One. There comes a time when you need to open your eyes
Synopsis: Certain fans of Laurell K. Hamilton's works have been whining as of late about the direction that the Anita Blake books have been taking. This is what might have happened if we went back to near the beginning. Only problem is, Anita missed the memo.
Setting/spoilers: Set at the beginning of Circus of the Damned. Well, sort of. Spoilers are up to the end of Incubus Dreams.
Disclaimer: Not mine, all belonging to LKH.~*~Part One
There comes a time when you need to open your eyes~*~
The phone rang. And rang. I didn't want to move, but the damn phone kept ringing.
"Nathaniel, get the phone," I moaned, drawing myself out of sleep.
Nothing. No movement, and the phone kept ringing. Nathaniel always at least moved when I asked him to get the phone.
As I got my bearings, I realized something was off. The bed was cold around me. Why hadn't I woken when Micah or Nathaniel got up? They had been here last night, and I usually at least registered on some level when one of them left.
I pulled the blanket away from my face and opened my eyes. My breath hitched in my throat and I suddenly clawed my way to sudden, extreme panic.
This was not the room I fell asleep in last night.
I had never, ever been uncertain as to where I woke up. Not when I hadn't passed out or been knocked out the night before. Sure, sometimes I was confused on how I got there, but it was never as bad as this.
I grabbed my gun from the bed's headboard and jumped out of bed. Even having the solid weight of the Browning in my hands helped to centre me.
Where was I? This room was too familiar to be comfortable. It looked like my bedroom in my old apartment, in the building I'd had to leave a couple of years ago after assassins came a-calling. I looked down at the familiar Browning in my hands and realized that the reason I had drawn it so easily was that the holster was on the headboard in the same place it had been for years.
The room was silent, the only sound my panicked breathing. I made myself take a few deep breaths and crept to the closed bedroom door. What was behind door number two? Only one way to find out.
Since I couldn't hear anything out there, I reached out with my left hand and slowly turned the knob. The door swung inward on noiseless hinges. I walked out into the silent living room and kitchen area. No signs of life, other of the angelfish swimming unconcernedly in the tank. The room was in a fake twilight, created by the heavy curtains on the windows. Everything was just as I remembered it had been, those years ago.
Dimly, I realized that the phone had stopped ringing. I lowered the Browning to the side of my leg and walked to the curtains. A quick peak outside almost blinded me. The sun was up and ready for action. I looked out onto the road, the view I hadn't seen in almost two years. Fear gripped my heart.
What was going on here? This had to be a dream. For half a second, I wondered if this was some stupid stunt that Jean-Claude was pulling on me, but I dismissed that. His dreams to me usually featured him, naked or as close to it as possible. Never anything like this. It didn't feel like a dream, it was too real, to close to be a nightmare. Usually when I dream, once I realize what's going on, I wake up. But as I thought about it, the room still looked the same, the carpet was just as rough under my bare feet.
The clock on the microwave read three o'clock. Would Jean-Claude be able to help me? I sent a wild thought to him. He was almost always awake at this time of the day, since he, Richard and I had rebonded our triumvirate a couple of months ago.
Nothing. My thoughts were met with absolutely nothing. Panicking, I reached out to Damien, my vampire servant. Even when he was dead, my magic could sense his presence, no matter how far away, a dim hum of energy around his corpse. Again, nothing.
They couldn't be dead, I told myself. I'd have felt something, right? Jean-Claude always told me that I'd feel it if he would die, for real. Desperate now, I tried calling out for Richard through our marks.
There was no response. I couldn't even sense our connection any more.
"No, no," I whispered over and over again. I tried one last time, concentrated on Nathaniel, on the way he smelled, the way he felt, the way he looked up at me with those huge lavender eyes.
Nothing. A stark, cold, black as night and not nearly as terrifying, nothing
Sometime in the middle of this, I'd fallen to my knees, my gun forgotten at my side. The background hum of the mark with Jean-Claude and Richard, and with Nathaniel and Damian, had been a constant for the last few months. Now it was gone, and I was alone.
The phone rang again, and I jumped. It was a good thing I'd subconsciously put the safety on the gun, or else I would have shot myself in the leg.
I watched the phone as it rang shrilly, before crawling over on my knees to pick it up. "Hello?" I said tentatively.
