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.
Nautical Note: When you are in a strong wind, like the wind that blows before a storm or afterward you may have to reduce the amount of sail you carry. You push up the bottom of the mainsail and tie it down. If the wind is still too strong, you may ‘take in another reef.’ By reducing your sail, you can still move forward without risking being capsized by the gale.
The last of his guests had left. Andrew turned out all but one light on the front step and Misha found that Felipe de Castro’s words lingered. If the Nevada King suspected him, others would, too. For most, it didn’t matter, but when it came to Pamela Ravenscroft, it did matter, it mattered very much. As angry as Misha was with Pam’s behavior this evening, he understood it. The tie between a vampire and her Maker was not a choice. It was a duty and a compulsion. If Eric Northman decided to have Pam return to him, she would. If Eric Northman decided to take Pam into his bed, she would submit herself. If he ordered Pam to kill all she loved best, she would be angry and unhappy, but Misha knew she would take up her sword and lay waste to all around her. A child belonged to its Maker with a wonderful, terrible certainty.
Misha walked up the stairs to his office. The glow of the monitors met him and he turned on a few table lamps. Carlo didn’t mind basking in the artificial light, but Misha found it annoying. There were different news sources on different monitors, all reporting on the same story. “Have you heard from our friend in Illinois?” Misha asked his Second. Over the years, Misha had planted spies in many courts. His source in James’ court had been in place for many years.
“No, Majesty,” Carlo shook his head. “It is likely he was among those killed.” Misha’s Second used a remote to spool back the feed from one of the newscasts. They watched a film taken of the events shortly before the blast. Carlo freeze-framed and used a key near the computer to enlarge the image slightly. The film showed groups of vampires standing close to each other.
Misha recognized James, the Illinois King. He has speaking with a tall vampire. “Northman!” Carlo nodded. There was another group of vampires standing several feet away. “And there is our spy,” Misha pointed to the dark-haired vampire speaking with another vampire standing to his left.
“Yes, and that vampire standing in the middle is Bill Compton, the author.” Misha stared at the famous William Compton. He had only met the vampire in passing at the recent Moshup Summit.
“Did we know Compton would be in Rhodes?” Misha asked.
“Yes, it was on his schedule, Majesty” Carlo nodded. “Compton told me the Kings, Russell and Crowe, were supposed to make an appearance. He as much as told me he was going to finish his assignment in Rhodes.”
“Stop it! There!” Misha exclaimed. Carlo hit the button, freezing the image in place. “Put it on the bigger screen.” When Carlo did as he was told, Misha studied the faces. “Find out who each of these vampires are. Compton seems to know them.” Misha gestured and Carlo hit the button to advance the screens. “See?” Misha gestured, “See the way he answers that one beside him, the smile? He knows that vampire. They are friends, but not good friends.”
“The vampire he is speaking with is Matthias, the one he said was part of…”
“Vampires First,” Misha frowned. “Compton told the woman he was ashamed of being a part of that, and yet, there he is, smiling and nodding. A mystery.” Misha watched the film and then said, “Go back a little,” and watched again. “There! Do you see it? Compton is looking for someone. He shifts from foot to foot. He is nervous, the weasel!”
“The Kings?” Carlo offered.
Misha took a step back and looked to the other monitors. There were pictures of humans being flashed on the screen. Several famous people had died in the blast. One of the movie’s producers was reported dead. The film’s director was in critical condition and not expected to recover. The film’s male star was in the hospital as well. Misha found the volume control for the unit just as photographs of vampires were shown. “James Lincoln, a prominent Illinois businessman and vampire has been confirmed dead. Sources at his residence confirmed a number of his business associates were also at the premiere this evening. Many are missing and presumed dead in this terrible tragedy. Two more names from that community that were well known on the international scene? Eric Northman, the so-called Vampire King of New Orleans was reported to be near the center of the bomb blast. He has been declared dead by those at the scene. Another luminary who was caught up in this tragedy, the world mourns the loss of renowned writer William Compton.” The reporter launched into a biography of Compton. Most of the reporter’s facts appeared to have been pulled from one of the writer’s book covers. There were photographs of Compton at various events being flashed on the screen. “Perhaps they would like the layout of the little graveyard near his home, this paragon,” the King growled. Misha muted the volume and turned to watch other reports when he saw the Kings, Russell Edgington and Bartlett Crowe, appear on a television. He jerked his chin and Carlo scrambled to find the remote that would adjust the volume for that particular monitor.
