

     "That's 'bogeys.'"

     "Whatever." LaCroix walked around the car, stopping short to frown with
revulsion at the objects Nicholas held up in his path. "What are those?"

     "Golf shoes. You'll need a pair."

     "But they are *white,*" LaCroix said, looking at Nick as though he had
lost his mind. "And they're sporty."

       "Golf is a sport," Nick said. LaCroix released a rude snort.
"Really!" He flipped the shoes over to show LaCroix the small spikes that
pattered the bottoms. "You need cleats because - "

     "Because I want to look like a fool. No thank you, Nicholas. Put the
shoes away. I can defeat you without silly footwear."

     "All right, but if you change your mind..."

     They reached the first hole. It was simple, the rough curving slightly
like a dog's paw before the neatly trimmed green began. Just behind the
green, however, was a water hazard. LaCroix allowed Nick to go first. Nick
was more than happy to, because it gave his sire an opportunity to observe a
proper golf swing. Secretly, Nick suspected that LaCroix had planned it that

     Nick successfully completed his drive, the ball landing within twenty
feet of the green. If he played his strokes right, he would birdie with no
trouble at all. He watched as LaCroix set up his tee, then mimicked Nick's
posture quite well. He started his swing, maintaining excellent form for a
novice. For a moment, Nick wondered if he had been hustled. The club made
contact with the ball and soared through the air.

     Then came the follow through.

     LaCroix had put a great deal of force into his swing, and the grass had
reached its dew point. The slick leather soles of his Italian shoes couldn't
begin to grip the surface. The inevitable occurred.

     LaCroix fell flat on his ass.

     Nick tried not to laugh, smile or appear remotely conscious of the fact
that his sire was now getting his tush wet on the damp lawn. He managed to
retain a great deal of his composure, only making a few small choking sounds
as he pretended to be engrossed in the path of LaCroix's drive. "It looks
like you overswung. Ooops. The ball landed in the water."

     LaCroix rumbled.

     "That'll be a two stroke penalty," Nick said helpfully.

     LaCroix growled.

     "Want those shoes now?"

     LaCroix climbed to his feet. "No. The shoes are unnecessary. I was
merely surprised."

     "The grass surprised you?"

     "I'm going after my ball," LaCroix announced decisively before flashing
out of sight.

     Nick caught up with him at the side of an ornamental man-made lake. His
sire was frowning at a goose on the opposite shore of the water. "I think
that bird is molesting my ball."

     Nick frowned and studied the avian. "She's not molesting it. She's
rolling it toward her nest. She thinks it's one of her young. I'll get you a
new ball."

     "I don't want a new one. I liked that one."

     "That's the sound of a serious golfer!" Nick clapped him on the
shoulder. "Tell you what. We'll just call that a practice hole. You can
start from scratch. You know, if you really get into golf, you could use a
nickname. How about 'Fuzzy'?"

     LaCroix's new driver snapped in two. "How clumsy of me," LaCroix said
smoothly. "Whatever will I use for my next drive? I know! A wood! I could
use a good piece of wood about now."

     Nick gulped. "What would you say if, next year, I gave you a tie?"

End of Part Two
Challenge: How Nunkies Got His Groove Back(3/5)
Copyright 1998
By Bonnie Rutledge

     LaCroix downed his glass of bloodwine in one gulp and instantly
demanded another. The golf match had been absolutely humiliating, and
Nicholas had repeatedly apologized for it. That only made him feel snarkier.

     Even worse, not five minutes after he'd retired to the Raven for some
well-deserved relaxation, Janette had joined him at the bar, announced she
was moving on, and deeded him the nightclub. She blamed the need to relocate
on Nicholas, of course, how his quest for humanity had started to affect
her, but LaCroix knew the truth. She was in a tiff because he hadn't been
thrilled with that damn Shwalha. Handing over the Raven was meant to add
to the feelings of guilt she believed he ought to be experiencing. LaCroix
decided Janette was right: she *had* been around Nicholas too long. It had
addled her thinking.

     As LaCroix began to sip his new beverage at a more refined pace,
someone had the audacity to settle on the stool next to him. The person was
noisy. They didn't drape the stool with a refined movement or lounge
casually. They plopped and clunked. A peculiar mildewy odor tickled
LaCroix's nostrils, and he turned to order his neighbor to move elsewhere.

