LOUIS’ OWN JIM MORRISON
Her birthdays are hard enough for Anita to deal with, but this birthday in particular fills her with dread.
Note: Consider this my ABVH fanfic writing swan song. I haven’t written any fanfic since this, but I hate to say never again.
All characters and situations presented in the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series belongs to author Laurell K. Hamilton. No profit is being made from this bit of fic.
could hardly stand to open her eyes this morning but she forced herself to out of necessity and found on the surface, this
morning wasn’t any different than any other morning.
sun shined and a soft caressing breeze billowed into the bedroom through her partially opened window. Birds were chattering loudly in the trees outside, muffling the very domestic sounds emanating from her
kitchen down the hall. Anita could smell strong coffee brewing along with something
cinnamon baking in the oven.
maybe, Anita concluded, pulling herself out of bed. She fumbled her way into
the bathroom, turned on the light, and closed the door.
year older,” Anita muttered, peering at her reflection in the mirror. She
reached up and traced the deepening lines around her mouth and the beginnings of crow’s feet accenting her eyes. Her hand strayed over her now perpetually furrowed brow and then up to the ever spreading
gray hairs on top of her head. So this was what being forty-one looked like,
she mused. It was hard to believe that just a year ago she didn’t even
frowned deeply, but then reasoned that it was just part of normal aging. Stress
tends to age people too--not to mention the many near-death experiences she’d had and all the times she had been hospitalized
with injuries. Okay, she’d had a tough time of it in her past, and it had
taken more of a toll on her body than she’d previously realized.
it’s just been a year,” she grumbled at her reflection, leaning closer to the mirror. Her throat tightened suddenly with surfacing emotions and her eyes welled with unshed tears.
had been just a year, but Anita felt as if she’d lived another lifetime in that one single year. So much had changed. So much was different. There had been times when Anita didn’t want to go on to mark another year’s passing. It didn’t seem worth the hardship and the pain that came with it, but here she stood, facing yet
Anita wiped at her burning eyes. She looked bad enough as it was and didn’t
want to greet Jean-Claude or the others with red, puffy eyes.
into the shower, Anita mentally ticked off the to-do list for the day. There
were a lot of people to see and they’d all be expecting her. She couldn’t
let them down, she decided, and determinedly tried to get a grip on herself.
idea occurred to her that hadn’t before. Maybe…she’d go visit
Richard too. It had been a year after all.
He must be feeling pretty lonesome by now despite his family’s unwavering attentions. Maybe seeing him again would truly bring her closure, Anita hoped.
She liked to think she had risen above the rage she’d initially harbored towards him, but knew deep down, it
had only been veiled by numbness. The thought made Anita’s heart clench
she growled to herself. “So it’s your birthday. Deal.” Today wouldn’t be so bad. She wasn’t going to let it be. Birthdays were something
to celebrate and as it was, she had all day to spend it with the people she loved.
can do this,” Anita chanted throughout her shower and as she dressed. From
experience, Anita knew if something made you nervous or uneasy or frightened, you faced it and that’s how you conquered
it. A hard cold fact: birthdays were going to be like this for her if she didn’t
face them head on. Mirrors didn’t lie and her aging body would always serve
as a reminder.
her way into the kitchen, Anita didn’t have to force the smile that greeted the young wereleopard puttering around her
stove. Nathaniel had set the table with a veritable breakfast buffet for her--no
doubt in honor of her birthday--and was adding more to the selection as it was.
Anita began, shaking her head. She made a sweeping gesture at the contents on
the table. “I can’t eat all this.”
wereleopard paused and gnawed his lower lip thoughtfully. “I wasn’t
sure what you’d be in the mood for this morning,” he spoke. “I
wanted you to have something you liked.”
Anita said in reply. “That will do me just fine.”
an instant, Nathaniel appeared crestfallen, but then turned away to fill Anita’s cup.
“You should eat something,” he admonished her.
sighed, staring down at the variety of food placed before her. She wanted to,
for his sake. He was trying so hard. But
even the thought of food was making her insides knot.
sorry…I just can’t.”
seemed to take it in stride however as if he’d halfway been expecting as much.
I allowed to wish you a happy birthday?” he asked in a small, hesitant voice.
looked up at him. “You can try.”
that, Nathaniel bent forward and kissed her cheek softly. “Happy birthday,
that was all it took.
tears which had threatened before, streamed from Anita’s eyes now. She
grasped her chest as a very real-feeling pain seized her heart. Memories flooded
her mind and suddenly, she was so overcome, she couldn’t breathe.
lifted her from her chair and quickly gathered her into his arms. He stroked
her hair and back, clearly trying his best to console her as sobs wracked her small body.
thought she heard Nathaniel curse Richard under his breath.
not his fault,” Anita tried to protest, pushing aside the surfacing anger she had been struggling to tamp down this
past year. “It’s my fault.
