Author’s Note: Thank you for your enthusiastic reception to the story. As I’ve mentioned, things change. In a world where canon and non-canon matter, taking a major character to a change in behavior feels risky, but I do believe that people, even fictional ones, can change.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
“When are you heading back?” Isaiah stretched his long legs in front of him, his lean frame extending from the back of the armchair halfway into the room, his bottle of blood balanced on his flat abdomen. Once upon a time, this King of both Kentucky and Tennessee had ranged across the American frontier. He was forged by hard living and many adventures. His human life left him with the instincts of a flat river fighter; violent, direct and dirty, and now, the lessons he had learned were being used to help his beleaguered fellow monarchs.
“If I don’t get back there in the next week, there won’t be a kingdom left to claim.” Bartlett was hollow-eyed. The stream of rogue vampires and the trail of orphans they left in their wake had slowed in most kingdoms, but not in Indiana. Humans in Bartlett’s state were up in arms. Authorities were calling for investigations and the detention or expulsion of all vampires. Citizens were being urged to start local militias and to carry silver and stakes so they could kill vampires on sight. “Safe now, Ask Later!” was showing up on billboards and as graffiti on walls. “I thought I was being paranoid, but now I’m convinced. This really is aimed at me,” and Bartlett shook his head.
Russell walked over and laid his hand on his mate’s shoulder, before turning to Isaiah, “We have exhausted our networks…”
“Not that we have that many willing to stand with us anymore!” Bartlett exclaimed. “It’s like watching roaches scurry from the light!”
“Can’t say I’m surprised,” Isaiah growled, “Bunch of pussies, the lot of them! Never had much use for James or Roland. Won’t believe it of Maude, though. That old girl don’t know anything but fight! Never knew a woman to be so contrary. She’d argue over a sunny day!”
Isaiah had been married to the Queen of Minnesota years ago. They found they were too much alike, and rubbed each other like friendly sandpaper, but sandpaper nonetheless.
“James hides behind his walls in Rhodes. He has his own problems. There are rumors that members of his Court are forming a paramilitary group. They call themselves, ‘Vampires First.’ Bill Compton met one of them at the Amun Summit last year. He invited him here for a visit, but ended up sending him home. Compton said the vampire’s views were dangerous. He told me he thought these Vampire First types could get us all finally dead.”
“I’ve heard about those folks,” Isaiah nodded. “They want to see vampires take their so-called rightful place at the head of all world governments. Kind of a vampire-only world where we are the only predator and everyone else gets to be prey.”
“It would make the chase deadly dull,” Russell sniffed.
“Humans would hunt us to extinction,” and Bartlett admonished his mate.
“You reach out to the Pythoness?” Isaiah asked. It was a logical question. The Ancient Pythoness had established the clans and kingdoms in this country. It was the force of her vision that held the vampires together. With the instability being introduced through Indiana’s problems, it was not unrealistic to think she would wish to become involved.
Bartlett nodded, “Several times. I get as far as Cataliades’ niece, Diantha. She apologizes, and then she tells me the Pythoness has withdrawn for a period of tranquility. I don’t know what that means.”
“Do you think the demon is holding the old girl hostage in some way?” Isaiah asked.
“I don’t,” Bartlett shook his head. “I can’t explain it, but I believe Diantha. I think the reluctance is all on the part of the Ancient One.”
“So, I guess we’re going to have to figure this out on our own, for now,” Isaiah drawled, “Won’t be the first time, won’t be the last.” He looked around, “Kind of wondering why you didn’t invite Northman? Isn’t he your go-to planning guy?”
Russell rolled his eyes, “I won’t deny we have leaned on him a bit, but lately? We saw him in Indiana. He looked terrible. Apparently there are side effects to being married to a Fae,” and the Mississippi King narrowed his eyes, “So, all in all, I’d say things turned out for the best for you, Isaiah.” Kentucky hissed, but they all knew the lanky King had considered making a play for Sookie Stackhouse before she pledged to the Viking.
“As it turns out, it’s a good thing we did leave Northman out,” Bartlett told them, “He called me last night. This witch business?”
“The blackmail?” Isaiah’s eyes narrowed and he sat forward.