     It was a man, smaller in stature than himself, wearing a jersey and T-
shirt over knit pants that ended just below his knees. His head was
completely, gleamingly and utterly bald. LaCroix's nose twitched again, and,
finally, he identified the scent. It was a carouche! In his club! In his

     LaCroix opened his mouth to demand that the carouche leave at once, but
the creature cut him off, letting out a stream of barely intelligible
speech. "'Ere now, Aye kin boggle wot yewr a-fix-iating tew say: flash out
and squat elseplace. Scree-daddle tew Scramsville. Adios-Aloha. Yew 'igh n'
moighties 'r always ripe n' juicy tew oppress us carouche-types. If'n yew
'ad yewr way, we'd all bugaboo in the bushes, gnawin' on rocks, waitin' fer
yew tew toss us a barky now and then. Well, ole Screed's of a differential
class o' bite, alroight, but Aye'm not below given a C-Day prezzy tew a
couldn't-be mate. 'Specially a mate oo jes' gained a shiney-pretty piece o'
property, Mister Raven-Owner, sir."

     LaCroix looked, felt and breathed affronted. "You eavesdropped on my
conversation with Janette!"

     "This 'ere's free air space. Jes' tuned me receiver tew tha' proper
channel." The carouche named Screed nodded in satisfaction. "Some bloke
named Nicky's got an infection, an' he passed it on tew Janetti. Could make
a droog cry, it could. Buts yewr tha' 'appy new boss of a club, n' may Aye
offer a suggest-onion: this establishment could use a few ratsies on tha'

     LaCroix hissed. "That will never happen."

     Screed held his hands up. "No call fer agitation, dude. Aye connaitre
me sixty-watts are ahead of me time." The carouche smoothed the folds of his
jacket nobly across his chest. "Aye'll overlook tha' rejectshun an' give yew
yewr prezzy anyways. Mebbe yew'll be desiro of scratchin' me back sum toime
in return."

    "I should hope not."

    Screed produced a large sack that had been tucked at the other side of
his stool. It clattered and clanked as he dropped it unceremoniously on the
counter. "Taa-daa!!! 'appy Convertin' Day! Don't use it all at once!"

    LaCroix looked dubiously at the satchel, requisitioned one of the
Raven's napkins, then carefully pulled the material back. The sack contained
a plethora of orange and white bottles featuring the Bain de Soleil

     LaCroix stared at the carouche with a mixture of fury and astonishment.
"It's a case of spray-on tan."

    "An' moighty fine spray-on tan it is, tew," Screed affirmed. "Aye traded
dos Shwalhas at tha' swap meet fer that lot. Mind yew, if'n Aye 'adn't
been de-Avon ladied, Aye'd 'ave sprung fer some Skin So Soft."
Screed patted his cheeks (facial). "Makes a droog baby-smooth, it does."

     LaCroix's eyes flared. 

     "Out of my sight, carouche!" he roared. "And, take
your...*prezzy*...with you!"

     Screed's features blossomed with joy. "Yew mean yewr counter-prezzying
me?" He hugged the bottles to his chest. "It's nawt even me C-Day! Aye'm
touched! It's jus' what Aye always wanted! Bet I can get some proper loonies
fer this pseudo-complexion squirt. That's a mate!"

     Like lightening, Screed dropped a thankful slurp on LaCroix's cheek
(facial), and zipped out of staking range.


     LaCroix left the bar and stalked out of the club to relish the warm
night air. At least there, he could enjoy some peace and quiet.


End of Part Three

Challenge: How Nunkies Got His Groove Back(4/5)
Copyright 1998
By Bonnie Rutledge

     LaCroix spent the next hour mortal-watching. Upon reflection, he
realized that most of his existence had been occupied with observing
mortals, feeding off their activities. He depended on them for so much of
his entertainment. The vagaries of their appearance, their patterns of
speech, their creativity: these things all worked to shield the fact that
he'd heard so many of their conversations before. Maybe they resembled
someone from his past: a quick kill, a neophyte vampire who didn't last a
century, or a mortal he had actually cultivated before draining their life
and tossing them away. Still, these humans were rarely exactly the same, and
that variety brought a rush of excitement to LaCroix's jaded blood.

     He remained in the vicinity of the Raven, treading the surrounding
blocks. He passed huddled lovers and lonely souls embracing the shelter of
the shadowed streets. Brisk walkers danced between streetlamps, their fear
of the darkness making their movements abrupt.

