Disclaim Her: I own nothing. Except my genius, which I gladly share with the world.
1: 40 reviews say Update on Wednesday.
2: So that's it. It's over. Finished. Done. I'm totally baffled still. This has been going so long and now it's....over. I'm stating here and now that there will be no stories that follow up to the end of this. However, I'm more than willing to fill in spaces I left wide open. If you have any ideas or wishes, things you would like to see, just leave a comment or send me a mail and I bet I'll write it. I'm too much in love with this still to let it go completly.
3: And last but not least, my faithful reviewers. Without you guys, I never would have written Mercy
(the second part) much less any of the eight that followed after. Your comments made me happy and giddy and try to write better. I can't thank you all enough. So I hope that you like the ending I'm giving you, although it's not the sappy fluffy love fest some of you wished for.
And now on with the story...
+How to Love
We entered the Circus with Rafael, Jason, Jamil, Shang-Da and Damien at our backs. Lissbeth shared a quick glance with Jean-Claude before fading into the shadows. She was the one ace we had up our (in my case nonexistent) sleeves.
As expected, there was some grandstanding, some bitching and some plain old insulting. What could be more satisfying than spending your night trading niceties with psychopathic, old as dirt monsters? Don’t answer that.
Jean-Claude seemed to be as fed up with the games as I was for once and called the Council on their bluff, although in a very diplomatic way of course.
“A honeyed tongue, Master of the City,“ Padma admitted, “But the point remains you have been a poor host. I have fed through my servants.”
“A poor host?” the voice came mockingly out of the dark with an edge to it, like a knife draped under velvet. One wrong move, and the blade would cut through the velvet and right into where it hurts the most. The voice was followed by Lissbeth stepping out of the shadows, the black wool coat she’d been wearing when we first met trailing behind her softly.
“What hospitality do you expect for showing up here without valid reason or invitation, much less permission, Padma? If I were in Jean-Claude’s position you would have faced the sunlight this morning with no shelter to run to and no place to hide you and your cowardice.” She hissed the last sharply, but there was no need for intimidation. Padma had frozen as soon as she’d stepped out of the shadows. He was very visibly terrified.
Behind him, Gideon grinned broadly.
Luckily for Padma, the Traveller chose that moment to make his entrance in a body Malcom had offered him for the duration of his stay in St. Louis. Which would, hopefully, not be all that long. He chose to ignore Lissbeth for the time being. Probably a smart move. Once again the subject was how the Council had fed. The Traveller had used his powers to feed of the vampires in the city, in the process causing the young ones to rise early. But he hadn’t been able to touch our vampires.
“I could not steal their energy and feed on them,” he told us, clearly impressed. “You prevented that,” he told Jean-Claude, “And that impressed me more than anything else I have seen from you. It reeks of a power I never would have expected from you. Not now, not a thousand years from now.”
Lissbeth smirked, walking closer to us but taking care to stay away from Jean-Claude. “I told you, Traveller, centuries ago that you underestimated him grossly. You all did.”
He inclined his head in her direction. “But you never did, did you, Lissbeth? It has been too long since we have heard anything from you.”
She gave a short bark of laughter. “Stop blowing sugar up my ass, Traveller. You’re the only Council member I ever held respect for, don’t ruin it now. You didn't miss me one second.”
The Traveller’s back straightened and he threw his head back and laughed. “I knew there was a reason you were the favourite thorn in my side! Let me be the first of the Council to welcome you back to the world of the somewhat living.”
Lissbeth gave a curt nod of respect, her eyes fixed on a dark corner. Promptly, Yvette, Liv and Warrick emerged from it. But where she had bantered happily with the Traveller, she had only a cold gaze filled with contempt for Yvette. It seemed the two of us were in perfect agreement over which Council people were bearable and which were despicable. Nice to know I wasn't the only one.
Warrick stepped forward, taking Lissbeth’s hand in his and kissing it gently. Behind his back, Yvette was seething.
“Mistress,“ he addressed Lissbeth, “It is a joy to see you back amongst our people.”