He believed it’s what I wanted. I’m the one to blame!”
quickly scolded her. “Don’t ever say that! Don’t even think it! You’re punishing yourself
just because it’s your birthday, Anita. You knew today would be hard, but
you’ve got to realize with every passing year, they’ll get easier. Time
really does heal wounds like they say.”
slumped against the wereleopard and wiped angrily at her face. “What are
you talking about? I punish myself every day of the year, Nathaniel. Not just today.” She took a deep breath and tried to
calm down. She hated feeling like this and tried to take Nathaniel’s words
to heart. Was it going to get any easier?
Was next year’s birthday going to be better? “Look, I’m
sorry. I promised myself I wasn’t going to wallow in self-pity today. God, I’m a mess.” Resolutely,
Anita stepped away from Nathaniel and tried to smile. “Let me go splash
some cold water on my face and then we can go. It’s getting late. I know they’re all waiting to see me.”
nodded. “I took care of everything with the florist. The flowers will be ready for us when we get there.”
nodded. “Thanks.” She
stretched up on her toes and kissed him tenderly. “I don’t know what
I’d do without you. I mean that, you know.”
know,” the wereleopard replied earnestly before turning away from her to clear the food off the table.
didn’t like feeling this old. And it wasn’t that she was old by society’s
standards exactly, it was just that she felt worn out. Dialog from an Indiana
Jones movie flitted across her mind. Something to the effect of: it’s not the years, it’s the mileage. Ha! Ain’t that the truth, Anita thought as she drifted
off to sleep in the car. She’d hardly slept the night before, and now,
enfolded in a blanket of warm afternoon sunshine, she couldn‘t keep her eyes open any longer.
could still hear the music. That loud, raucous thumping. Danse Macabre had a suitable party-like atmosphere for Anita’s milestone birthday festivities. Anita hadn’t felt much like celebrating it, but Jean-Claude had insisted and
the club’s patrons were dancing and drinking and generally whooping it up as if it were a national holiday. It had been the place to be that night. The number of friends
and acquaintances, preternatural and human, who had stopped by throughout the night to wish her well had surprised Anita.
cutting into her cake, Anita’s men had surrounded her table. Micah had
led the costumed Danse Macabre staff in the singing of the happy birthday song to her.
Jason had assured her she was still very lust-worthy by flirting with her nonstop.
Damian had tried to get her to dance with him. For a moment, she had actually
considered accompanying him to the dance floor. She had been having a good time
had been multi-tasking, supervising the night’s proceedings, keeping tabs on the business end of things, and all the
while talking to Asher on his cell phone in an attempt to get him to come down and join the fun. He never strayed too far from Anita’s side however, and kept giving her these tantalizing looks--clearly
a promise of the gift he’d bestow on her later that night when they were finally alone.
much to everyone’s surprise, Richard had arrived, bearing his own gift. No
one had seen or heard from him in a very long time and Anita knew no one had even thought to invite him. It wasn’t that he’d been ostracized or anything along those lines, it was just that he’d
chosen to live in seclusion as of late.
remembered pointing at the ribbon-wrapped gun case Richard had tucked under his arm.
“Is that for me?” she had laughed. There was no denying her
affiliation for weaponry. “Good God, how’d you get that through the
had nodded. At the time, Anita hadn’t really noticed the strange, blank
look in his eyes. Now she couldn’t forget it.
for your birthday,” Richard told her, not bothering to raise his voice to be heard above the music. “It’s something I know you have secretly longed for…since the first day we met.” He withdrew the gun from its case and cocked it.
Apparently, it was loaded. “Let me show you.”
had just turned off his phone and shook his head at Anita. “My apologies,
ma petite,” he had breathlessly explained. “Asher is being too stubborn. You know how he gets. He did want me
to tell you that he looks forward to your visit later tonight however.” With
that, Jean-Claude winked insinuatingly at her and then turned to face Richard. “Mon
ami, what a surprise!”
Richard had replied in a deadpan voice. “It will be.”
had looked at Richard, nonplussed. Was the gun some kind of clue? What could he be referring to?
was the one who had sensed something was very wrong. He had reached for Anita’s
hand, squeezing her fingers, his dark eyes locking onto the Ulfric’s face.
no--” was the last thing he had said.
woke with a jolt. Nathaniel’s hand was squeezing hers as he leaned over
from the driver’s seat and gently stroked the side of her face.
here,” he whispered, sounding reverent.
took a deep breath. Her heart was pounding.