     When LaCroix turned the corner, awareness overtook him. Another of his
kind was near. He glanced around, searching for his company. He noted two
figures, one a young man in a leather jacket strolling casually in his
direction. The second figure was behind him. This person wore a woven
garment, rather like a poncho, and definitely seemed in pursuit of something
or someone.

      flashed through LaCroix's thoughts. Delivery vampires
took almost pathological pride in tracking down their quarry, no matter
where they hid. That was why their services remained in demand, and the
Enforcers often recruited from their ranks. LaCroix, however, refused to
suffer one more Conversion Day indignity. As the ponchoed man drew level
with him, LaCroix slammed out a fist and threw the vampire over his
shoulder. The man hit the pavement with a rough sound, temporarily out of

     As LaCroix wiped his hands in satisfaction, the sound of running
footsteps and the flare of an engine reached his ears. Suddenly, a
motorcycle roared down the street toward him, skidding in a sharp turn as it
stopped a nickel short of running LaCroix down. It was the fellow in the
leather jacket, and he appeared to be in a hurry.

     "Thanks!" Jacket Boy shouted over the engine noise. "Hop on! He'll be
up in a second!"

     LaCroix racked his brain, trying to decide what made this stranger
think he had any connection with his elder's affairs. He debated between
sending him away with a fly in his ear or delivering the upstart a similar
punch. He was leaning toward the punch, physical violence appealing to
LaCroix's black mood.

     Jacket Boy gunned his motorcycle's motor once more. "You know, the
secret to a good getaway is actually *moving.*"

     LaCroix bit back an acrid retort. The idea burrowed in his brain and
became something intriguing. Why not get on the bike? He didn't know their
destination or purpose. He'd never bothered to ride a motorcycle before. It
made for an altogether amusing novelty.

     So LaCroix hopped on the bike.

     The stranger didn't exactly embrace traffic laws. He cut across three
intersections across the light, ran over stopped cars, turned down an alley,
sped through the narrow space, up makeshift ramp of boxes and off, sending
the bike soaring through the air. He landed at an angle, changing direction
in one step. The motorcycle surged across a new street amidst honking horns
and squealing brakes. He pulled onto the sidewalk, then bumped down a flight
of stairs. Now they were in a subway terminal.

     LaCroix wouldn't have admitted it, but it actually made him nervous
when the stranger didn't stop the bike at this point. No, he forged onward,
shouting one word.


     LaCroix did as he was told, experiencing a strange feeling of being
young and ready to conquer the world, something that had died somewhere
between the time he first became a soldier as a Roman youth and his
promotion to General. It was a sense of daring, of testing the boundaries of
what you knew, letting someone else lead you there rather than demanding to
be in control. LaCroix couldn't remember the last time he followed another
man's order. He felt he should be indignant at the slight, yet at the same
time, he felt alive, more alive than he had been in a thousand years.

     The motorcycle tilted to one side, both men's knees hovering scant
centimeters over the tiled floor as they slipped under the turnstile doing

     Pulling upright again, Jacket Boy still didn't put on brakes. No, he
turned, drawing parallel with the subway tracks, releasing a whoop as
mortals leapt out of their path. Then he veered the bike even more to the
left, too much in LaCroix's opinion, and the motorcycle plummeted to the
bottom of the concrete dugout. They kept on, barreling along the narrow
stretch between the wall and the rails. Finally, LaCroix decided it was time
for an explanation.

     "*What* are you doing?!"

      "Going home. I'll lay bets the Inka doesn't know about the church yet,
otherwise he would have staked the place out and jumped me there first
thing. He can't spot us from the sky as long as we're down here, so we'll
lose him. Besides, it's an adrenaline rush playing chicken with one of the
big trains."

     LaCroix couldn't see the man's face, but he could sense Jacket Boy was
smiling. "The vampire I hit is called 'the Inka'?"

     "That's what I call him, among other things," the stranger said.
"Thanks for stepping in back there. For a second, I thought he had me."

     LaCroix frowned. "You mean he wasn't delivering a Blood-O-Gram to me?"

     "More like a Stake-O-Gram to me. Why the hell would the Inka give you a

     "It's my Conversion Day."

     "No wonder you socked him."

     "My mistake."

     "Don't apologize. He needed socking." Lights appeared up ahead to the
right of the tunnel. "That's our stop."