“Northman told me he found the source; in fact, he’s sure of it,” Bartlett didn’t need to say it in this company, but did, “The witch has been eliminated.” Isaiah made a sound and Russell nodded. “Before you start celebrating, he also took out a local leader of the Silent Witness movement. Wrong place, wrong time. The woman was a former Palace employee and she knew things, too many things. What was interesting was that after the witch removed the employee’s glamour, she somehow made her immune.”
“I don’t understand,” Isaiah was paying close attention. This business of witches and blackmail was the latest in the list of woes to beleaguer them all. First rogues, then protesters, now it was witches plotting to bleed them financially dry.
“I mean, the witch figured out a way to spell the woman so she couldn’t be re-glamoured,” Bartlett nodded at Isaiah’s horrified expression. “After I heard that, Russell and I decided to pay a special visit to our detention center. Our special guests were a little reluctant at first, but with some extra persuasion, they sang for us. I can’t speak for all of them, but at least for the two we picked up, that ‘little something extra’ wasn’t something the witch shared.”
“Who knows?” Russell shrugged, “Maybe the witch, Amelia Broadway was her name, maybe it was a skill that was particular to her and it couldn’t be taught.” This made sense to the vampires. They were known to inherit or develop special skills that were unique. Why wouldn’t it be the same of other species?
“It’s just as possible she wanted to sell it for extra and your guests either didn’t know or didn’t have the money,” Isaiah suggested. Isaiah wasn’t surprised to hear the Kings had imprisoned and tortured witches. The Kentucky King had vampires hunting witches in his own territories at this very moment. He pulled out his phone and his fingers moved over the screen. “I’ve sent word that the witches in my states will be asked about that glamour thing.” When he finished he looked up, “It’s bad business. We haven’t had trouble with witches in a while. Figures they’d pick now to become a problem. Lots of bodies. My hidey holes are going to get crowded!” The King chuckled at his own style of humor before saying, “So, Northman’s convinced he got the one who started it? If we can verify that, it would be a piece of good news.”
“Even if the source is gone, cleaning up the mess will take time,” Russell sighed.
“If the problem wasn’t so dangerous, we might have been able to ignore it. One of our little guests said that the charm she bought from the Broadway woman didn’t work well. She used it to pull the veil from only two people, and then it failed. She was pretty angry about it. One of the humans she chose had nothing, but the other gave her enough to have one of our Sheriffs assembling a ransom.”
“You have to admit, it is trouble for us every which way,” Isaiah said sourly. “They find a human and pull off the glamour. Then what? The witch blackmails, but what does the vampire get in return?”
“The human…” Russell replied, “And how many vampires will try to re-glamour? They’ve just been shaken down.”
“And the source of their humiliation has been handed over. If they re-glamour, who’s to say another witch, or the same witch, doesn’t just pull the glamour off again. So they pay the witch and kill the source,” and Bartlett shook his head.
“Then, the witches count on the vampires they target to be too embarrassed to let their superiors know. Leaving loose ends can be a staking offense,” Russell added.
“Our need for secrecy runs deep,” Isaiah agreed. “Hell, if one of my Sheriffs told me there were unglamoured humans running around telling his secrets, I’m not sure I’d let him continue, even if there was a witch involved. That stuff just says sloppy work to me, and who can tolerate that? I can’t. Hell, I have plenty of things I’ve done over the years that wouldn’t look too good if it was being told by some stupid human on one of those new shows. Kind of makes me happy humans die so quickly.”
“Well, if there won’t be more of these charms made, and the ones that are out there don’t last long, that would be the best news. It still means we are back in the witch-killing business, and that will start a war,” and Bartlett sighed and looked at his mate, “And I don’t mind saying, I just don’t have the heart for it. The problems with Indiana are all I can think about.”
Russell nodded and then turned to Isaiah, “We were thinking about asking Northman to take more of a leadership role in the Clan. We are going to call him and ask him to represent us at Moshup Summit. He really is lucky, for all the trouble he brings on himself.”
Isaiah smirked, “I’ll be damned, but that Viking does seem to have a way of floating to the top. He’s like a turd in a punchbowl.” Russell Edgington watched Isaiah. Of all the monarchs in Amun Clan, he was the one most likely to have a problem with the idea of Northman as Clan Chief. Russell still hadn’t worked around to asking Bartlett to pass the title, but for the Mississippi monarch, it was only a matter of time.