Bartlett Crowe was being interviewed for his reaction. “We are horrified. We were originally scheduled to attend, but we had to give our apologies to our good friend, Bill Compton.” Misha didn’t move, he didn’t look at Carlo. “Russell and I were committed to being here in Indianapolis tonight, to see the first of our new vampire special task force graduate from the police academy. Those new officers are already headed to Illinois to help support local law enforcement efforts. Unlike humans, vampires do not continue once killed, and that is why identifying those who were lost tonight is proving difficult. Our new officers are uniquely equipped to help in those efforts, but…” and Bartlett looked directly into the monitor, “If anyone took a film or a video of this evening’s event, we ask that you post that film to the site listed at the bottom of your screen. Your record may be the thing that gives closure to the families and friends of many who were there.”
“I want you to find a way to gain access to that website,” Misha hissed, not looking at his Second. The New York King felt his fury coil within him like a snake. When he managed to throw a loop over it, only then did he turn to face Carlo. He even smiled slightly. “It would appear our friend, William, decided to deceive us,” he said mildly. “Perhaps by watching the videos we can determine what happened.” Carlo wasn’t saying anything, but he didn’t have to. Misha could feel his Second’s fear coming off him in great waves. “Now, now, Carlo!” he boomed, allowing his face to split into a gap-toothed smile. “Bill was unstable! You told me, you tried to warn me! I didn’t listen closely enough and that is my fault. I should have trusted you more!” He could see his Second visibly relax, that was what the King intended.
“If our friend, Bill, decided to betray us about this, perhaps there are other things that are not as they should be,” Misha continued. “He was in Jackson before Rhodes. It will be difficult, but you must find a way. It is likely he was caught up in all of this, but it would be better to be certain.”
Carlo bowed, “It will be as you say, Majesty.” His relief was embarrassing.
“Fine, fine,” Misha smiled, touching Carlo’s shoulder to get him to straighten up. “Now, I will send you on your way. Do not delay in getting to Jackson. All too soon those investigating will decide to track Compton’s steps. It is best to sift the breadcrumbs first, yes?”
“Yes, Majesty, yes,” Carlo was almost stumbling over himself to head toward the door. Misha knew his Second had hoped to be named Regent, even King of the Carolinas. His hints had not been subtle. Now, that would never happen.
Misha walked into the library and poured himself a goblet of blood from the heavy decanter. The warming plate that kept it at a constant temperature was subtle, another of the small luxuries that made for a civilized life. Misha walked back into the office. He walked from monitor to monitor, tilting each to face the armchair he preferred and then gathering the remotes, he sat down.
“I’ve locked the front door and turned off the exterior lights,” Andrew informed him, gliding in to stand close by.
“It has been an interesting evening,” Misha nodded.
“Do you need me to arrange anything for downstairs?” Misha knew what Andrew meant. He thought about it. An hour ago, Misha would have agreed, the ritual of the young boy shaking in fear so known and comforting, but now? There was still a great deal to be found out, possible problems to be addressed, but as he watched the pictures of Eric Northman captioned ‘Presumed Dead’ flash across the screen he found he felt better. Misha did not feel the need to assert his control.
“No, but perhaps you would join me here for a little while?” and Misha raised his goblet, his eyes never leaving the screens.
Andrew poured himself a blood and brought the decanter closer. He settled himself in the matching chair and reached for one of the remotes, “You mind?” Misha shook his head and Andrew turned up the volume.