       There wasn't any ramp that would prompt a jump up to the next level,
but for a creature with the ability to fly, this didn't spell a problem. As
soon as the motorcycle drew beside the subway platform, the bike simply
levitated, and they turned onto the tiled floor. There were one or two
surprised individuals waiting for the next train, and Jacket Boy offered
them waves as they tore past. Ducking the bike beneath the turnstile again,
they sped roughly up the steps and out into the street once more. The
stranger finally slowed the motorcycle to a more casual pace, and they
cruised down a few more quiet blocks.

     "I take from your reaction that you don't approve of celebrating
Conversion Days," LaCroix commented.

     The younger vampire shrugged. "Approve, disapprove, what's the point? I
already have a constant reminder of the night I was brought across. You just
met him."

     LaCroix stiffened. "The Inka is your sire?" He was not pleased that he
may have aided and abetted the efforts of a rebellious protege.

     "Mortal enemy and blood brother. We managed to kill each other, then
our sire turned us into vampires with the intention of making us best
friends forever. I didn't agree, so I split. The Inka's been chasing me ever

     "And what does your sire think of your decision?" LaCroix said

     "Nothing. She walked into the sun the morning after. Killer blow to the
ego, don't you think? We're here!" The bike came to a stop before a decrepit
church. Most of the windows were dark, though one on the second floor glowed
faintly. LaCroix climbed off the motorcycle, and the stranger followed.
"Looks like Urs is still up." The dark-haired man occupied himself with the
bike's saddlebags, pulling out an armful of bottles. "I was out on a blood
run." He extracted all the saddlebag contents with satisfaction. "Excellent.
Didn't break anything. Hey - do you wanna come up...wait - what's your


     "Oh." The stranger stilled for a moment, a bit nonplused. Apparently,
this young vampire had heard of him. "Ahem. Okay...I'm Vachon. Javier
Vachon. So, do you want to hang here a bit, LaCroix? Anyone wanting to
assault you with Conversion Day presents won't look for you here."

     LaCroix surveyed the outside of Javier Vachon's accommodations with a
critical air. It didn't appear clean or the least bit comfortable, yet he
admired the irony of setting up house in a former house of worship. The boy
was amusing, so he decided to postpone returning to the Raven a while

     "Thank you for your offer of hospitality, Vachon," LaCroix said. "I

End of Part Four


Challenge: How Nunkies Got His Groove Back(5/5)
Copyright 1998
By Bonnie Rutledge

     "Staying, huh?" Vachon stared at LaCroix for several seconds. "I
figured you'd bail." He handed all of the bottles over to the elder vampire.
Vachon rolled his motorcycle toward one of the side doors to the church,
propped it open with the bike, the poked a thumb toward the darkness. "After

     It was just a small vestibule that led to a flight of stairs. LaCroix
started to climb, and Vachon bumped his motorcycle up the stairs behind him.

     Just as LaCroix stepped onto the landing, the door at the top of the
stairs flew open. A slender vision in blonde curls and red satin stood in
the threshold. "Do you need any..." Her voice faltered as her gaze met with
an unfamiliar chest. She raised her chin, up...up...and found an unfamiliar
face to go with the chest.  Her voice warbled in alarm. "...Help?"

     Vachon's voice rose from behind the unfamiliar frowning face. "I'm down
here, Urs. It's cool."

     LaCroix fought down a jolt of surprise as Urs casually put her hands on
his shoulders, raised to her tiptoes and peeked around him to see Vachon
several steps down, supporting his Triumph. "Oh." Urs' face brightened.

     Vachon lifted his fingers off the right handlebar and gave a wave.
"Urs, this is LaCroix. LaCroix, meet Urs."

     Urs stepped back over the threshold and held the door open as LaCroix
entered. He set down the bottles of blood and took her hand, brushing a
light kiss over her knuckles. "Charmed," he said, with sincerity.

     Vachon pushed his motorcycle past the pair, offering a brief
explanation. "He followed me home."

     Urs bubbled with a throaty giggle. "Can we keep him?"

     There was a smaller set of stairs that descended to the room proper.
Vachon had already taken them, moved his bike to the side, and straightened
the kickstand. "Ask him if he's housebroken."

     LaCroix appeared suitably affronted. Urs smiled up at him, her
expression a strange mix of bold naivete. "I'm not going to ask you that."
She picked up two of the bottles and proceeded down the steps. She placed
the blood on the floor next to a tweedy couch and sat down as she continued
speaking nonchalantly. "Are you trying to escape Conversion Day presents?"