After a moment, the rangy King nodded, “What? You think I’m harboring some grudge against the Viking? He looks pretty good on television. If it’s true what he’s saying about that witch in New Orleans, he’s done all vampires a favor. That’ll help some overlook their low opinion about his choice in mates. I can see him getting called out for some honor or another,” and then he smiled, “Did you boys didn’t think I was going to challenge you, did you?”
“You know we did!” Bartlett huffed.
“Well, then I guess I’m flattered,” the King grinned. “Truth is; I wouldn’t want to have anyone looking to me right now. We have trouble every which way we turn. I had a messy killing in the southern part of my kingdom recently and I’ve got my hands full trying to clear it up. Times like these require politicians who don’t mind toadying to folks and kissing a lot of ass. Northman’s good at that. I’d just tell them all to go to hell and start kicking butt and taking names. Probably get us in even more hot water.”
Russell laughed out loud, “I’m not sure that’s how I would have said it, but let’s just say that I agree.”
“So, Northman goes to Moshup to wheel and deal with the high and mighty,” and Isaiah leaned back again. “Think that means he’ll be leaving his Queen at home?” and Isaiah winked.
“You are a naughty boy!” Bartlett exclaimed, “And don’t think we wouldn’t know. Our famous author is returning to Bon Temps soon.”
Russell nodded, “Bill Compton told us he received his official permission a few weeks ago. He’s been figuring out his schedule and then he’ll be leaving us again. Oh, the life of the rich and famous!”
“You think folks are really going to pay good money to see some romance movie about a vampire and a human?” Isaiah couldn’t fathom it. The last vampire movie he’d seen, the women screamed, and the men got pitchforks and torches. That had made sense to him.
“His books are a huge success,” Russell shrugged. “He showed us his royalties statement and it was more than respectable. He’s started another series although it hasn’t hit the shelves yet. He’s switching publishers. He said he had some problem with the last one, the editor was too pushy or some such thing, but that’s his business and he handles it well. I told him he should think about writing a book about his experiences in the Civil War. He has such a way with a story, and there is always a market. He could be the next Shelby Foote.”
“Another Southerner writing about the War Between the States…” Isaiah shrugged.
“Another proud Southerner with a first person perspective,” Russell persisted.
“Good luck making him mainstream,” Bartlett laughed, “Our Bill rather enjoys the attention writing bosom heavers gets him. We had to insist he get his own P.O. Box. The fan mail was overwhelming.”
“It will be quieter around here without him,” Russell smiled.
“So, Indiana…” Isaiah brought them back to the other business at hand.
“Northman suggested we insist on having vampires taken onto the police forces,” Bartlett nodded, his face turning serious. “We say we should be involved in policing our own, that we are all on the same side.”
“That will sound good to the humans,” the Kentucky King agreed, “provided they trust us enough to let us in.”
“We have been in touch with a civil rights group. I have candidates identified. Several were law officers before they were turned, so there won’t be any concerns about experience,” Russell sat down next to Bartlett. “The group has a network and they have been helping our people to get their applications in for open jobs throughout the state. It will take a few weeks to hear back, but the group is committed to making this a cause if our people are rejected out of hand.”
“Setting up those police departments who refuse for a discrimination suit…” Bartlett added.
“Who cares about discriminating against vampires?” the Kentucky King laughed. “You really think that you can get a fair hearing about this?”
“I don’t know,” Bartlett shrugged, “but it is a start. The other thing we’ve done is put a call into Thalia.”
Isaiah grunted, then said, “Now you’re talking. I didn’t know you knew her.”
“She was our guest of sorts for several months,” Russell replied.
“She is the one who smuggled Sookie out of Louisiana,” Bartlett added. “We sponsored Sookie for Sanctum and in exchange, Thalia stayed here, serving with our guards.” The Kings were referring to the time after Sookie Stackhouse’s marriage to Sam Merlotte failed. It turned out that Sam had been selling information about his wife to Freyda, the Queen of Oklahoma. Freyda paid the shifter extra to abuse his wife and record it. When Freyda became angry with her reluctant husband, she would play the videos, knowing that in the end she could punish the ones he loved the way he was punishing her with his indifference.