‘The outpouring of grief has started already. Flowers for the victims are being laid at a makeshift shrine, here at the foot of a poster advertising the premiere of Viking’s Bond, the first movie about inter-species cooperation. We are asked to discourage members of the public from coming here. This remains an active crime scene…’ The video clip of the humans with their flowers and candles featured a young woman holding a large photograph of Bill Compton.
Andrew muted the television while turning up the volume on another, ‘It has been confirmed that the damage is the result of some kind of bomb. Whether the device was planted or was on some person has not been confirmed.’
“Nor will they,” Misha shrugged.
“You think it was Compton,” Andrew’s eyebrows drew together.
“I believe so. He was unraveling. Carlo pressed to have him kill Crowe. He thought that Compton had a reasonable chance. He was their friend, so they would let him get close, but he pushed too hard. Carlo has no patience.” Misha turned to his houseman. Of all his companions, Andrew had been with him longest. They had been friends of sorts, boys turned to prostitution and petty theft together in the rough streets of the Five Corners. Misha had outgrown the flesh trade quickly, his looks and build making him less favored. Andrew had remained peddling his body for far longer. When Misha convinced his Maker to turn him, he had known that finding one to turn Andrew was the first thing he would do when given the opportunity. In all their many years together, it was a decision Misha never regretted. Andrew had a sure instinct about things and his read of character was seldom wrong.
“So what will you do with him?” Andrew asked.
“Carlo? His time has run out,” Misha told his friend. “He failed me on the Crowe thing,” and he nodded toward the monitor where the Indiana King was making his appeal for videos again, “and he misread Compton. He is either incompetent or unlucky. Either is a liability.”
“But you sent him to collect information?” It wasn’t a question as much as a statement.
“True,” Misha nodded. “Fear will motivate him to dig deep. That can serve my purpose later.” The two vampires sat together watching the story be repeated over and over. There was a ding on the King’s phone and he flicked his fingers rapidly, and then changed the output to one of the terminals.
“That was fast,” Andrew said as the videos from the police site appeared as files on the screen.
“He is clever and connected,” Misha replied. The King was not surprised that Carlo had already found someone capable of hacking in and routing the King a feed from the website. Several people had already posted their cell phone footage. Together, Misha and Andrew watched first one and then another of the videos. There were several of Eric Northman standing with the human star of the movie. There were also several videos of Bill Compton standing among a group of vampires. One was looking particularly angry. “Matthias?” Andrew asked. Misha had few secrets from his houseman.
“Yes, the Vampires First person Compton took on his hunting trips,” Misha nodded.
“The Indiana King is headed to the crime scene. All he needs is his white horse,” Andrew nodded at another of the monitors.
“That should be my white horse,” Misha grumbled again. The New York King had planned to recruit vampires as investigators for the rogues’ crisis, establishing himself as a hero to humans. He had gone to some trouble to arrange it while at the same time discrediting Bartlett Crowe. Misha was convinced the Indiana King had somehow found out through spies in New York and stolen his idea. Now, there was nothing to do but watch his enemy bask in the lights of the cameras. “We have that information on Vampires First from Compton’s fuck and feed still?” Misha asked.
“Yes, Misha. It is broken down and catalogued,” Andrew turned his head, giving the King his attention.
“I think a good citizen should inform the Illinois police about the nature of those vampires who stood around Bill Compton. An anonymous call. It should come from somewhere close.”
“It might make the reception a little chilly for those vampire police,” Andrew smiled.
“It will give the humans something to investigate, something other than Bill Compton,” Misha agreed.
Andrew tapped the next video. It showed Eric Northman’s face. He was talking with someone, presumably Bill Compton or the vampires standing around him, and then he suddenly turned around. There was a woman walking toward him. “Sookie Northman was there,” Misha said out loud.
“That is his wife?” Andrew asked.
“Yes,” Misha nodded. “I had not heard she was expected. I wonder if Compton knew. He coveted her.”
“Northman’s wife?” Andrew repeated.
Misha smiled, “She was his muse, the inspiration for his great romance. She was his before she became the spouse of the famous Viking. A small world in those Louisiana wilds.”