     Vachon beat LaCroix to the question. "How did you know that?"

     "I heard Screed talking about getting him a present," she explained.

     "I'd hide from a Screed present," Vachon agreed.

     "You know that Screed person?" LaCroix made a face.

     Vachon paused in wiping down his bike but said nothing. Urs was the one
who answered, her voice holding a note of defiance. "He's a friend." LaCroix
raised an eyebrow. "He's funny," she insisted.

     LaCroix brushed at the headrest of the ragged sofa, then sat down a
moderate distance from Urs. "What possessed him to present me with a gift?
Was it a joke?"

     "Screed probably wanted something," Vachon offered as he wiped the
grease off his hands then threw down the towel.

     "Such as?"

     "Respect?" Urs said. "A kind word? Not getting drop-kicked out the back
door just because he's a carouche?" She paused and reflected further.
"Something to pawn for quick cash?"

     "Well, he received the last item. I told him he could keep his gift,
and he dashed off to the swap meet with visions of spare change dancing in
his head."

     Urs smiled again. "Good. He deserves some fun." She looked at LaCroix
curiously. "What did he give you?"

     LaCroix clenched his teeth, then muttered, "A case of spray-on tan."

     "Oh no!" Urs doubled over with laughter. "That's awful!"

     "Yes, it was," LaCroix agreed.

     Vachon had been making a telephone call. "Hate to interrupt, but I'm
going to have to sneak out a while and see about a plane ticket."

      Urs' eyes widened in surprise. "Plane ticket? What for?"

      "The Inka's in town. LaCroix here helped me get away."

      "You aren't leaving Toronto, are you? We just got here!" Urs

       "No, he'll expect me to split town, so he'll watch the airport.
I plan to bluff him into thinking I left. That should get the Inka off my
back for a while." Vachon picked up one of the bottles of blood off the
floor, then noticed that Urs was frowning. His eyes flicked over to LaCroix
for an instant, then back again. "You'll be okay?" he asked her.

     Urs rolled her eyes. "While you're off playing tag with the Inka?" She,
likewise, peeped over at LaCroix momentarily. "I think I can entertain
myself while you're gone."

     Vachon broke into a grin, leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. He
turned his head to murmur in her ear, "I thought he'd be your type." He
straightened and nodded at LaCroix. "Later."

     "Don't hurry back!" Urs called. She peered at LaCroix once more out of
the corner of her eye, then picked up the remaining bottle of blood that
waited by the couch as she stood. "Javie has glasses around here somewhere,"
she said, approaching a stack of boxes. "He never unpacks in case he has to
leave quickly."

     "The Inka, again?" LaCroix asked, studying her gilded head as she
rummaged through a crate.

     Urs nodded. "He's been on the run for as long as I've known him." She
glanced up from her search. "Though, from what I've heard, you wouldn't
think that much of a length of time at all."

     For once, LaCroix wasn't certain he was comfortable with his reputation
preceding him in this instance. "What rumors have you heard?"

     "Just your average vampire gossip. Things like how you're older and
more powerful than anyone else. How you're a leader." Urs lifted her gaze
again, this time not really looking at him. A haunting darkness clouded her
eyes. "How you're distant to so many of us. It's hard to win your approval."
She shrugged away whatever thought had dimmed her features. "But what do I
know? I've only been to the Raven a couple of times." She let out a sound of
triumph, then lifted a pair of tumblers with one hand. "Ta-da! Ooo! Extra
prize..." Urs plucked a small rectangular box out of the crate. "A deck of

     "I must admit your friend Vachon's attitude in regards to Conversion
Day was refreshing." Urs tossed him the deck of cards, and he caught it
effortlessly, then set them aside on the cushion. He watched as she replaced
the crate's lid, set the glasses down, and got down to pouring them both a
drink. "It's rare to find someone who has as little use for the celebration
as I do."

     Urs nibbled on her lower lip as she approached him with a drink in
either hand. "Then color me rare, too," she said as she passed LaCroix a
glass. "I hate the idea of Conversion Days."

     "And why is that?"

     "Mine was the worst day of my life. Why would I want to remember it?"
She rubbed her lips together for a moment then continued speaking. "At the
same time, it's not like I can ever forget it. I guess that makes every day
Conversion Day." Urs took a sip from her drink and swallowed stiltedly.