Felipe de Castro caught wind of Sookie’s troubles, but by the time he made his move to retrieve the telepath, Thalia had spirited Sookie out of Doctor Ludwig’s hospital and across state lines to the safety of the Jackson palace.
“I’m not sure I’d be comfortable having Thalia living under the same roof with me,” Isaiah chuckled. “Course, I shared a bed with Maude, and that was mostly dangerous most of the time. Guess I could have got used to it.”
“I am surprised Maude didn’t whittle pieces off you if half the stories I’ve heard are true,” Bartlett grinned.
“The stuff of lies,” Isaiah drawled, “Was never nothing but a gentleman with her,” and they all laughed, knowing a tall tale when they heard one. The stories of the ways the monarchs had teased and tortured each other during their hundred years were legend. “So, you push for vampires on the police force. Plays good and it gets you inside information. Allows you to clean up shit before it hits the evening news.”
“It does work for us, all the way around,” Russell agreed.
“And Thalia? How does she fit in? Can’t see anyone wanting to put her scary face on the television.” And Isaiah chuckled some more, picturing the small vampire hissing, fangs descended, talking with one of those late night comedy hosts.
“I know these rogues are about me,” Bartlett told Isaiah. “It’s the only thing that makes sense. I am asking Thalia to help me find the source.”
“You think someone is trying to take your kingdom?” Isaiah asked.
“No, that’s the thing. If this was a takeover, it would be more straightforward. This is like salting the earth. It’s making the people of Indiana hate vampires, really hate vampires. There are people talking about passing laws that no vampire can reside in the state at all!” Bartlett glanced at Russell. “I have worked hard to create partnerships there. My businesses are there. If this continues, it won’t just be me that’s out in the cold. No vampire will be able to show his or her face.”
“But you think it’s especially about you?” Isaiah cocked his head as he considered it, “You think it’s another vampire? I can’t imagine one of our own ever doing business like this. It makes no sense,” and Isaiah sipped his blood. “You know; it could be Weres clearing the way. Half the time I don’t think they like us any too well either.”
“We have a long association with our local Weres,” Russell scolded, “And I believe that if this was in any way connected to their community, someone would have said something.”
“Fair enough,” Isaiah conceded. “Still, a vampire?”
“I can’t escape the feeling that there is something personal about this,” Bartlett sighed.
“I’ve told him it’s likely a test,” Russell interrupted. “Someone trying out a new way to create and marshal forces.”
“Well, that’s a thought that could keep me from my day rest,” Isaiah nodded. “Let’s say all these folks could be coordinated in some way…”
“Like some sleeper cell, through a common Maker,” Russell agreed.
Isaiah let his thoughts drift, then said, “With all the orphans we’ve killed, if there was a common Maker, that vampire would be insane by now.” The Kings nodded. Losing progeny was terrible. It tore some part of you, and though you didn’t bleed externally, the hole it left in your psyche lingered.
“It’s one of the reasons I have never created a child,” Bartlett nodded. “The thought that I could lose it is overwhelming.”
“How many does Northman have?” Isaiah asked
“Let it go!” Russell scoffed, “He had two and you know it!”
“Pretty extravagant, if you ask me,” the King continued, “If he needs so many, he must be compensating for something.”
Bartlett rolled his eyes, “Oh, don’t go there! Northman was here a long time ago, before Russell and I were pledged. It was that whole dust-up with Lorena, anyway…” and Bartlett gave Russell a knowing look, “There was a young vampire here who told stories about the night he shared a coffin with the Viking.”
“Hearsay!” Russell laughed. “No one’s dick is that big!”
“I don’t know, Rusty!” Bartlett teased, “Vampires are known to have perfect memories.”
“Well, shit!” Isaiah sniffed, “Good with humans, married to a royal, fearless child maker and hung like a horse? I better mind my manners. A vampire with all of that could end up being king of us all!”
They laughed, but Russell found himself thinking, ‘It wouldn’t surprise me.’
Sookie couldn’t think what woke her up; she squinted at the clock on the bedside table. It was almost five thirty in the morning. The sun was rising. She rolled over, hugging Eric’s pillow, searching for his scent. Her eyes closed and she dreamed she heard talking. It was a soft sound, like bees buzzing and it tugged at the edges of her brain.
“Sookie?” Dream Eric called to her. “Sookie? Lover?”