Andrew frowned, “And Miss Pamela requested an emergency flight to Shreveport. Why Shreveport? If Northman and his woman were in Rhodes…”
“Another mystery,” the King nodded. “We can assume there is no record of the Northman woman being at the premiere since her name has not been mentioned by these news people.”
“Because there is no body,” Andrew speculated. “She is known. She was in all the magazines for almost a year. If she was injured, she would have been taken to some hospital by ambulance and her name leaked to the press. Northman could be dust, but her?”
“It is possible she is there, but her injuries prevent her identification. Still, there is something here that doesn’t add up,” Misha agreed.
Andrew stood then and walked away. Misha could hear him on the phone. When the houseman returned, he refilled the King’s goblet and then his own before sitting. “The call will be made. I also asked to have someone look specifically for the Northman woman. If she is there we will know.” When Misha didn’t reply, Andrew added, “It would be better for everyone if the reports were true and Miss Pamela’s Maker was gone.”
“She is an amazing woman,” Misha nodded.
“Well suited for you, and for her life here,” Andrew agreed. “I am so sorry about this evening. It was all going so well. She captured everyone she met.”
“She is the one I have waited to find. She is my Adele,” and Misha nodded. “Perhaps it is better this way. My Pamela will grieve with her nest and then what is there for her? She has been living with the Minnesota Queen. There is no special attachment to Louisiana. Her sister, the Slaughterer, will return to Europe.”
“Unless they decide to take the kingdom,” Andrew reminded Misha. “Your Pam is loyal. If her sister decided to try and continue the legacy of her Maker…”
Misha considered this. There were so many possibilities. He could simply turn over the information about the donors in New Orleans. That would drive the vampires from that part of the world, but it would damage his Pamela. He could ignore the situation and arrive there after a suitable period, reminding her of the life where she belonged. “It would be better if someone else were to take the kingdom,” he said aloud.
“A takeover wouldn’t be unusual in these troubled times,” Andrew nodded, “But it is not close to your holdings.”
“I’m not interested,” Misha shrugged, “and how could I be involved without making my Pamela feel betrayed? No, there is someone else we know who has a history there. He enjoyed that kingdom I think, and now it is far richer than it was before.”
“De Castro?” Andrew laughed. “You think he would try again?”
“I think he would see it as the hand of fate,” Misha chuckled. “I know how my Zolotse enjoyed being under his rule. She would be quick to pack.”
“And Carlo?” Andrew reminded the King.
“Yes, I will be in need of a new second. Let’s see what he uncovers about Compton in Jackson. Hopefully he will be caught and staked, but if he survives it would be best to keep attention away from the writer as long as possible. I am not happy about the Kings returning to Indiana. Even if we are successful in pointing the humans toward vampires, having our kind investigating will become inconvenient. I think the time has come to put away my toys. Bartlett Crowe isn’t going anywhere and someday his luck will be less. Yes, when Carlo is finished, I think he needs to clean up my little farm in the Adirondacks. My gifts have served their purpose for now, and we have the benefit of the experience. Now, if we need an army we know how to quickly create it.”
“You will send your candidates with him?” Andrew asked. The houseman had seen the King do this before, eliminate a failing vassal using his successor.
“Screen through the possibilities. You spent time in Boston. There should be one or two who might be worthy. I don’t know if you had time to look over the Carolinas group. Nabila would have recruited well.” The King stood and stretched, “Pick the right one. Make sure he understands I need Carlo to be identifiable. There will be documentation of his betrayal and his intent to build his own army. I don’t mind looking too indulgent this time. It will help build my Pamela’s sympathy. She has a need to protect, to fight. She should feel I need her.”
Andrew nodded, “It will be as you say.”
“Give it a few days,” Misha stopped at the door. “Find out where she rests in Shreveport. Send her roses. And get in touch with Maude of Minnesota. Tell her I was so moved by this terrible tragedy that I wish to have Sanctum officially re-opened and that I am declaring it neutral territory under her stewardship.”
Andrew smiled broadly, “You were always the clever one,” he laughed.
“And you were always the beauty,” Misha nodded. “Would you honor me?”