"Anita, where are you?" The voice was familiar but I couldn't immediately place it.
"I don't know," I answered shakily.
"You missed your two-thirty appointment! You have another one in ten minutes! Is there some reason that you decided not to come into work today?"
"Bert, is that you?" I asked.
There was a pause on the other end of the line. "You know damn well who this is, Anita."
My heartbeat started to return to normal. Bert was angry and that at least was familiar. "What's going on, Bert?"
"You missed your first appointment. Unless you want to whip out your broomstick and fly over, you're going to miss your second appointment. You have three raisings tonight and I am in no mood to tolerate your skiving off work. That is what's wrong."
I tried to think, but Bert's heavy breathing was distracting. "I'll be at the office soon," I said automatically. Then I looked at the gun in my hand and the too-familiar apartment "Bert, what day is it?"
He gave a growl that would have done a werewolf proud. "It's Tuesday, Ms. Blake."
"No, what's the date?"
A long suffering sigh came over the phone, before he said, "October twenty-eighth."
Cold fear erupted in my chest. "What year?" I asked.
Bert's puzzlement was audible. "2000."
I hung up the phone. No, it was wrong, all wrong. It was supposed to be 2003, and we had just passed Halloween, Larry and Tammy's wedding. What was going on?
Mechanically, I got dressed. All the underwear in my drawer was white, which was also wrong. Jean-Claude had been such a bad influence on my wardrobe over the last few years that almost all the bras and panties I owned were black, or various dark shades, anything acceptable for public and not-so-public viewing.
Over the white underwear went black nylons, a cream blouse, a dark purple skirt and suit jacket that seemed out of date. The Browning's holster went over the blouse and under the jacket. I'd strapped on my wrist sheaths before I though about what I was doing.
I went over to the phone in the kitchen as I did up the last button on my suit jacket. I dialled Guilty Pleasures and waited as the phone rang.
The answering machine clicked on. Jean-Claude's voice came over the line, silky as ever. "You have reached Guilty Pleasures. I would love to make your darkest fantasy come true. Leave a message and I will get back to you."
The machine beeped. "It's... Anita," I said. Now that I was on the phone, I had no idea of what to say. "Jean-Claude, I need to talk to you. I don't... I mean, everything's wrong. I'm in the wrong house and I can't find Nathaniel and Bert said it's the wrong year--" I made myself stop babbling. "Can you call me? I'm going into the office and I think I'll be there until an hour after dark." I paused again. "And if Jean-Claude's dead, can someone please call me and tell me? Thanks."
I hung up the phone. My heart was racing like I'd just run a mile. Maybe I'd made a mistake in calling. Maybe I should have tried the Circus. But no one else was old enough to be awake at this time of day. Well, maybe Asher, but if Jean-Claude was dead, he wouldn't be any help either.
Hesitantly, I picked up the phone again and stared at the handset for a few moments before I punched in Richard's number from memory.
I lifted the receiver to my ear and waited as the phone rang. Twice, four times, ten times.
Maybe he was dead. Maybe he was hurt, and I just couldn't feel him. Maybe--
Richard's voice sounded whole and hearty, and I froze. I just fucking froze, not able to say anything.
"Is anyone there?" Richard asked. "I can hear you breathing."
I opened my mouth to speak, to say something, but then I pulled the phone away from my ear and hung it up. I couldn't deal with this. I wasn't sure which was worse, Richard knowing who I was, or him not knowing me at all.
My knees feeling weak, I went over to the fish tank and watched the angelfish swim around lazily. I hadn't had fish in years, not since I moved to the new house. As I thought of my house, where I slept in the same bed with Micah and Nathaniel, where we were fixing up the apartment over the garage to be light-proof for Damian, where I usually found about four wereleopards a day just lying around, I felt the shiver of panic deep in my chest start to twist into fear.
This wasn't real, I told myself. This couldn't be real. I had to be dreaming. Or maybe I had been shot and was in a coma, and this was all some kind of drug-induced fantasy.
There was something else, whispering around my mind, that I couldn't deal with right now. I couldn't be dead, and this couldn't be hell.
I looked at myself in the mirror one last time. I looked pale, stunned. I pulled my hair back into a loose ponytail before I left the apartment. What was I going to do? Go into work, hope to God I woke up, wait for Jean-Claude to call me and tell me everything was all right?