      LaCroix gave an annoyed sniff. "You're saying you didn't want to
become a vampire."

     "I wanted Vachon to kill me."

     "Yet you're still here."

     "Because Vachon *didn't* kill me."

     "No," LaCroix said slowly. "You are here because you didn't die.
There's a difference."

     "Not when I look in the mirror." It was Urs' turn to turn critical eyes
toward him. "Alright, what's your excuse?"

     "I beg your pardon?"

     "Why don't you like Conversion Day?"

     LaCroix's lips tightened. "I'd rather not say."

     "Oh, no you don't! I told you my reason. You ferreted out Vachon's.
It's time to 'fess up."

     LaCroix took in a long draught of his beverage and contemplated its
depths. "Very well. I'll tell you. I don't like Conversion Day because it
makes me feel old."

     Urs giggled. "Get out. Vampires don't moan about their age."

     "I'm quite serious. I cannot begin to tally the sum total of people
I've killed or seen die. The number of fellow undead that I have witnessed
consumed over the years is no more laughable. And while 364 days out of the
year I can ignore this staggering amount of loss, on this anniversary, I
feel helplessly reminded of what it means to be mortal, and what it means to
be truly immortal. You see, I've been both. One I've found to be a pointless
exercise, valuable if only for the creativity the desperation of humanity
brings. The other is vastly superior, yet ultimately a very lonely
existence. There are few things on this planet that have lived longer than
myself, and I'm afraid they're all trees. That doesn't make for stimulating

     "Oh, I see," Urs said, a pert grin twitching the corners of her mouth.
"You don't like Conversion Day because you're feeling sorry for yourself.
Too bad. I just gave that excuse. I have dibs. You'll have to find a new

     Both of LaCroix's eyebrows raised. "Dibs? But I'm -"

     Urs had enough nerve to cut him off. "Older and more powerful? Maybe,
but obviously not more imaginative. No, no, I'm not going to share my
excuse." She casually picked up the deck of cards from the sofa cushion,
then gave LaCroix a kittenish grin. "I suppose we could play for it, to be

     "Play for it? That's ridiculous!"

     "You mean you don't know how to play poker?" Urs' question was
deceptively meek.

     "Of course I know how to play poker!"

     Urs cast her eyes downward. "Oh. You just don't want to play with me."

     LaCroix's gaze fell to her long, bare legs. "No, I believe I could
bring myself to play with you."

     Urs bounced to her feet and took his hand. "Then it's settled. Let's
find a table."

     They ended up playing over an upturned pew. Urs shook the cards into
one palm, then shuffled them briskly for several passes. "Okay. One hand for
one excuse. Five card, queens wild." She held out the deck toward LaCroix.
"Want to cut?"

     He complied. Urs slipped out of her tight satin jacket, and she lay it
on the table, presumably to allow her arms more freedom of movement.
LaCroix's face gradually acquired a frown as she dealt them each five cards
with precise movements. "I suspect you've played a good deal of poker."

       "Poker, blackjack, faro..." Urs smiled beatifically, then proceeded
to examine her cards. "I spent my entire mortal life in and around saloons.
Sometimes I sang, sometimes I tended bar, and, sometimes, I dealt cards."

     "Hm." He rearranged his hand, noting he had a measly pair of threes and
an ace. He tossed down a seven and a nine and said, "I'll take two."

     Urs didn't move. She looked completely innocent and guileless. "You
haven't anted yet."

     "Neither have you," LaCroix countered.

     "Yes, I have," Urs said, scratching a pale fingernail over her satin

     "We're playing strip poker." It wasn't a question, cheer or complaint,
simply a statement.

     "Right. Didn't I say that? I could have sworn I said that."

     "You didn't."

     "Oops." Urs rearranged two more cards, then turned candid eyes his way.
"You aren't shy, are you?"

     LaCroix appeared to have swallowed a bug. "No." He hadn't worn a jacket
that night, so he unbuckled his belt, allowing the black leather to slither
into a pile across Urs' jacket. "Two cards, if you please."

     Urs complied, then chose to trade in only one item in her hand. LaCroix
examined his cards in annoyance. The trade had earned him nothing but a two
and another seven. Urs' expression didn't provide evidence as to what she
was thinking. Her forehead was furrowed, and she was nibbling on her lip,
but those appeared to be signs of concentration. LaCroix allowed his eyes to
linger on her mouth, noting the fullness of her lips, how they held a
natural pout. He began to wonder just what her next 'ante' would be.