Andrew smiled and stepped in, lowering his head to capture the king’s lower lip between his teeth. “You know I enjoy our time together,” he purred. “Shall I go upstairs and wait for you?”
“The guest room, Andrew,” Misha nodded.
“You love her, don’t you, Misha?” Andrew’s eyes softened. “In all your long years, I have never seen you warm to another as you have warmed to her.”
“She is my destiny,” Misha nodded. “She is the one I was meant to be with until my end.”
Andrew drew the belt from his pants and with a smirk, slapped the King across the buttocks, “Well, destiny can wait! It’s been a long night and I think you could use some distraction!”
“You would play with me?” Misha grabbed for Andrew, who slid from his grasp and rushed up the stairs. “I love to chase!” the King called out and they were boys again, chasing through the rooms of the brownstone, rounding corners and slamming doors until they caught each other and fell in a tangle of clothing and mouths.
It seemed only a few hours before Bartlett and Russell were standing in front of cameras again. It was late, two in the morning. William, the acting King of Illinois, was waiting when the van doors opened.
“We understand you were friends of Eric Northman, the self-styled Louisiana vampire King. Do you believe the rumors that he was among those killed this evening?”
Bartlett’s face dropped, “For the sake of his wife and family, I hope that proves not to be the case,” he replied. “It is almost overwhelming to stand here, knowing that this place has seen so much tragedy. Russell and I will be offering any help we can provide.” Bowing away from the cameras, the Kings allowed themselves to be led to the tent William had set up for his people. There was equipment lining several tables and the vampire technicians were running videos and films of the event. Every so often a printer would hum to life and a photo would be taken and compared to those already taped to several easels. There were other rigid white boards with names written on them. These were all the vampires that had been identified and next to each name was a dot. Green signified the vampire was still with them. Yellow signified the vampire had been wounded. William told the Kings he had wounded vampires transported to the palace. There was a hospital of sorts being set up in the basement. Donors were lined up, volunteering blood.
Red dots were for those who were finally dead. Russell couldn’t help scanning the lists of names. Most were followed by red dots, including William Compton and Eric Northman. “I can’t believe it,” Bartlett said beside him, slipping his hand into Russell’s.
There was a noise at the tent entrance and one of the new vampire investigators entered. “Trouble?” Russell asked.
“They won’t let us near the site,” the officer told him. “They said we’re not authorized.”
“I was afraid of this,” William told the Kings. “There was a call about an hour ago to the local police telling them that it was vampires who caused this. The caller was well-informed about the Vampires First movement and gave them enough to turn things against us.”
“We anticipated that,” Russell nodded. He picked up his cell phone and placed a call. When he hung up, he told William, “That was our attorney here in the City. He is on his way with his civil rights associate. They are most anxious for camera time. I think we can count on this being cleared up rather quickly.”
While they waited, the vampire police stayed in the tent, surveying photographs and matching faces to the scents of clothing and personal articles brought by friends and families. There were several nest mates waiting anxiously on chairs. “Family?” Bartlett asked.
William nodded, “The King was anxious to have a good showing. He encouraged our community to come out and show support. James wanted Rhodes to show its best face.” William looked at the list of names on the rigid board. James Lincoln, the name the Illinois King had adopted, was first, a red dot beside it.
“Bartlett?” Russell’s voice sounded odd. Bartlett saw his mate standing near one of the tables a short distance away. “You are going to want to see this,” he said.
Bartlett walked over to stand next to Russell. The vampire at the table clicked on the arrow and the video started to play. It was Eric Northman. He was speaking with someone and Bartlett said, “That’s Bill he’s talking with, isn’t it? I recognize that jacket.”
“Yes, I think so,” Russell murmured, “but look at this.” The Viking suddenly turned around and there, almost skipping toward him, was Sookie. She was wearing a black dress and she was smiling. Eric seemed almost a blur and the screen went blank.
“It was found on one of the cameras we recovered from the area,” the vampire running the feed told them. “You know her?”
