Last Call at the Sunset Grill

January 22, 2002
last modified November 28, 2002

by Tim Phillips

Fanfiction based on the Sony/TriStar television program Forever Knight.  Comments to (TimP@DEC.ANR.STATE.VT.US) please.


        Natalie Lambert shook her head.

        She had been staring at the Caribbean waves as they lapped ashore on the sands of the beach.  Watching as the sunlight sparkled on little droplets of water turned to gems for a moment.  The waves were hypnotic if one was lost in thought.  And soothing when one was very tired.  Watching waves had lulled Natalie asleep countless times in the past; she smiled to herself as she recognized her own pattern.

        How many years had this beach been her bedroom?

        Natalie looked up over her sunglasses, at the underside of the broad beach umbrella that shaded her.

        The word "FOREVER" blazed in bright red on the fabric, stretching like batwings over Natalie's head.

        Below it was the date on which Nicholas had given her the umbrella as a gift -- July 13, 2121.  That was over five years ago now.  Five years in which Natalie had regarded this beach as her bedroom.  She had slept out here in the open under her umbrella from dawn until dusk every day that it was possible, only being forced indoors to Nicholas's bed when the weather was stormy or one of them had simply wanted the other close.

        Natalie thought how different that was.

        There had been a time in her life when her bed felt empty.  When she had so much wanted to extend a hand or a foot and find someone who loved her just inches away under the covers, warm and trusting and hers.  That felt so . . . young . . . now.  There had been someone else in her bed for over a century now, physically cold but hot with emotions.  And in a century, she'd found that the need for physical reassurance, the need to confirm that "he is still here," had dulled.  Nick would always be there.  Forever.

        Natalie had slept out that first day as a lark, telling Nick that she still felt the marrow cold of Toronto winters in her bones and wanted to warm them up.  Nick had laughed and kissed her and wished her a good day's sleep.  Natalie had been living the life of a vampire for almost a century and a half by then.  Awake all night.  Asleep behind shuttered windows and locked doors all day.  It was a pattern she had established before Nick and hadn't really thought about until that first day asleep in the warm heat of the sun.  She had eased awake that day listening to the gulls pass overhead, the waves surging ashore.  She had opened her eyes as the night came on, sweeping before it a picture-perfect sunset that made the passing clouds glow with different colors.

        On the beach was warmth and beauty and a whole new world of sensations to indulge.

        When she had told Nick she wanted to keep sleeping on the beach, there had been a century's comfort between them to cushion the conversation.  Nick had taken no offense at Natalie wishing to sleep in the sun instead of with him.  Closing on his millennium birthday, Nick understood the need and desire for change.  The wish to explore new things.  And the last thing he was about to deny Natalie was the very sunshine he wished to walk in himself.

        Natalie was now an icon.

        In town, they called her "The Lady of the Beach."

        Natalie found the recognition both amusing and disquieting.  She was still a woman whose friendships were bounded more by opportunity than by choice -- she'd make friends with anyone she had the chance to meet.  The recognition brought people she would otherwise never have met into her world.  The need for anonymity tempered that, the fact that there were aspects of her life about which no mortal could ever know.  That hidden world demanded its isolation and insisted Natalie keep acquaintances at a certain distance.  She had honed that balancing act down through the decades as they hopped from home to home across the globe.

        The chaise lounge on which Natalie slept was heavily padded and comfortable, but she had been sitting too still for too long.  Natalie stood and stretched.  She wore a white one-piece bathing suit -- very conservative by the standards of twenty-second-century Cuba -- and her skin was almost as pale as that snow-white swimsuit.  Since the cancer cure of 2026, deep tans had come into vogue again across much of North America.  Natalie's pale skin made her stand out in the company of mortals, but blended her perfectly with those amidst whom she spent many of her waking hours.  Natalie gathered up a flimsy, transparent wrap, wild with purple flowers, and put it across her shoulders and chest.  In her youth, such a garment would just provide color against her skin; modern fabric technology meant that the wrap was as good as SPF100 sunblock and would wick moisture from her skin to keep her cool.  A broad-brimmed sunhat, iridescent pearl streaked with purple, hung from a hook on her umbrella's pole.  Natalie put the sunhat on her head and poked a toe in the sand outside the shade of the umbrella.