     Urs glanced up suddenly and caught him staring. "Do you want in?"

     LaCroix's gaze slipped down to the pulse in her throat. "Yes, I do." He
set down his cards, then moved his fingers with deliberate slowness to his
collar. He unbuttoned it leisurely, all the while meeting Urs' gaze.

     She only blinked once, then darted the tip of her tongue over her lips.
"You haven't really played much poker, have you?" she asked, casually.

     LaCroix's hands stilled on the next to last button. "Why do you ask

     "Mmmm. Just a feeling. That's not to say you're bad at it," she was
quick to add. "You're obviously great at hiding what you're thinking. The
thing is, I think most people would find you scary. They'd fold before you
had a chance to look straight into their souls and find them wanting. You
don't win much that way."

     LaCroix moved on to the last buttons on his sleeves. "Do I scare you,

     She shook her head briefly. "No," she said, mesmerized as LaCroix
discarded his shirt onto the ante pile. "That's not what I'm feeling."

     "Do you think I find you wanting?"

     Urs looked away. "How many cards?" she whispered.

     "Two." LaCroix turned his thoughts back to his hand. This time he had
picked up a wild card and another ace. That made for an impressive three of
a kind to go with his pair.  he thought with satisfaction. He
was prepared to hold onto this hand come what may, or whatever may come off.
LaCroix closed his hand and set the cards aside, then suggestively sat back
in his chair as though waiting for the show to continue.

     Urs set down her cards as well, but she didn't stand. Instead, she
turned around in her chair, giving a provocative glance over one shoulder
before commencing her ante. Her black knit top wrapped around her torso to
tie in the back. Her arms moved lyrically as she deciphered the knot, then
let the ends hang free. Urs bared one shoulder, then the other, finally
stripping the garment away, leaving her skin bare and gleaming except for
the red satin sheen of her bra. She tossed the knit top over her head. It
landed perfectly in the center of LaCroix's shirt, and only then did she
face front and look at him. Staring deep into his sparkling eyes, she made
her discard. "One card," she said softly, taking a fresh selection from the
deck and adding it to her hand.

     It was his turn again, and Lacroix definitely didn't give a damn about
poker anymore. There was no way he would fold so close to victory, and he
wasn't about to add his shoes to the pot. An animal intensity to his
expression, LaCroix pushed his chair back and went to work on his zipper.
There was a rustle of gaberdine that Urs let her eyes follow as his trousers
fell to the floor. She gradually trailed her eyes upward over his calves,
his muscular thighs, then they widened as she realized just what he *wasn't*
wearing underneath.

     "I call," LaCroix said. He didn't bother to sit down.

     "Mmm-hmm." Urs rose to her feet, stretching her hands behind her back
to work at the fastening of her skirt. A frown rippled across her features.
"I can't get it. It's stuck."

     LaCroix raised a doubtful eyebrow. "Did you try pulling it down?" he

     "I'm serious," Urs protested, then turned around. "Give me a hand."

     He obliged, freeing the zipper with a sharp tug. LaCroix slipped cool
fingers under the waistband, then leisurely trailed his hands over her hip
and down her legs as he pushed the piece of clothing to the floor. Urs
leaned back against his chest, then reached behind them both toward her
cards on the pew.  She flipped them over to reveal two queens, a king, a
jack, and an ace. "I have a royal flush," she sighed as his hands traveled
upward again and around her belly.

     "I noticed," LaCroix murmured in her ear. "I only have a full house."

     "So it looks like I've won your excuse...and your pants."

     "Then I suppose there's nothing left for me to do," LaCroix whispered
before capturing her lips in a smoldering kiss, "but to wish you a Happy
Conversion Day."

End of Part Five

Yep, the answer to all the world's ills: snogging.
I'm just waiting to hear what Patt and Jules will say.

Bonnie Rutledge.......Caffeine Achiever, Insomniac, Barbarian, Evil
br1035@ix.netcom.com      Die-Hard NA & *Sparkler* ODD
Kickstart The Knight Now!! Visit: http://jessica.simplenet.com/ktk
Have you earned your Fanfic Fairy Badge yet? Nunkies Scouts Manual:

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