She smiled brilliantly at him, before releasing the hand she’d grabbed a hold of, out of Yvette’s sight. He returned to her side like an obedient puppy, but he looked happier than before. More relaxed. And so did I until the next catastrophe waiting to happen walked into the room.
His outfit was… aggressive at least. He wore nothing but leather boots and pants and even those left lots and lots of skin visible from hip down to mid calf. He was a study in opposites, one side of his body perfect beauty, the other a horrible painting of scars and molten flesh. He came walking into the room with his anger and aimless rage wrapped around him like a cloak.
I looked at Lissbeth to see her reaction. There wasn't one. She looked at him, completely neutral, unflinching.
“Anita, Jean-Claude, so good of you to join us,” he greeted. His voice was a mockery of his words as he stalked past us to stand in front of Lissbeth, staring down at her with so much anger.
“And you, Mistress
,” he flung the word at her, “decided to rejoin us in our little hell, have you?” his lips curled in a cruel smile, the muscles beneath the scarred skin working perfectly.
She just stood there, perfectly composed and not in the least intimidated. “You are wasting your frustration and anger on me, Asher. You know that it won’t work.”
For a second he looked like he wanted to take a step back from her calm but he stopped himself, instead hissing at her. “So you would have me believe that you are not disgusted by me?”
“You know me best of all, mon ami. Tell me if I am disgusted by something that is a part of you.”
The change was so sudden anyone who blinked probably missed it. Asher’s stance relaxed, his hands unclenched, his face softened beneath the scars. The anger drained out of him like it had drained out of Jean-Claude at sunset. Only that his wasn't replaced with doubt and pain, but a feeling much warmer. Love.
He lifted a hand to her face, brushing a strand of blonde hair behind her ear and there was a smile on his face. It was small but full of tentative hope.
“I missed you,” he whispered.
“And I missed you,” she admitted, standing on tiptoe to press a kiss to his lips. It wasn’t a lover’s kiss but that of a friend, a mother, a sister. A kiss between people who love each other enough to have no need for bodily expressions of said love. Asher’s arms wound loosely around her waist and he leant his forehead against hers for a moment, chuckling quietly. Then he moved to stand beside her, one arm still around her.
Asher stood on our side of the room now, like he’d never been anywhere else and I suddenly had a hard time connecting him to the bitter monster I’d seen the night before.
I looked at Jean-Claude out of the corner of my eye and caught a wistful smile on his lips as he watched his two lost loves stand beside each other. Lissbeth met his gaze and gifted him with one of her rare smiles. It was perfectly pure and innocent. It was what was left of Buffy, the dying girl, the woman chasing her lost love, and it was beautiful.
Lissbeth went head to head with Padma shortly after that, and she crushed him. She threw her power at him, flung it in his face without restraint. He fell to his knees, taking Gideon and Thomas with him and Lissbeth was there, kneeling above him on one knee. She bent down until it looked almost as if she was kissing him and she hissed pure venom at him. Enough so that he agreed to give us Fernando, his son who I had promised to bring to the Pack’s Geri, Sylvie. He’d raped her and she wanted his blood as payment.
There were tears in his eyes as he handed his only child over to us in a shaky voice.
And just like that Lissbeth was on her feet again, looking nothing like the dangerous monster she’d been only seconds before. Padma got to his feet with the help of the rest of his triumvirate. He was shaking and bleeding out of nose, mouth, eyes and ears.
Just then, Harry stepped into the room. He was one of Yvette’s line and he’d helped her work the Third Inferno.
“Our Master demands that we be monsters so the human’s will revoke our rights,” she informed us. “And a monster I will be! I made Warrick lay those fires in the other cities we visited and now he will burn this City to the ground. And we will be blamed for it. We will be monsters once more!”
There was a fanatic gleam in her eyes as she yelled at us and I put the pieces together. There had been big fires recently, in the cities the Council had travelled through. It had been assumed that it was a firebug playing with their powers. Now, I realized that Warrick was the firebug. He called it God’s cleansing fire that had returned to him after a thousand years of sin.