        Satisfied that she wasn't about to burn her feet, Natalie walked out from under her umbrella and down the sun-warmed sands to the water's edge.  Warm on Natalie's bare feet, the ocean smelled strongly of salt and the open sea.  Natalie stood at the edge of the Caribbean, letting the waves alternatively cover and uncover her toes as she wiggled them in the moist sand.

        It was a beautiful day.

        A cobalt blue sky with only a few high white clouds sliding before a warm ocean breeze.  It was warm, but not hot, and Natalie had the beach to herself at this time.

        A perfect day in paradise.

        Natalie suddenly felt very tired.

        She stood for a while longer, tired, but trying to ignore it so she could enjoy the warm water and the feeling of the living ocean washing against her skin.

        Eventually, Natalie turned and walked back up the beach toward her umbrella.

        She looked at the Sunset Grill as she walked.  Situated at the beach-edge, the restaurant with the wide front porch sat up on piers over the beach itself.  There was a scattering of customers at the tables on the porch.  Natalie noticed Juan coming out the wide porch doors with a tray of drinks for customers.  By the time Juan finished serving, Natalie had her handphone out of the beachbag.  A speed-dial button started the device chiming.

        Natalie saw Juan turn to face her across the beach and she waved a greeting as Juan's voice came through the handphone.

        "Yes, Natalie?  What can I do for you?"

        Natalie liked Juan.  He'd been the head daytime steward for a couple of years and was always the one assigned to Natalie if she needed something on the beach.  Juan did more than serve Natalie; he took care of her as well, watching for people or weather that might give her trouble.

        Natalie looked at Juan's face while she spoke to him.  "Would you come to me?  Please?"  Natalie requested.

        Juan nodded.  "Yes.  I'll be right down."

        Natalie flipped the handphone off and put it aside.  She was hanging her sunhat back on the umbrella pole when Juan arrived.

        "Good afternoon, Natalie," Juan greeted her.

        Natalie smiled radiantly at Juan.  "Hello, Juan.  Last call at the Sunset Grill."

        Juan smile shifted to confusion.  "I don't understand.  It's mid-afternoon.  Last call isn't for . . ."

        Natalie cut him off with a gentle wave of her hand to clear the air between them.  "Private joke," Natalie explained.  "I would like you to bring me something from the wine cellar.  There is a bottle in the owner's reserve.  It is a square glass bottle.  It should be easy to find.  It is the only one with the name 'Lambert' on it.  I'd like that bottle and a brandy snifter and a small bottle of spring water."

        Juan nodded and glanced around under the umbrella.  "I'll also bring down another small table to hold things for you."

        Natalie smiled again, happy at the forethought for her comfort.  "Thank you."

        Juan returned up the beach to the bar while Natalie stretched out on her lounge to wait.

        Natalie had her toes flexed and spread, feeling the warm wind drying the seawater and sand between them, when Juan came back down, effortlessly carrying a serving tray with one hand and a folding table with the other.  Juan set the table up where Natalie could reach it and put the tray atop it.

        The Sunset Grill had a reputation for one of the finest wine-cellars in Cuba.  As head steward, Juan had served a lot of vintage bottles.  He paid attention to his job, and the bottle of brandy he'd retrieved for Natalie had gotten his curiosity going.  "This is a very old bottle," Juan commented.  "I've never even heard of this label."

        Natalie tucked her sunglasses up into her hair and gently took the bottle from the tabletop.  She examined it with fond eyes.  "The label doesn't exist anymore.  This bottle was bought in Toronto, Canada, almost a century and a half ago."

        "This brandy is over a century old?"  Juan confirmed.

        Natalie nodded, caressing the bottle with gentle hands.

        Juan couldn't help asking.  "How did such an old bottle get here?"

        Natalie smiled and handed the bottle back to Juan.  "Could you open it, please?"

