Lacroix began his descent into the mind of Frank Burns. It wasn't precisely telepathy. It was more of an initiation rite that he would use on those he had considered bringing over. Using his method, Lacroix would taste of the darkness in each soul, to determine its depth. Here, he found a depth of respectable proportions. Burns would actually make a good Vampire, and feel no attachments to his former life.

In Jeanette, he had found a desire to be truly powerful, and nigh-untouchable. Her darkness had been like a large stone. In Nicholas, he had found a desire to again have the passion drained from him by The Crusades. His darkness was like a large blanket, covering all. Only once had he encountered a darkness so thick, it choked and scared him. True Evil, greater even than his hopefully-late daughter, Divia had dreamed of possessing. A hate that hated all Life. For this reason, Lacroix had decided not to bring over The Austrian Corporal. Some monsters needed no paranormal help to achieve their goals.

As Lacroix had suspected, Burns' darkness was like a shield. But Lacroix had been slipping through shields since before the first Burns was tossed out of Glenfinnan, Scotland.

"Hello? Who's there?"

"My name, Doctor Burns--is Lucien Lacroix. I've come to get you out of here. Then--I will step on an intrusive little bug before I go."

"Well, thanks, Mister Lacroix. But I can't go, just yet. Maybe later."

"You misunderstand me--Frank. I am not a pick-up service. Come with me now or remain here and face possible death."

Frank was calm, and quite nonchalant- -even accepting about what Lacroix had just said.

"Oh, I understand. But if I go out there, I'm just as dead. I have to have my mind in order before I can emerge. If my mind ever thinks about the secret for too long, I'll really crack up. Probably have heart failure from the shock."

"The Secret? The boy called Radar had mentioned that we share a secret in common. Did you, too, murder your own daughter?"

Frank shook his head, again in a zone of eerie calm.

"No. Thankfully--this has nothing to do with my girls. You really wanna know this?"

Lacroix nodded.

"Having come thus far--why not?"

Frank looked contemplative. Ironically, this thoughtful human being was the only version of Burns that the vampire would ever meet.

"Its an old story. Dad ran around on my Mom. The others think he was stable and trustworthy. But my affairs with Margaret and all those receptionists pale in comparison."

"Others---what others, Doctor?"

"The Others. The Other Frank Burnses. Lessee---there's The Patriot, The Ninny, The Bully---and me--that I know of. When they all broke off of me, I couldn't tell who was who for awhile. I'd just as soon not find any others, ya know? We're each aware of the others--but the operative word is 'others'. I used to hope it wasn't true--but, Que Sera."

Lacroix now felt a bit upset that his oath to Sherman Potter prohibited him from simply taking a man who was this self-aware at his core. The process would winnow out the weaker selves and leave this extraordinary coordinator.

"Huh. So the O'Reilly lad's 'big secret' is that you broke down as a result of your father betraying your mother. In Rome, such things were expected. No offense, Doctor--I almost wanted more."

"Oh. My Dad's running around didn't do this to me. No. I knew about that--so did all the kids in the neighborhood. Their Dads and some of their Moms were doing the same. The problem was, not everybody's Mom was in on it."

"Your Mother was not, I take it, a part of this little ring."

"No. She said it was Immoral. And it was. But she was lonely, too. She couldn't get her husband to stay at home--and she wouldn't break her marriage vows. So-- she decided to----she decided that it was time I became man of the house. She started talking about how much I resembled Dad. When she tried to kiss me on the lips---I barricaded myself in my room. Lacroix--I Never Ever Told My Mother No On Anything Until She Tried That. She threatened, she pleaded--she talked through the door about what she'd do to me if I didn't come out--and then what she would do to me if I did. For a full year---every night---she would try."

Lacroix sat with his jaw open.

"Did you continue to tell her No?"

"Yes. And That's What Splintered Me. A Good Son Doesn't Tell His Mother No. But I did. Because A Good Son Doesn't EVER--well, he just doesn't. But I let her be alone, Mister Lacroix. I obeyed God but disobeyed my Mother."

Lacroix now knew why Radar had risked so much. Burns and himself did indeed share a terrible secret.