She nodded in reply and moved to get out of the car.
the florist’s van,” Nathaniel pointed out. “I’ll start
getting the flowers.”
Anita nodded, silently drifting past the gray and white headstones in somewhat of a daze.
Municipal cemeteries were familiar places to Anita and this one in particular was more familiar than she ever wanted
it to be. She’d been here time and time again and knew where certain graves
were by heart.
first one she visited was her beloved Micah. Nathaniel drew up beside Anita at
his headstone, offering her the bouquet of greenery which she then placed carefully in front of the smooth polished marble. Kissing her fingertips, Anita touched them to the inscribed name.
had screamed. He’d seen what Richard had just done. It had drawn the Ulfric’s fatal attention to him now and a single shot had brought him down. Anita had felt the heat of his blood spray across her stricken face. The bullets were pure silver and Richard’s aim had been right on target.
all her martial arts training, for all her years with the police force and as a federal marshal, Anita had been rendered immobile
and ineffectual now. Her mind refused to accept what was happening as if knowing
the grief would overwhelm her if she did. Two more shots rang out; two more bodies
fell to the floor before Anita could even draw enough of a breath to scream.
next grave Anita went to was her sweet Jason’s. The young brazen werewolf
had been her close friend and confidante in every sense of the word. Anita always
felt as if she’d grown up with him. He was perceptive and sensitive when
she needed him to be, strong and unfailingly devoted at other times, and could always be counted on to lighten the moment
as well. In the end, his devotion to her had been his undoing. As others ran away, he’d tried to get to her.
sorry,” Anita struggled to say, her throat tightening with emotion. “Sorrier
than you’ll ever know.” She took the new arrangement of flowers from
Nathaniel and placed it on Jason’s grave.
wasn’t far. While Nathaniel fetched more flowers, Anita knelt beside the
Viking’s headstone and cleared away a few fallen leaves from his grave. She
wished she could have given him a genuine Viking funeral, cast him off at sea on a flaming barge, but it just hadn’t
been possible. Anita had made sure he had been entombed with his sword at least. That much she could do for him. In a
selfless final act the vampire had cast his power through the triumvirate bond he had shared with Anita and Nathaniel and
then sealed it. It had probably spared Nathaniel.
least you’re truly free now,” Anita whispered, moistening her parched lips.
“Free…just like me.”
free now,” Richard had told Anita. “Free of them all.” He had then placed the gun against his sweat-drenched temple. “Even me.”
were screaming, jostling her, trying to flee the nightclub and the gun-wielding maniac in the center of the room. Already, Anita could hear sirens approaching, wailing in the distance.
Had someone called the police? Had anybody thought to call for an ambulance? Anita remembered clinically thinking it was too late for any of them anyway. Surely she would die too in spite of the fact Richard had spared her a bullet. He knew the chances of her surviving were slim to none. Anita believed he meant to punish her that way. She let her
eyes fall off Richard to peer down at the precious burden she had clenched in her aching arms.
A final, tell-all shot popped in Anita’s ears and then there was no more.
felt like she was moving in slow motion auto-pilot. There was still someone special
waiting for her to visit. She forced herself to go on.
had lost their lives that night, including Richard. The former Ulfric’s
grave was on the other side of the cemetery. His ever-loving family had erected
a monument for him, despite what he’d done that night and kept his grave carefully tended. Anita tried to understand it, but she still hadn’t come to terms with it enough to forgive him and
realized today that she probably never would. The fact that her anger and hatred
of him had breached her layer of shocked numbness told her at least she was getting back to her old self again. Let his family visit him. That would be enough.
walked with Nathaniel over to a chained wrought-iron gate which enclosed a single grave beneath the shade of an ancient weeping
tall black gate had been added in an attempt to keep away the minions who came to see Jean-Claude’s grave and had defaced
the headstone with tokens of their unwavering devotion and grief in the form of graffiti art and poetic prose. Anita knew this grave in particular had become one of the city’s new hotspots for tourists and now
the gate merely contained the numerous memorials of flowers, ribbons, notes, lingerie, and other gifts people left there.
turned the lock with a key Anita kept on her car key chain and then pulled the gate open for her. Shaking her head, Anita picked her way over the scattered offerings towards Jean-Claude’s looming
gets worse every time I come here,” she muttered, clearing away a spot at the base for her own offering. She didn’t mind all the graffiti or gifts really, knowing all of it would have probably amused Jean-Claude. Nathaniel stepped forward and handed Anita a single red rose wrapped in a black silk
ribbon fastened with an antique ruby brooch.
it’s as bad as Pere-Lachaise in Paris,” Nathaniel agreed. “St.