“Stop it! I’m dreaming,” she sighed.
“Wake up, Sookie. There are things I need to tell you before the sun takes me.” Dream Eric became Naked Eric and he was inserting himself into their bed. Sookie sighed and reached out for him. When her fingers were stroking flesh that seemed very real, she took a deep breath and fought against her foggy brain.
“How long was I asleep?” she yawned. It didn’t make sense. Eric was supposed to be gone for days. She wondered if she had fallen into some kind of coma, if this was a side effect of the bonding sickness and she’d lost all that time.
“It’s the same night, Sookie,” he chuckled, and then he said in a more serious tone, “Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Now Sookie did open her eyes and her Eric was there, his face glowing softly. The doors to the bed chamber closed. “What happened? Why are you here?” she asked.
“Witches have been blackmailing vampires,” he told her, “I went to investigate. Indira and Rubio found something that suggested the problem started in New Orleans. A witch found a way to remove glamour. Are you listening to me, Min Hustru?”
“Yes,” the telepath scrubbed back her hair and sat up against the backboard. “Witches, glamour, got it.”
“I found her, the witch who started the problem in New Orleans. She has been selling charms to other witches. These charms allow the witches to remove glamour from humans.”
“So what? What happens when they remove the glamour?” Sookie wasn’t sure she was following.
“The witch charges the human to remove the glamour. She makes money that way. Then she collects secrets from them. If she hears something she can use against a supe, a vampire, she goes to the vampire. She uses the knowledge for blackmail. She can collect much money. Some secrets are small. Some are very bad.”
Sookie was wide awake now. “So, what happened then?”
“If the vampire didn’t want the secret revealed, the vampire paid.”
“But what kept the human from telling someone else?” Sookie asked. She could hear her voice getting a little shaky, and she had the feeling something really terrible was coming.
“The witch sold the identity of the human, Lover. The witch stepped aside and allowed the vampire to end the problem that wouldn’t have been a problem if the witch hadn’t interfered in the first place.”
“Why not just re-glamour the human?” Sookie whispered, but she knew the answer before Eric said it.
“Only to have the witch remove the glamour and have to pay twice?” He glanced toward the wall she knew faced east and then leaned toward her, “So I found her…” and he stopped, as if he was unsure what to say next, but Sookie could see his eyes were gleaming.
“I know her, don’t I?” Sookie gulped. Eric nodded, his eyes holding her. “Octavia?” Even as she named Octavia Fant, her once roommate, Sookie knew she wasn’t right.
Eric stroked her cheek as one would gentle a child, “No, Sookie. It was Amelia Broadway.” When Sookie made a noise, Eric took her hand, “She admitted it. She found the secret and she’s been selling it to all comers. There was a stack of envelopes at her door, waiting for the morning mail. Who knows how many of those charms have already been mailed out? I sent Karin to New Orleans to examine the computer to see if we can find her customer list.”
“Where is Amelia, Eric?” Sookie asked. Eric didn’t say anything and then she knew. “Oh my God, Eric! You killed her?” and she choked, her chest clenching. “How could you? You always hated her!”
“She hated us both, Sookie!” Eric said quickly. “She told me she did this to punish us both. She was a bitter person, Älskade! She was not your friend, no more than Claude.”
“So you had to kill her?” Sookie felt nauseous just saying it. “And now you’ve come back to Bon Temps to crawl into bed… why? Did you come all the way back just so you could tell me in person?”
“You need to know all of it, Sookie,” Eric said quietly. “There was another person there. Meg came in. She saw what was done. Amelia had removed her glamour. She remembered things, the donors…”
“So, you just re-glamoured her?” There were tears falling down Sookie’s face now.
“Amelia charmed her. Meg was immune to glamour, like you are,” and Eric waited again. When her face started to crumble, he pulled his wife into his arms. Sookie stayed there for a moment, her hand curled against him and he thought she might accept this, but in another minute, she struck her hand against his chest and then pushed him away.
“How do you expect me to live with this, Eric? These are women I know, women I liked. I’m supposed to what? Accept it? Be okay with it?”
“I have only moments, Sookie,” Eric pleaded. “Day is coming. Please, Lover. Please keep an open mind until I rise. Charles and the Weres can’t help. They have been glamoured. It is possible someone will come tomorrow while I rest.”