“Yes, it’s the Viking’s bonded mate,” Russell told the vampire. “Do you know where she is?”
“No,” the vampire shook his head. “She’s been one of our mystery people. I couldn’t figure out why we were seeing her with vampires. Now it makes sense. Still, she doesn’t look vampire.”
“She’s not,” Bartlett replied. “She’s…well, mostly human. So, no one has seen her?”
“No, no one here,” the vampire turned around. “If she looked human she may have been taken by ambulance to the local hospital. It’s a few miles down the road and all the victims were taken there. It’s not like the last time. While this explosion was terrible, nothing collapsed, so no one was crushed. Aside from trying to identify the dust that’s left, everyone who was injured or killed has been transported out.”
Bartlett took Russell’s hand, “If she’s in the hospital, we have to find her. If the North Man is truly gone…”
“It would be terrible for her,” Russell nodded.
They turned to see their attorneys walking into the tent, “I have rarely seen a more hostile crowd,” their lead counsel announced. The Kings introduced William and gave the attorneys a brief overview of the state of things. “Leave it to us,” their counsel told them, “We’ve brought our own television crew. We’ll have this sorted in no time.”
“It is late,” Russell told them. “If they disturb the site, sweep, or continue hosing it down, we may never know for sure.”
“I know what to do,” the lawyer assured them, and, with a nod to William, headed back out the door.
“We have to get to the hospital,” Bartlett informed the Illinois vampire.
William bowed, “Please, take my vehicle.” He waved them toward a black sedan with clear access to the street. “Take my driver, too. He’ll get you where you need to go and bring you to the palace when you’re ready.” The Kings made their thanks but didn’t linger. Finding the telepath was too important.
“I can’t imagine what she must be feeling,” Bartlett whispered. “If I were to lose you…”
“It really is a matter of how long the bonding sickness will take,” Russell squeezed Bartlett’s hand. “They are tightly bonded, according to Maude. Pam told her when they were separated they became ill.”
“Do you think they are both gone? Do you think she’s Fae enough to have turned to dust?”
“It might explain things,” Russell nodded. “We won’t know until we see if she’s with the other humans.”
The hospital staff didn’t look too closely at the Kings. There were so many people wandering through the emergency room. Only those who were holding cameras were held back. “We’re looking for Sookie Stackhouse,” Russell told the nurse.
“Sookie Stackhouse Northman,” Bartlett corrected. “She would have come in with the bombing victims. Her name hasn’t shown up on any of the lists. Are there any adult women here who still aren’t identified? She might not be able to tell people who she is.” Russell squeezed Bart’s hand again, giving him strength.
“There are several women who have not been identified yet,” the nurse looked closely at them. “Are you saying she’s like you? I mean…”
“No, she’s not a vampire,” Russell shook his head. “She’s human. She is married to a vampire, however, and they were here for the premiere. Sookie is the wife of Eric Northman. You may have heard of him.”
“Who hasn’t?” the nurse shook her head, “You mean he was there, too? I hope he’s not…”
“We haven’t seen him,” Russell said quickly, “That’s why it’s so important we find his wife.”
The nurse looked around her and then walked out from behind the desk, “Follow me,” she told them.
Keeping an eye out, the nurse took them from room to room. They peeked in on an older woman with a tube snaked up her nose. Her eyes were closed and a machine was beeping next to her. Next there was a younger woman. She looked at them, but they didn’t recognize her. “There’s only one more,” the nurse told them. “She’s headed for emergency surgery. Not looking too good.” She opened the door and Twy looked up at them.
“About time you found me!” she snarled, but there were tears slipping from her eyes. She was bandaged and there were tubes running from under the sheets.
“Twy! I had no idea you were here!” Bartlett walked forward. “I knew you were arranging things, but I didn’t think you’d be close. Aren’t you usually standing with the television people?”
“It was stupid, really,” Twy rasped. “I wanted to wish Bill luck. Brock was carping at me and I thought I’d torture him by making him spend more time with Bill. I know you loved Compton, but he really got under Brock’s skin.” Twy shuddered and she closed her eyes for a moment. She swallowed, seemed to regain herself, and smiled thinly. “I usually get the pleasure of firing my assistants. Brock cheated me of that,” and Twy shrugged while wiping her face.