        She totally ignored Juan's question and he recognized it for a very polite indication that it was none of his business where the bottle had come from or how it had gotten to the cellar of the Sunset Grill.  Juan opened the bottle for Natalie.  "Shall I pour some?" Juan asked.

        Natalie nodded.  "Quarter glass, no water, please."

        Juan poured into the snifter and handed it to Natalie.  He put the bottle on the side table.  "Anything else?" he asked.

        Natalie rolled the snifter in her hands, watching the amber fluid, then looked up at Juan and smiled as brightly as the afternoon sun.  "All set, Juan.  Thank you."

        Juan retreated up the beach to the Grill.

        Natalie sat for a while, watching the sky, listening to the surf.  When she took a sip, the brandy was exquisitely smooth with a slight aftertaste of smoke.  It slid over her tongue like velvet and jolted her stomach with a warm high-proof heat.

        Hours passed with Natalie sipping very old, very fine brandy and enjoying the warm beach.  She ignored the springwater Juan had brought and, by drinking straight brandy, had a very decent buzz going when she decided to read the letter from Tracy.

        Javier Vachon had crossed Tracy over on the eve of her thirtieth birthday -- at Tracy's insistence.  For a while, it had amused a select group that the most decorated detectives in Toronto were both vampires.  Tracy and Vachon had left Toronto before Natalie and Nicholas.  Since then, the crew that reformed around Tracy and Vachon had crossed paths from time to time with the little LaCroix family.  The world was a large place, but the community of vampires was fairly small.

        Currently, Tracy and Vachon lived on an estate in Spain -- a return to Vachon's roots in which the crew had been engaged for some years.  The letter from Tracy was archaic in that it was written with a pen on paper.  Tracy and Natalie agreed that there was a warmth to each other's handwriting well worth the time and trouble to use such an old-fashioned technique.

        A combination of the fine brandy and the fact that the letter was in Spanish made Natalie take longer than normal to read it.  Natalie finally set the letter aside with a warm satisfaction.  Her friend was doing well.  Vachon was once again attentive -- there had been fidelity problems with Urs back in the fifties (the 2050s) -- and Tracy was happy with the bustle of running the estate.  A return letter, already written, waited in Natalie's desk.  That letter was in English -- instead of Natalie's normal French -- but it was English of an idiom and slang dead over a century.  To anyone who spoke the English of the twenty-second century, the letter would have sounded awkward and overly written.  To Natalie, it tasted of her historic Canadian home.  She knew that it would remind Tracy of when they were both young and beginning their lives.

        Natalie poured more brandy.

        The late afternoon shadows now stretched away from the beach, as the sun settled low onto the horizon.

        The day was nearly spent.  Soon, it would be dusk.  Then night.

        Natalie drank the glass down in a single long swallow, coughing slightly at the bite of the brandy and the warm explosion in her stomach.  She leaned back into her chaise lounge, empty glass in her hand, tapping it gently against the lounge's wooden arm, staring out to sea.

        Natalie drifted, focused on nothing.  There was nothing speaking within her.  Only silence.

        The brandy made her feel warm and relaxed but did little to fill the void in her soul.

        Her last sunset was magnificent.

        Its beauty pleased Natalie.

        And reassured her that it would be equally beautiful even tomorrow.

        Dark twilight swept in with speed.




        Natalie roused herself.

        Her shoulders and hips ached, but she got to her feet and bent to find the nondescript silver case in her beachbag.  The stiff clasp resisted her, but finally opened.  The plastic rack inside held three vials of pale green fluid.  In terms of dollars spent and years of research invested, the case represented the most expensive medicine in the world.  Natalie knew of no other cure well over a century in the making.

        She closed the case and held it carefully as she walked up the beach toward the porch.

        Natalie paused at the base of the steps to catch her breath.

        When she finally ascended the steps, she went slowly with a stiffness in her right hip that made her climb one wooden riser at a time.

        Natalie paused again as she made the porch, steadying herself against a railing post while she looked about.

        With dusk, the wakened vampires had joined the mortal crowd.

        The porch tables were nearly full, but Natalie found Nicholas easily.  She had no children, no way to test the hypothesis that a mother could find her child in a crowd, but Natalie had discovered she could find her immortal lover in any gathering: Nicholas was the one who made her soul warm.