Why didn't I believe any of it would happen?~*~
I walked up and down the parking lot two times before I realized that the reason I couldn't find my Jeep was that when I had this apartment, I'd owned a Nova. Vampires trashed the poor Nova, and then I'd bought a Jeep. Werehyenas ate that
car, and I'd bought another Jeep. It was much easier to carry goats in a Jeep than a tiny Nova. Chickens, though, they fit no problem.
I opened the Nova's driver door and then sat behind the wheel for a few minutes. Everything felt so old. I felt so old. Where was Nathaniel? I wondered. Did he wake up without me this morning, wondering where I was? And what about Micah? What was he thinking?
An unfamiliar pain settled in my throat and my chest, panic like I had never felt before. It hurt to breathe. I thought about Nathaniel again, and Micah, Damien and all my wereleopards, Jean-Claude and Asher. I was scared I'd never see them again. What if I was dead? What if this was hell? Would they miss me? Would my death destroy Jean-Claude and Richard?
A car pulled into the parking slot next to mine and someone got out. It was enough to jar me back into myself.
I started the car and drove away. The car seemingly drove itself to the offices of Animators Inc., where I parked in my usual spot. It seemed odd to look at the Nova. Like it was waiting until it grew up to be a real car.
I came in the door to the offices to see Mary, the daytime secretary, typing away at her keyboard. Nice to know some things never change.
"Anita!" Mary said in a low voice. "Your client is in the office. Mr. Vaughn is keeping him company."
Bert and a new client. Joy in the morning. "Thanks," I said absently. "Mary, have you gotten any strange phone calls from the police recently?"
Mary stared, then shook her head. Her hair did not move. "No, none." She sounded puzzled.
It was worth a try. I shrugged and went back to the office with the closed door. We should have had the whole floor, recently renovated to let us each have our own office. But the office was only half the size, like it had been before the therapists next door moved out. There were only three offices in our little section of the building. Bert had one, and we animators shared around.
I tapped on the door, then went in. Bert was behind the desk, wearing his client face. The one that promised anything and was as real as a thirteen-dollar bill.
The client turned around when Bert looked up. It was a man, with thinning brown hair and washed-out blue eyes. He seemed vaguely familiar.
"Anita," Bert said through a really fake smile. "I was just regaling Mr. Phillips with tales of Animator Inc.'s star animator."
My fist ached with my desire to punch Bert in the face. I managed to smile back. "Sorry to have kept you waiting." I moved around to the other side of the desk and glared at Bert until he stood up and moved.
I sat down and faced the unassuming Mr. Phillips as Bert made polite noises and vacated the office.
I looked down at the file in front of me. The words didn't seem to make any sense. I shook my head a couple of times and looked again.
Mr. Phillips wanted to raise his dead mother to ask her about a potential sibling. There had been a rumour going around, recently confirmed by an aged aunt, that his mother had given up a baby for adoption before she was married. Mr. Phillips wanted to see if that was the fact, to meet any potential family.
I reassured Mr. Phillips that the raising would be no trouble, that zombies did indeed tell the truth, and that we would be happy to schedule him for a raising in early November. I sent the pleased client away, to make an appointment with Mary. The mother wasn't ten years dead. I should be able to raise her with a chicken, I thought, and made a few doodles in the record.
I was frowning at the file when Bert stormed back into the office like a well-dressed typhoon.
"Where the hell were you this afternoon?" Bert asked.
"I've already done this," I said, ignoring him. "We raised the mom, she gave up the location of the adoption, and Mr. Phillips found his elder sister running a bakery. Why am I looking at this file again?"
Bert was back to breathing in and out through his nose. Maybe he had been taking meditation classes. "Mr. Phillips was recommended to us by a previous client. I just got his check today. We've never dealt with him before. What are you on about?"
I stared at him. His hair was longer than it was yesterday, by about an inch. "Are you wearing a toupee?" I asked.
Bert turned and walked out of the office. Fine by me. I got up to put the Phillips file into one of the filing cabinets. After I slid the N-P drawer shut, I stood, staring at the metal cabinets for a while.