“Someone?” and Sookie took another breath, the bands around her chest tightening, “The police? That’s why you came home, isn’t it! So I could lie for you?” and Sookie realized she was at the crossroads she had dreaded. Her husband was telling her he had killed humans. He was telling her he had followed the laws of the Supe world and done what was expected. Now she would need to decide if she would hold him to human rules and turn him into the authorities, or if she would find a way to accept this for what it was and cover for him. “Oh, Eric!” she sobbed, and in that moment, he was gone.
He fell down, all animation stolen, the glow extinguished. She could still see his quiet face, his profile so pure, making him look so young and innocent. “You dick!” she said out loud, and smacked his shoulder in frustration. Not knowing what to do, Sookie leaned back against the headboard, drawing her knees up and laying her cheek down. Her sleepiness was gone. She stomped her foot on the bed, and then stamped both feet before turning to yell, “You left me alone with this?!” at Eric’s still form.
It really was too early to be up and around, but Sookie couldn’t stay in the bed with Eric anymore, so she took her pillow and the quilt and headed downstairs. Once she was in their family room, she propped the pillow on the couch, and lay back down. “Oh Meg,” she whispered before sleep reclaimed her.
It really was hours later when Sookie opened her eyes. The quilt had fallen off her feet and her toes felt like ice cubes. Sookie shivered, but knew it was more than her body being chilled. She felt chilled all the way to her soul. “What you doing down here?” Owen looked surprised as he walked into the family room, and he turned on his heel and walked right back into the kitchen.
“When did Charles get back?” Sookie asked. She knew she shouldn’t, but she felt she needed to test how things were.
“Where did he go?” Owen asked, and Sookie could see he really was confused. Her heart fell further.
“Wow,” she said and sniffed a little, “It must have been a dream. I thought he went somewhere,” and she plastered her Crazy Sookie smile on her face. “I’ll be headed out today,” she knew her voice sounded strained, but she did her best to look normal as she headed up the back stairs. She had to stop at the top to steady herself. She saw the closed doors to their bed chamber. She didn’t want to see him, so she dropped the quilt and pillow on a chair and walked through to the closet to get clothes. It didn’t take long to get back downstairs, only to find both Charles and Owen chatting as if nothing had happened. ‘Good thing they can’t read my mind,’ Sookie thought, ‘cause I’m screaming on the inside!’ She kept her smile plastered in place as she accepted the cup of coffee and refused the offer of breakfast.
“Where were you thinking of heading out today?” Owen asked her.
“I told Hoyt and Holly I’d stop by Maxine’s,” Sookie replied. These were standing plans and both Weres would know that, “And after that, I was thinking I’d like to stop by the church for a bit.” Sookie felt the need of some time sitting alone in a restful place. The thought of the pew, the feeling of the light spilling through the stained glass window, warm and full of the memory of her Gran, called to her.
“Oh,” Charles looked mildly curious, “Something going on over at the Church?” It had been awhile since Sookie had attended services and she thought the last time she just went to sit had probably been before she was married. She could understand Charles’ surprise.
As Sookie started to put together an explanation that wouldn’t raise suspicions, she realized she was staring at the guard a little harder than she should have. In the back of her mind, she wondered if somewhere inside he knew he’d been glamoured and if that bothered him. When Charles’ eyes turned puzzled, she caught herself, “Nope, nothing special. Guess it was that dream I had. I’d just like to sit a little and talk with Gran.”
Within the hour, Sookie was at Maxine’s. Sookie was settled in the back office looking over the books while Holly Fortenberry hustled out front, setting up silverware, and talking with the waitresses. There were two cooks in the kitchen most days now and they were making noise as they got ready for today’s lunch crowd. Sookie couldn’t help looking around at this place that had been Sam’s office for so many years; Sam’s office, and then her office, and now Holly’s office. She bit her lip and turned back to the column of figures in front of her. According to what she was seeing, business had picked up quite a bit, and she was happy for the Fortenberrys.
Holly walked in, wiping her hands on her apron, “How things looking?”
“Well, the changes you suggested have all worked out,” Sookie replied. “You should be real proud. You really are making a go of this.” Sookie quizzed Holly about waste for the week and how to arrange menus to minimize what spoiled, and they went over the deliveries schedule again. When they were done, Sookie closed the book and started to stand up.