        Nick sat with Janette and Lucien at a table in the far corner.  They chatted animatedly.

        Natalie stood and watched her friends.

        Once, Lucien LaCroix and Janette had occupied her nightmares.

        Now, they were her constant companions.

        Natalie had asked LaCroix only once about his change of heart, his acceptance of Natalie in Nick's life.

        The old general had given Natalie what she'd come to recognize as a friendly smile, and told her in soft tones that chilled her spine about a terrible dream: the vampire community laid waste by a virus; Tracy dead in a shoot-out; a failed attempt at a cure that left Natalie dead by Nick's own hand and Nicholas staked by LaCroix to end his eternal pain -- a chain of events that LaCroix felt began with a lack of acceptance of his son and his different views on vampirism.  LaCroix had finished explaining himself, then smiled again and politely asked Natalie never to raise the subject in the future.  There had been no threat or hint of threat in LaCroix's voice.  Just the polite request of a man from a civilization that was a wellspring of western culture and custom.  A request from someone who was supposed to matter to Natalie since LaCroix mattered to Nicholas.

        Natalie had honored LaCroix's request.  The terror of that dream that she'd seen in LaCroix's eyes and heard in his soft voice was more than she wished to experience again.  LaCroix accepted her.  Janette accepted her.  Nicholas accepted her.  With these friends, all had been right with the world for over a century.

        Nicholas spotted Natalie through the crowd and his face lit up.

        Second-oldest woman on the island and I can still make his heart-strings go zing!  Natalie laughed at herself.  She smiled at her paramour and started the trek across the porch to the corner table.

        Nicholas met her a little over halfway.

        "Are you all right?" he asked with concern.  "What have you done to your leg?"

        Natalie made a placating gesture with her free hand.  "Twisted my ankle.  I'm fine."

        Nick accepted her explanation and stepped forward for a kiss.

        Normally, in public, Natalie was only comfortable with an almost chaste kiss and quick squeeze.

        This time, as her arms closed around Nick's strong shoulders, she drew him in and stepped up, pressing herself against his body with a wiggle, lips open and eyes closed in extended invitation.  Nicholas accepted her offer and the kiss was long and heated.  Natalie was the one who eventually called it off, breathless and flushing with amorous heat.  Nick leaned his head back.  He had no breath to catch, but it took him a moment to calm his emotions.  Gently, he tucked a lock of Natalie's hair behind her ear.  It was gesture born of a desire for intimacy rather than any attempt to correct her hair-do.

        "Good evening," Natalie said with an impish smile.

        Nick smiled back.  "Any man greeted with a kiss like that would say 'great evening.'"

        "So, you're saying I'm still pretty sexy for a woman of my advancing age?" Natalie teased -- a line of kidding that she commonly used to tell Nick she desired a compliment.

        Nick knew his companion well enough to reply.  "Yes.  Very sexy.  And I speak with authority.  Only a vampire can truly appreciate really older women."  Nick's hands were cool and strong on Natalie's back, she leaned back a little against them, trusting her balance to Nicholas' support.  Nick ran his tongue along his teeth and leaned down to put his nose close to Natalie's.  "From the taste of your tongue," Nick said, "you also have been into something very old."

        "I can still walk," Natalie said in her own defense.  "And it tasted so good."

        Nick smiled at the pleasure in her voice.  "Glad you enjoyed the day.  Celebrating something . . . ?"

        "The past," Natalie said.

        "The past?" Nick was a little confused.  "Why the past?  You generally celebrate the now or the future to come."

        "Sometimes, to understand the future to come, you must understand the past that went before," Natalie said with a solemn certainty.

        Nick lifted an eyebrow.  "Gonna start a late-night radio talkshow?"

        Natalie laughed and swatted Nick on the chest.  She stepped back a little, hooked her arm through his and wiggled her fingers until he clasped her hand in his broader one.  Natalie leaned her shoulder up against Nick and they went to join Janette and LaCroix.