If Bert was right, and it was three years ago, then I would never have raised the Bouliver dead, or Gordon Bennington, Peter McMartin or Betty Schneider. I wouldn't have been called in as a consultant to find Peggy Smitz, whose husband George came in to hire us to find her, just days after he killed her himself, or any of the other millions of things I'd done. I hesitated, but eventually reached for the A-C cabinet.~*~
An hour later, I had a headache, a sore neck, and was cold with fear. I couldn't find anything from the past three years. Not only that, I couldn't find anything with Larry Kirkland's name on it. Larry had only come to work at Animators Inc. a few days before Halloween in 2000, so if I couldn't find anything with his name, that meant it was 2000, right?
Hence the headache.
I re-filed all of the folders and shut the drawers. To say I was confused didn't nearly cover it. Maybe stunned. Or maybe I'd gone stark raving mad.
I wandered out to the coffee maker. Which mug was mine? Bert made me change them so often. I glanced over the cups, wondered if I'd brought in the horrible orange one with jack o'lanterns on it, then settled on a nice white one that read "Piss me off, pay the consequences." No one else in the office had the sunny disposition to use that mug.
I poured myself a cup of luke-warm coffee and downed half of it, black, in one go. I filled the mug full again and added a few heaping teaspoons of sugar and some real cream from the little fridge under the coffee maker. While I was putting the cream back, I noticed a box full of doughnuts, that was sporting a little note in my co-worker Charles's handwriting: "Help yourself."
That was my motto. I took two doughnuts. I must not have realized how hungry I was, because I scarfed one down in under a minute.
"It's amazing how anyone with your eating habits can stay so... slender," came a voice behind me. I resisted the urge to sigh.
"This meal's got the four major food groups, John. Caffeine, sugar, fat and refined flour." I turned around after I swallowed. John Burke stood behind me, posing against a wall. If I'd just met him for the first time, and had been the type to melt in my socks, I'd be a puddle on the floor. The king of vadaun, deposed from New Orleans after a disagreement between him and the cops, was tall, dark and handsome. His black hair had a streak of white in it that only served to highlight his handsome face. Once upon a time, he'd sported a goatee that made him look like an evil genius, but now he was clean-shaven.
He was a looker, and he knew it. We'd tried to date, soon after he'd come to town for his brother's funeral. You know how some people say they'd like to like to date someone just like themselves? Don't listen to them. John was too much like me for anyone's comfort. We both raised the dead, both killed vampires. We also both had chips on our shoulders and egos the size of a small city-state. In short, it didn't work.
"I thought the four food groups were contained in an Irish coffee: Caffeine, fat, sugar and alcohol." John smirked at me.
"You know I despise alcohol."
"One of your many faults." The smirk changed to a grin. "I see you're taking Bert's office wear ultimatum to heart."
Damn. Was I doing something Bert wanted? "What are you talking about?"
"You know how he wants us to look professional while on the job. Are you going to wear that skirt to the cemetery tonight?"
I shrugged. "I thought of swapping clothes with you, but I don't think I'd be able to wear your pants."
John's eyes narrowed. He knew I didn't exactly hold truck with his idea of how a lady should act. The pants comment was baiting him, and I was sort of sorry I'd started it. But it was just a knee-jerk reaction when I was faced with a... well, jerk.
Instead I smiled and took my doughnut and coffee lunch with me, past John, to Mary's desk. She looked up expectantly.
"Is there anything I can do?" she asked. She was always so nice to me. Maybe that's why I tried to be nice to her. Perhaps there was a lesson in that.
"Can I see my schedule? I'm having a hard time remembering what's on for today."
If Mary was surprised, she didn't show it. Instead, she opened the large appointment book to the correct date and pushed it across the desk to me.
There were three appointments that night under my name. I flipped the page to the next day, and frowned.
"What the hell am I doing with an appointment with that moron Reubens tomorrow?" I demanded. If I remembered right, Reubens was doing time in Club Fed after Humans First's little rampage, hitting vampires and lycanthropes both in a wave of gunfire and arson. "Is he out of jail?"
"Mr. Vaughn made the appointment, you should ask him," Mary said, looking a bit nervous.
I mumbled something rather uncomplimentary about Bert under my breath. "These appointments I have tonight, do you have the..." I trailed off as Mary handed me the files from the appropriate spot on her desk. "Thanks."
I hooked both the doughnut and my coffee mug though the fingers on my right hand and picked up the folders with my left. On my way back to the office, I passed John, still leaning against the wall. I stopped and looked at him.