“There’s something I think I should tell you,” Holly said the words quickly, and then looked down before meeting Sookie’s eyes. When Sookie didn’t say anything, Holly said, “You know I dabbled with witchcraft a while ago, before I married Hoyt.”
“I do,” Sookie nodded, but inside, Sookie was chanting, “Pleasenopleasenopleasenopleaseno!’
“I heard from Amelia Broadway a few nights ago. I meant to call you and tell you, but I kind of wanted to wait until I could talk with you face to face,” and Sookie could hear her. Holly had always been a clear broadcaster and she was nervous Sookie would think she was mixed up with Amelia. Something her former roommate had said to Holly had really upset the younger woman.
“She started asking all kinds of questions about you… you and Eric. She wanted to know when you came here and how long you stayed. I told her I didn’t know you well enough to know the answers to any of her questions, but she got mad at me,” and Holly’s eyes dropped again. “She told me I’d better get the answers for the next time she called or I’d be sorry, and then,” and Holly wiped a tear from her face, “she said Hoyt and Cody would pay if I didn’t do like she said.”
Sookie wasn’t sure where her sense of calm came from but before she knew it, she was standing next to Holly and rubbing her arm. “Now don’t you worry about it,” she heard herself saying, “The next time Amelia calls, you tell her she can come and ask me her questions direct. I can’t imagine why she’d think she needed to call my friends!” and Sookie smiled and shrugged as if she didn’t have a care in the world. “That Amelia! She always was a little flighty!”
Holly didn’t look convinced. “Sookie, I don’t think you should take this lightly,” she told the telepath. “Amelia didn’t sound friendly. I try to stay away from witches these days, but I still hear things. There are some covens who are trying to stir trouble between humans and vampires, bad trouble. Amelia is in deep with them. You and Eric have been good to us,” and Sookie could hear Holly’s sincerity, “I just think you should watch your back. Eric, too.”
“Thanks, Sweetie,” Sookie hugged her briefly, and just that contact screamed Holly’s concern through her, jangling her nerves, and making her draw a shaky breath.
Sookie struggled to keep her smile firmly in place. “Holly, I’m sure it will all be fine. You know how careful we are. Hell, Owen’s sitting right out there waiting for me!” and Sookie picked up her purse, “Now, I’ll just get out of your way. From the looks of things, you get pretty busy for lunch. You don’t need your landlord looking over your shoulder. Someone will stop by later for the tray.” Sookie made it a practice to order a tray of prepared food from Maxine’s at least once a week when she was in town. Between the boys who came over to care for the horses and the guards, nothing ever went to waste. Sookie was pretty sure tonight would be fried chicken, a big favorite.
When Holly still looked worried, Sookie added, “Thank you for being our friend. We will take care. Promise!” and Sookie hugged the woman before heading through the hallway and back into the front of the restaurant where Owen was waiting for her.
As he walked her to the car, he asked, “Where to next?”
“Like I told Charles this morning, I’d like to stop by my Church for a little visit.”
“Sure thing, Mistress,” Owen said, laying it on a little thick for the few clients that were walking past them.
Sookie shook her head. She didn’t say another word until he pulled the car up to the double doors of the white church. As she stepped out, she said, “Owen, would you mind waiting out here? I’ll just be inside, I promise.” The Were nodded. She could ‘hear’ him wondering whether Sookie was feeling all right. He was thinking about his wife during her pregnancy and the odd things she craved, but he smiled and said nothing.
The first thing that struck her as Sookie walked inside was the quiet. The sun was out and the light was shining through stained glass to fall across her Gran’s pew. It looked like every memory Sookie had of this place. She sat down in her Gran’s place and closed her eyes, turning her face so she could feel the heat of the sun’s rays. She sat still, her hands clasped in her lap, leaning back a little. She thought about Meg, both the young woman who had befriended her in her first days in New Orleans and the woman who stood behind the barricades, her face a mask of hate. It made no sense, but Sookie had learned that lesson long ago. People changed. They liked you one day, and then something happened. Maybe it was circumstances, maybe it was because you were different or you believed in different things. You woke up to find that everything you believed had changed and your friend was now your enemy. Sookie felt a tear slip over her cheek. She knew she was emotional, but she couldn’t help it. “It’s all those damn injections!” she whisper-hissed out loud.