“Are you in much pain?” Bart asked, and stepped forward to take the publicist’s hand. He couldn’t help but notice how cold she was.
Russell stepped outside with the nurse. “Is she the one you were looking for?” the nurse asked.
“No, no she isn’t” Russell told her, “But she is a friend. You said she’s in trouble?”
“She’s thin,” the nurse gave Russell a meaningful look. When the King didn’t seem to understand, she said, “She’s too thin. She’s probably been starving herself most of her life. Her body just couldn’t handle the abuse she took. Her kidneys shut down. We’ll put her on dialysis, but without transplants, she’s not going to make it.”
“Are these transplants likely?” Russell asked.
“At her age and in her condition? Probably not,” the nurse shook her head, “I’m sorry.”
Russell nodded and walked back into the room. Bartlett and Twy were laughing. “Did you know Twy has pictures of Bill in a dress?” Bartlett asked.
Russell walked up next to the bed and taking Twy’s hand in his said, “I am being told you are not likely to survive this.” Russell didn’t need to look at his mate to know that Bartlett’s face had dropped.
“I heard that, too,” Twy nodded. “I always figured I was too mean for the angels to want me. It seems the devil’s fine with taking me instead.”
Russell looked at Bartlett. They didn’t need to speak. They knew what the other was thinking. Bartlett Crowe squeezed Twy’s hand, “Have you ever considered becoming one of us?” he asked.
Quick tears spilled and tracked down the woman’s cheeks, but her words didn’t sound sad, they sounded pleased. “A vampire? People have been calling me one for years! Will be nice to save them from their lying.”
“Well, we can’t have that!” Bartlett smiled, but then his expression turned serious as he said, “I would be honored if you would allow me to become your Maker.”
“Oh Bartie!” Twy teased, using the same tone Russell used, “No problem here, but if you think this means I won’t make you wear pastels, you’d be wrong!” They laughed, but then Bartlett squeezed Twy’s hand and she nodded.
The ambulance was arranged and Twy was transported to the Rhodes palace. When they carried her downstairs to the basement bedroom that would be their shared grave for the next three days, Twy said to Bartlett, “Thank goodness! I’ve been worrying about accumulated sun damage to my skin. Now you’ll fix that forever.”
“I’ll see you soon,” Russell stroked Bartlett’s hair and kissed him.
“I don’t suppose I have to do that, do I?” Twy sniffed.
“No,” Bartlett laughed, “No, I’ll take my price out of you in other kinds of trade.”
As she lay back, watching the slight glow as the vampire leaned over her, Twy sighed, “No doubt about it, I’ll be the best looking corpse on Wall Street!”
Sookie woke. She wasn’t sure where she was and she had a moment of panic. Her ear hurt and when she rubbed it, her finger came away with dried blood under her nail. Eric was under her. He was solid, but she couldn’t feel him through their bond, so she was pretty sure it was day. When she tried to lever herself up, Sookie couldn’t help groaning. Finally, she resigned herself to just rolling over, inching herself around until she could reach the cord with the call button. Within minutes of pushing it, the door opened. There was soft light, but nothing that came as far as the bed. The door shut and an overhead light was turned on. It was Doctor Ludwig.
“Can you hear me?” Amy asked her.
Sookie nodded. “But it sounds like you’re far away,” she told the doctor. The telepath’s voice sounded loud inside her head as if she had some massive head cold. “I need to get up,” she told Amy. “Can you help me?”
“Just a minute,” and Doctor Ludwig left the room, but returned a minute later with a nurse. Together they lowered the rail on Sookie’s side of the bed.
Sookie felt like a beached whale as they helped her maneuver herself until she was sitting up, and then they helped her to lower her feet to the floor. It wasn’t that she was so large, it was just that every part of her hurt. She had muscles aching that had never ached before and Sookie had a moment when she wondered if she could just forego the bathroom and lay still for a while longer. Thinking about it, she realized her bladder wouldn’t give her a choice and there was no way she was using a bedpan lying in bed with Eric.