"John, do animators ever go crazy?"
An eyebrow went up. "Not really," he said. "There's a greater chance of turning into a megalomaniac or to go full-out evil, but we don't go crazy any more than any one else with preternatural powers."
Gee, that was comforting. I went and locked myself in the office.~*~
Dark falls softly in October. My first appointment was at nine in a cemetery not too far out of town. I could make it there in under an hour. And I should eat something before I went. Grandmother Flores always said never to raise the dead on an empty stomach. If the animator works hungry, the zombie usually rises hungry. And because zombies tend to eat human flesh...
Why was I doing this, pretending that nothing was wrong? Because maybe nothing was wrong. Everybody I'd talked to was perfectly normal, like this day and year were what was supposed to happen. It seemed that I was the one who was broken. I'd play along for a while. It wasn't the worst idea I'd ever had.
But why did I keep hoping with every breath that I would wake up?
The phone on my desk rang. I picked it up, and it was Mary, telling me that I had a call. The hold music played in my ear while she transferred the call.
"Ma petite, what do I owe the pleasure of your call?" Jean-Claude asked over the line. His voice was simple seduction, and I'd never heard a more welcome sound.
"Oh, thank God, you're all right," I said, a rush of relief warming me down to my toes.
"It would appear so, ma petite." There was a pause. "When you said, in your message, that if anything had happened to me that you wanted someone to call you, what did you mean?"
"I meant I wanted to know if you were okay." Why was I lying to him? Why didn't I just ask why it was the wrong year? What the hell was wrong with me?
"That is not what I mean, my little flower. Why did you think something had happened?"
"I couldn't feel you through the marks," I said. "And don't call me that."
There was the silence of the grave on the other end of the line. "Ma petite, with the second mark, you are not able to reach me while you are awake."
"What do you mean, second mark?" I demanded, then stopped. Jean-Claude hadn't given me the third mark for the first time until after I was bit by the lamia. At this point, we had only been two marks deep. "Oh, fuck."
"Ma petite, what are you thinking?"
I buried my head in my free hand. "I woke up and everything was wrong. I thought it was... something, but maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm wrong."
"If you let me give you the remaining two marks, you will be immune from madness," Jean-Claude said carefully.
"Now that's the biggest load of bullshit I've gotten from you in months," I snapped. "Immunity from poison, I'll give you. But whom the vampires wish to destroy, they first make mad."
"Are you thinking of Nikolaos, my little animator?"
I let a breath out in a hiss. Now that I knew he was all right, I was getting irritated by him. Never let it be said that I'm consistent. "No, I'm not. I'm not falling for that 'once you become my human servant you'll be safe' crap. And what's wrong with my name? Just try saying it. Anita. Ah-neet-ah"
I could almost hear him smiling. "Anita." The word slid through my mind, drifting down my body like the touch of cool skin under silk sheets.
I sighed. There were a million things I wanted to say, needed to know, but I couldn't say any of them. "As fun as the verbal foreplay is, I have to go to work now," I said.
"Is it vampires to slay or zombies to raise tonight?" He actually sounded interested. Did I buy it? Nah.
"Just zombies. And only three. Bert scheduled a meeting for me tomorrow morning with that jackass Reubens. Then maybe I'll be able to get some sleep."
"Only three zombies?" Jean-Claude sounded surprised. "I was under the impression that even among the best of you, three zombies was the top of the load."
"No. John can do four a night, if he's really pressed and they're young. I did seven once, although I ran out of bandages and dripped blood on the car all the way home."
"Hmm." Jean-Claude's voice was neutral, too neutral. "Anita, why do you not admit that you are my human servant? Together we could do great things."
I opened my mouth to remind him that I'd admitted I was his human servant in front of vampires and humans alike, but I caught myself. "I'm not sure the kinds of great things you're thinking about would interest me."
"So you are sure?"
"But you just said..."
I cut him off. "Jean-Claude. Good-bye."
He was chuckling at me as I hung up on him. I was perversely pleased that he was acting normal. For a four-hundred-year-old Master of the City incubus vampire.
As I closed the office door behind me, the slight click of the bolt startled me. "What the hell am I doing?" I whispered as I laid my head on the cool wood of the door. I didn't know. Maybe if I played along, I'd figure something out?
What was I going to do if that didn't work?