        LaCroix rose from the table and remained standing until Natalie was seated across from him and beside Janette, with Nicholas at her left hand.  The three vampires all had glasses of bloodwine to break their daylong fast.  Nick slid Natalie's chair in for her and whispered near her ear, "Want anything to eat?  Drink?"

        Natalie shook her head in negation and Nick resumed his seat.

        Curious, Natalie looked at LaCroix as she moved her hand up onto the table and placed the silver case on the polished wooden surface.  LaCroix recognized the case -- although it had been the better part of a decade since he'd last seen it -- and he prolonged his sip of bloodwine, eyes flicking from the case to Natalie's eyes and back again.

        Natalie had anticipated the moment and her gaze was as cool and direct as LaCroix's.

        Janette set her glass down with a gentle tap.  "Natalie, put that away," Janette requested in a soft voice.

        Natalie shook her head, still looking LaCroix in the eyes, and slid the case across the table-top to rest before Lucien.

        The elder vampire glanced down again at the case and then at Natalie.  "I do not want that," Lucien said with a trace of scorn that he couldn't eliminate from his voice.

        "I know," Natalie said.  "But I want you to keep it safe."

        "Safe?" LaCroix asked, puzzled.  "From whom?"

        Natalie looked a moment at Nicholas by way of reply.

        LaCroix's interest flickered in his eyes as he brought his powerful hands together, templed the fingers and touched them to his lower lip in a moment of introspection.  "Why should I protect that from Nicholas?" LaCroix asked.  "Why would he want to destroy it?  He is the one questing after mortality, not I."

        "I have had that for ten years now," Natalie said . "The cure for vampirism.  A single injection and your life resets to the moment of Crossing.  Whatever remains of your normal mortal life-span laid before you.  The opportunity to walk in the sunshine, taste food, father mortal children . . . .  For ten years, Nicholas has had the prize of his quest no further away than my bedside table.  For ten years, he has told me that he was 'not ready.'"

        "Natalie," Nick said with some effort, his tone requesting that she stop.

        Natalie continued as if Nick hadn't spoken.  "Nicholas won't reverse the Crossing because of me.  A century of injections have left me dependent upon his blood.  Only his blood will not trigger an allergic reaction with my body.  And, if the injections are stopped, the years I have cheated will catch me with a rush.  I will age in moments to over a hundred and fifty and die."

        "Without the vampire known as Nicholas Knight, I am dead.  Kill the vampire and . . . you kill me."

        Natalie's voice cracked; she stopped and breathed hard in the deep twilight.

        "I need you to protect the serum," Natalie said when she could breath again.  "From Nick destroying it in a berserk rage once I am gone."

        "You are going nowhere," Nicholas said with determined steel in his voice.

        Natalie held her palm up to stop his words and deflect his fear and anger, then continued.  "I need you to keep this cure safe, Lucien.  Protect it from harm until the rush of emotions have been spent and the decision to use or not can be made with a clear eye and sound mind.  Say . . . ten or fifteen years."

        LaCroix leaned forward slightly, interested once again at jousting with the woman who had been his primary competitor for over a century.  "Why should I not just destroy it now?" LaCroix said.  "Save myself the trouble that it will cause?"

        Natalie smiled.  "One simple reason, Lucien.  Variety.  There is enough serum there to cross a hundred vampires back over.  And there is no reason why a vampire could not cycle between mortality and vampirism dozens of times.  You've spent two millennia in the darkness.  Would you not like to spend even a single day able to walk a beach and eat shellfish for dinner?"

        Natalie's gaze shifted to Janette, who was watching the exchange with silent interest.  "Would it be so bad to be mortal for a while, Janette?  Long enough to carry a child to term . . . .  To exchange a few years of your endless life for the opportunity to be a mother?  Think about it," Natalie said with a trace of excitement in her own voice.  "What vampire has ever had the opportunity to become mortal at will?  To shift from the eternal night to the daylight and then back again?  With this serum, you can experience things no vampire has ever experienced before."

        LaCroix reached out a hand and took the silver case.

        Janette put a single, slim finger on the back of his wrist.  "Do not destroy it," she requested respectfully.