Louis has got its own Jim Morrison here.”
looked up at the wereleopard and cracked a smile. “A grave befitting a
rock star god. Yeah, he’d like that.”
had all happened so fast. Anita had reached for Jean-Claude. Her desire to touch him always proved irresistible when he was near.
As she did, he had suddenly seized her hand, squeezed it painfully tight, the tension in his body manifesting itself
in his grip. Anita was confused. She
heard the alarm and denial in Jean-Claude’s voice when he spoke.
no--” and then Richard had shot him twice at point blank range.
Anita could even decipher what had actually happened, Jean-Claude dropped into her arms, slumping against her body, his weight
dragging her down to the floor as she caught him. Paralyzed with dread and shock,
Anita could only stare down at his too still form as blood streamed unceasingly over her fingers and down her arms from his
chest through the two gaping wounds in his heart. Belatedly, Anita realized this
was the only essence of him she could feel now. His mind was empty and closed
to her. His life-force unceasingly poured from his body as his power to exist
slid far beyond her grasp. Anita was too overwhelmed to let herself acknowledge
the fact he was truly gone however. He had died in her arms, yet she had still
hoped and searched for some response countering the finality of it all. Futilely
she had stroked his face.
“Jean-Claude? Jean-Claude?” she had pleaded in desperation.
“Don’t do this. Don’t…. Please…don’t .”
wasn’t until Micah had screamed that Anita had looked up and blood had splattered her face.
fell from Anita’s eyes as she slumped against Jean-Claude’s grave.
love you,” she whimpered and touched the cool, unyielding stone with the palm of her small hand. “I didn’t get to tell you that--there wasn’t time for any tender last words between us. I regret that most of all. I always wonder
now if I told you enough…if I showed you enough. I think, how could you
have possibly known how much I loved you when I didn’t even realize it myself.
I still can‘t believe you‘re truly gone. I ought to. Nothing’s the same without you. I go on. But it’s not the same.” Anita paused and wiped at her eyes. “Look
at me. I’m a wreck. You’re
probably getting a real kick out of all this.” She made a sweeping gesture
at the offerings surrounding his grave and tried to smile. “You were such
an arrogant bastard. But you had every right to be. You had it going on.” Leaning forward, Anita kissed
Jean-Claude’s name. “I have to go now. It’s getting late and I’ve been summoned to appear tonight before the Master of the City. Asher insisted I stop by to see him at the Circus.” She sighed heavily and faced
the setting sun. “He’s so lonely without you, Jean-Claude. He blames himself for not being there that night. As if there
was something he could have done… As if there was something anyone could have done.
I was there…for all the good it did.”
doesn’t blame you either,” Nathaniel protested, helping Anita to her feet.
“You said it yourself; there was nothing anyone could have done. Jean-Claude
still loves you, Anita. He’d want you to go on. He’d want you to be there for Asher…and me. We
love you and we still need you.”
dusted herself off and looked up at the lovely wereleopard. He was looking back
at her, his violet-colored eyes glistened with unshed tears…and veiled anger.
Anita sighed heavily and folded him in her arms.
sorry. I can’t seem to forgive myself.
Even if they all have. I am happy I still have you, Nathaniel. I’m damned grateful, but it seems wrong to let myself be happy I’m still alive one year later.”
I’m happy you’re still here one year later. Your birthday is happy
for me, even if it isn’t happy for you,” Nathaniel told her determinedly.
smiled sadly up at him. “I understand,” she whispered and laid her
head against his chest. “I probably won’t ever celebrate my birthday
again, but I will always be happy that you weren’t at the club that night. You
had to work and you couldn’t get out of it. You were so pissed off at the
time. Ironic, huh? And Asher, being
all shy and stubborn, didn’t want to be out among all those people at the club.
I’m so happy he didn’t now. I’m so happy he was being
wave of grief and longing suddenly washed over Anita. She broke down and cried
in Nathaniel’s arms until she’d cried herself out. Nathaniel simply
let her and held her tight, gently smoothing her hair back from her tear-streaked face with his warm hand. Then he raised her face to the waning sunlight and softly kissed her upturned lips.
birthday, Anita,” he whispered and smiled.