There was the sound of a door opening and she opened her eyes to see the Reverend Collins step in through a side door. He had something in his hand that he set down near the pulpit. As he turned, he saw her and his eyes lit up, “Sookie!” He kept his voice low as he walked forward. When he saw her face a little more fully, his smile fell a little. Sookie could ‘hear’ him wondering about her. He wondered if she was fighting with her husband.
“No, Eric and I are fine!” the telepath said out loud. She knew right away she’d startled him. It had been a little mean to respond to his thoughts. That kind of thing always bothered humans so Sookie said, “Sorry,” and meant it.
“No, not at all,” the pastor said, but she could see he was still flustered. “I am glad to hear it, though. I would hate to think all my hard work in marrying the two of you went for nothing!” and he winked before asking, “Would you mind if I joined you?”
Sookie moved over a bit and the Reverend Collins sat next to her. “I am surprised to see you here.”
She knew he could see her wet face, so she explained, “I’m not really this upset. It’s hormones,” and then she blushed because she’d just said ‘hormones’ to her pastor.
“It’s okay,” he said and patted her knee, “I know what hormones are,” and then he said, “Are you sure that’s all that’s bothering you?”
Sookie was so tempted to tell him. She could see herself spilling all of it; Meg, Amelia, the killings, and the cover-up, but she didn’t need to think more than two seconds to know it was a terrible idea. Instead she asked, “Do you always stand up for Mrs. Collins, even when you think she’s wrong?” It was a silly question since Sookie couldn’t ever imagine the balding Reverend Collins and his rounded, grey-haired wife hunting down witches and killing them.
“My wife is my rock,” the Reverend Collins said quietly. “It is rare we don’t agree, so I don’t have the worries you describe. Now, it wasn’t always so apparent to me that we were in agreement, especially when we were first married. I would think she was wrong-headed or working against me and I would try my hardest to set her straight. It was frustrating for both of us, I assure you!” Sookie had a pretty good idea that ‘frustrating’ was code for fighting, although she couldn’t imagine these two fighting with each other either.
“After a time, an interesting thing happened,” the older man looked back into the Church, the light falling across his face, “I realized that when she was fighting me or being confrontational, she wasn’t doing it to work against me. She was doing her best to support me, to have me be my best self. She was willing to fight with me and let me hurt her feelings to make me a better person, and I was the one who was too hard-headed to see it. I realized then that although she loved me, that was only a small part of the gift she gave. You see, I realized that my wife would always put me first. She would even disagree with me, but, in the end, she was doing it for me, because that’s what friends, best friends do. And what is your mate except your best friend?”
Sookie found herself thinking about Niall’s visit yesterday, how he’d told her how proud he was that she was learning to stand with her husband.
It wasn’t a whole answer and the memory of Meg’s face still made her heart ache, but there was something about what the Reverend Collins said. Sookie thought that her heart might ache less at home, so she said her goodbyes and walked back outside to find Owen waiting to drive her back to Hummingbird Lane.
When they pulled into the yard, Sookie could see that the boys were there, JC and Robert duRone. They were in the barn shoveling manure and teasing Sarah who had come with them. Sarah dropped the carrots she was feeding the horses to help her ‘Aunt’ Sookie with a tray of iced tea and cookies. “No Bit?” Sookie asked.
“Not today, Aunt Sookie,” JC confirmed. “He got himself in big trouble by stacking things in the baby’s crib. He told Momma that Michael Eric was too pushy and it was best to hide him for awhile. Momma said he needed some time to get his attitude straight and he was sitting in the corner chair when we left.”
Sookie smiled, her hand moving almost automatically to her abdomen. ‘Two weeks,’ she thought. In two weeks they would be taking her in to remove eggs. In three weeks they could be starting the clock to see if she would become pregnant. She looked again at the young people. This could be her life, her life with Eric, and she knew she’d mostly made up her mind about what she would do. Sookie headed inside and took the stairs two at a time. When she rounded the corner to the bedchamber, she slipped inside, and then crawled up on the bed until she was lying beside her dead husband.
“Eric Northman,” she said, laying her hand on his cheek and speaking as if he was sleeping and not truly dead, “You are mine!” and she kissed him. Somehow, it was enough.