Then he wrapped Yvette into a tight hug and set her on fire. They both burned brightly to Yvette’s screams.
Someone took half a step forward, as if to help them or rather, Warrick. Lissbeth stopped them quickly.
“He’s wanted to be free for as long as I have known him. Let him have his freedom at last.”
Something in her voice made me face her. It was subdued longing, an old ache in her words. I said, “You know how he feels, don’t you?”
She shook her head, smiling sadly. “That was a different life, Anita. Buffy’s life. And she’s free now. I’m free. Free to be where I always wanted to be.”
Her eyes wandered to flit to Asher and then settled on Jean-Claude. I nodded my understanding.
And Yvette burnt to cinders in Warrick’s arms.
Three nights later the Council was long gone, thanks to Lissbeth’s threat to wage war on them if they ever touched Jean-Claude or what was his again.
“He’ll always have my protection, as long as either of us wakes at night. And I will rain hell on you if you hurt him in any way.”
Even after 400 years of absence, or maybe because of, her word still held a lot of weight. Enough so that the Traveller didn’t even want to spent another day in the city. Only Asher stayed with us.
I visited the Circus in hopes of finding out what was going on. I hadn’t heard from anyone since the Council lost and left. Anyone except Richard. We’d spent a lot of the last three days talking. We weren't over our problems but we’d agreed to work on them. It was all I could ask for. The leopards had all gone home except Nathaniel who had declared himself Lissbeth’s new personal pet. She hadn’t liked that anymore than me and made him her pomme de sang. He was happy with it.
Jean-Claude sat across from me, fixing the cuffs of his frilly white silk shirt.
“Where are Lissbeth and Asher?”
“So you still haven’t worked out your differences, huh?”
He gave me another one of those pretty shrugs that said nothing at all.
“So what are they planning to do now?” I asked, deciding to change the subject.
He shrugged again, pulling me to my feet wordlessly. We walked through the maze that is the Circus of the Damned after sunset until we reached a simple grey metal door. We walked up a few flights of stairs and before I knew it we were on the roof of the warehouse the Circus was built in. It was actually nice up here.
Against the lights from below I could make out Lissbeth and Asher sitting at the edge of the roof, their feet dangling in the air.
They both turned to look at us as the door fell closed behind me. Lissbeth raised an eyebrow in question and Jean-Claude informed her, “I was on my way up here when ma petite came for a visit.”
That seemed enough for her because she nodded and smiled at me in greeting. I asked, “So what are the two of you going to do now?”
Asher turned fully around. “We thought about going back to Europe. We would fetch Valentina from the Council and maybe go back to the old castle. I believe it still exists. After that, we do not know what we will do.”
Jean-Claude took a few steps closer to them, while I remained where I was. He looked at Lissbeth.
“The leopards have no-one to look after them since their leader is dead. They need a new Nimir-ra or someone else with a connection to them to grant them their protection.”
Lissbeth grinned at him. “Is that an invitation to stay here with you, mon chère?”
The Master of the City shrugged but his face betrayed his hopes. I smiled.
“I hope so,” he admitted, “because I have already sent for Valentina.”
Asher and Lissbeth both threw their heads back and laughed loudly, happily. As one they reached out and pulled the black haired vampire to sit between them on their perch overlooking the city. The three of them cuddled together, Lissbeth with her head on Jean-Claude’s chest and once again I felt like a voyeur.
But this time there was nothing holding me in place. I turned and was almost back at the door when I heard Lissbeth ask, “Is that….”
I turned to see that she was holding a small pendant that Jean-Claude wore on a chain around his neck. It sparkled silver and red in the lights from below.
He nodded, “Yes.”
She looked up into his face as Asher watched passively. “Are you giving it back?”
He shook his head, gently pulling the pendant from her grasp and tucking it back into his shirt. Then he wrapped his arm loosely around Asher’s waist.
“No,” he said quietly, “not yet.”