"Doctor Burns, her name was Divia. She was my Master--she who made me what I am--and she demanded of me what was demanded of you. I refused--there are still moral lines, no matter who you are. I was forced to destroy her."

Feeling the comfort of a shared darkness, Frank spoke.

"Who was she? This Divia?"

Lacroix felt hollow, but also a bit freer.

"My Own Daughter."

Frank nodded.

"Your own daughter. Geez. I guess I'm lucky. Neither of my girls show any signs of the family's nutsiness."

Lacroix felt somewhat lost, having found a kindred soul at such an odd remove.

"I've told myself that it wasn't my fault...but that I fear is merely a comforting lie. It was my own evil Divia was showing me. All Of Rapacious Rome bound up in one little brat--who could never be told 'No'. Doctor Burns do you know what the worst part was?"

Frank was as calm as ever, and Lacroix began to sense that this was perhaps not his natural state of being.

"That you wanted to give in. And not only because she could make you. Because -- the worst possible thing -- might just feel pretty darn good. I mean I didn't exactly have a lot of dates as a teenager. Mom's-- never been a hag."

"May I ask what became of her?"

Even this super-serene version of Frank had a hard time saying it out loud--albeit mentally.

"After a year, Dad figured it all out. Mom was sent away--for a year. I got sent to Military School. When we both came back---nothing was the same. Mom apologized, and I tried to tell her it was all right. But I didn't let her touch me again. Even when I left for Korea, all I allowed her was a peck on the cheek. She is a beautiful, encouraging woman, Mister Lacroix. Why couldn't I forgive her that one mistake?"

Lacroix had no answer, merely another question.

"What Of Your Father?"

Frank was slipping, and Lacroix knew he would have to act soon, to fulfill his promise.

"Dad---said that him and me were done. That he couldn't keep up ---'the pretense of friendship' --- with a potential marital competitor in his own house. I tore his head off. Told him what a hypocrite he was, and how maybe he drove Mom to it. After he got through with me---well, I'm just lucky he didn't go after my hands. Though Pierce might think the soldiers would be lucky if I'd lost use of them."

"Pierce rides you, does he? Well, he gets his biting sarcasm from a mutual friend, a Mister Nash of Long Island, New York. The man can be a true pain."

"Oh, I don't mind Pierce. I love all the people here. For all their abuse and criticism---and mine, too---this place has been the happiest I've ever been. No lies. No sham families, or marriages of advantage. Even when Pierce and his cohorts hate me--its all real. I wish my marriage to Louise had half the emotion I have with Margaret--but the others barely have the strength to handle her--forget about a real marriage. And I need them to keep the secret."

"Frank--my friend--shall we go?"

"Sure. I'm ready now. By the way--who or what is a 'Ghidorah'?"

Lacroix shook his head.

"A monster with many faces--but no soul."

"Hmmph. Sounds like Colonel Flagg. Boy, if his presence didn't always bring out The Patriot Or The Ninny--I'd have a few things to tell that moron."

Bidding each other goodbye, Lacroix and Burns left The Darkness behind--not forever--but knowing it a little better than they had. When Frank awoke--The Human would not be there. Neither would Lacroix.

Rising from his chair, Lacroix looked at the waiting Radar.

"Didja do it, sir?"

Lacroix nodded.

"Yes, Walter. I did. And I met a strong, remarkable man in the process. A warrior, crippled by deceit, treachery, and dishonor--yet still a warrior. I suppose that part never leaves you."

"Yeah--well---I'm ready."

"Ready? Whatever For?"

"For what I did--reading you like that--you promised to kill me--sir."

"Yes, I did, didn't I?"

The Vampire shrugged.

"I Lied."

Nick was just outside of Post-Op, and nodded at his Master.

"I'd thank you for what you did--but I know you, and so I know you had your own reasons for doing it. I suppose we should go now."

"Not just yet, Nicholas. I still wish to speak with Sherman, ere we depart. Also, you have never spoken with me on the end of your stay in Missouri. You will do so now."

"Because you tell me to?"

"In Part. But Mostly Because I Feel--You Need To."

Unable to argue with that logic, Nick told of the dark events near the Hannibal of 30 years agone.

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