        LaCroix looked at Nicholas.  Then at Natalie.  And in a gesture that Natalie had never seen before, the elder vampire cocked his head to one side.  Normally, LaCroix's piercing eyes captured everything.  Today, he saw something new in his two millennia of experience.

        "Yes," LaCroix promised, his strong fingers closing around the case and slipping it into his jacket pocket.

        "Natalie?" Nick demanded in a low, strained voice.  "Where is your transfusion kit?"

        LaCroix was still looking at Natalie, fascinated by what he saw in her face.  "Destroyed, Nicholas," he said softly but with conviction.  "Our friend has made a decision to leave us.  Let her pass with dignity."

        Nick wasn't crying, but his face verged on it as the swell of emotion overtook him.

        "Natalie . . . why?" he managed with a dry throat.  "Don't leave me."

        Natalie's was calm and very peaceful.

        "It is time, Nicholas.  I have lived well past my mortal span.  I have done all that I want to do and I find that I am just drifting.  Aimless.  Without purpose or cause or reason.  No passion, aside from you."

        "And I am not enough?" Nick said in serious pain.

        Natalie took his shivering hand in hers and spoke a truth that hurt from its sincerity.  "You are everything in the world to me, Nicholas.  I have no life without you.  For over a century, you have literally given your life's blood to keep me alive.  It is time I gave you a gift of equal importance.  A gift of sunrises and mornings on a beach that make you glad you are alive.  I have become a burden upon you, Nick.  The yoke that keeps you enslaved in the night."

        Nicholas tried to speak and couldn't.  He had to collect himself and clear his throat to harshly grate, "For you, it is a burden I will bear forever."

        "I know," Natalie said.  "You will put my welfare ahead of yours at all times.  That is why this is the only way."

        Natalie smiled and then slumped suddenly in her chair.

        Nicholas was at her side in a lunge, lifting her head, the auburn hair suddenly graying and streaking with white as waves of age washed over Natalie.

        Natalie's face was older, lined and creased, but Nicholas still was almost shattered by her face so close to his.

        "Live, Nick," Natalie said in nothing like her normal strength of voice.  "Be joyful and run in the sunlight.  Collect memories to tell me on the Other Side."

        Natalie's eyes shifted to Janette, who now knelt gracefully at Natalie's feet.  "Look out for him?" Natalie asked.

        Janette nodded and said "Oui".

        Nick was crying and his voice crackled with his agony.  "Don't leave me, Natalie.  Not like this.  Not in the Night."

        LaCroix settled a comforting hand on Nicholas' shoulder and stooped to speak to Nicholas and Natalie.

        "There is still time, Nicholas," LaCroix pointed out.  "Straight up and west.  You can still just barely catch the sun."

        "Natalie?" Nick asked her permission.

        Her long hair was stark white now and her eyes were clouding over, but Natalie managed a small nod.

        For the last time, Nicholas swept Natalie up into his arms, shocked at how frail and light and delicate she now felt.

        Natalie snuggled against Nick, leaning her head on his shoulder, feeling her lover's strength and caring for her.

        Nicholas lifted into the air with Natalie, causing a stunned outcry amidst the mortals who saw them depart.

        LaCroix and Janette watched them dwindle into a spot that disappeared, racing against the rotation of the earth itself to catch the last sunset.

        Janette looked at LaCroix, her eyes quizzing.  "Lucien, if you had had to die to give Nicholas the gift of the Night, would you have done it?"

        LaCroix shook his head. "No."

        "Neither would I," Janette said. "Yet, Natalie did die to give Nick the gift of the Light."

        LaCroix's voice held his own awe.  "She truly loved him more than either of us ever could."

        They stood and watched the dark sky to the west for a while.

        "Nicholas won't be back tonight," Janette said.

        LaCroix nodded.  "Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  We have eternity.  I will wait here until Last Call for Nicholas.  He will need a friend when he returns.  What will you do?"

        Janette reached out and took LaCroix's hand.  The centuries of familiarity in the feel of his palm, the clasp of his fingers, comforting and soothing her troubled spirit.

        "Last Call," she said in total agreement.




By Tim Phillips; with editorial suggestions from Amy Rambow