“I have to get to the bathroom,” Sookie whispered, and Amy Ludwig grasped her under her arm, pulling her the rest of the way into a standing position, and then helped her to walk slowly down the hallway.
“I’ve seen a lot of brave things, Fairy Girl,” Amy told her as they limped toward the bathroom, “but what you did last night will be at the top of my list for a long time.”
Sookie nodded, but she didn’t feel brave. Eric was hurt. Vampires were dead. “If you wouldn’t mind waiting,” she asked the Doctor when she reached the door, and she shuffled in and used the bars to lower herself onto the toilet. She rested her hand on her abdomen and for one minute she felt everything swirl in on her. Her throat was closing and she almost felt lost in her emotions, it was so overwhelming, but then she took a deep breath. ‘You can’t think about this right now,’ she told herself. ‘There will be plenty of time to think about all of this later. Right now you have to figure out what to do next, just right now, not tomorrow or even later.’ It steadied her.
It was painful, but Sookie managed to hoist herself up and get her clothes back in place. She waddled to the door without having to call for help and just that seemed like a victory. Doctor Ludwig was waiting for her when she opened the door. “How are you feeling?” the small woman asked.
“Like someone hit me with a sledge hammer,” Sookie told her. “How’s Eric?”
“He’s still solid, which is a pretty big deal. Do you feel up to talking?” and Amy gestured toward her office.
“Sure,” Sookie nodded, but inside she was thinking, ‘This can’t be good.’
“You look like you could use some coffee,” Amy said, and without waiting, the Doctor poured the telepath a mug and added milk and sugar. She handed it to Sookie. ‘It doesn’t matter if I drink caffeine anymore.’ The words sprang into Sookie’s mind and before she could think about what they meant, Sookie pushed down her emotions, grit her teeth, and lifted her chin.
“Your vampire’s in pretty bad shape,” Amy was watching her closely. When Sookie nodded and sipped the coffee, the Doctor leaned close and patted Sookie’s arm. “He’s lost one hand and the other is banged up. I ran him through the scanner and confirmed all the silver was extracted. If you hadn’t gotten him here when you did, Fairy Girl, I don’t think he would have made it.” Sookie fought to keep her mind quiet, her thoughts neutral. She nodded, but the effort to remain emotionless was making her hands shake.
“What else?” she heard herself ask, and she gave herself a mental pat on the back for sounding so steady.
“Well, you’ve seen his face. There was some muscle loss there. Muscles always take a little longer to regenerate, but his skin will heal fairly quickly. If all goes well, most of his surface covering will be back within days. His teeth are another matter. They’re bone and regrowing bone can take a long time. He’ll be sipping his supper through a straw for some time to come. The muscle loss to his chest and legs was extensive. That’s where he took the major part of the blast. And his other parts…”
“How long?” Sookie asked, cutting off any further description of the litany of damage her husband had sustained.
“I don’t know,” Amy told her.
Sookie swallowed, “But he will get better,” and she stared at the Doctor.
“Yes,” Amy nodded. “Provided he continues to feed and his progeny are available, within months.” Sookie looked away. Months was a long time for a kingdom. Sookie could see Sophie-Anne LeClerq’s face. The Queen had been injured after the last Rhodes explosion. Felipe de Castro and his forces had tracked her down and killed her while she lay helpless. Sookie thought about Andre, Sophie-Ann’s child whom John Quinn killed at Rhodes. She thought about how much she’d hated Andre, but she thought that if he’d survived Rhodes, the Queen might still be alive. Andre would have guarded her. He would have known what to do the safeguard the kingdom, and Sookie knew what she had to do.
“At least he’ll recover,” and Sookie squared her shoulders.
“I do have a theory, Fairy Girl,” Doctor Ludwig cocked her head to one side. “I am convinced that if we were to take your vampire to Bon Temps and bury him for three days in that crazy fertile soil, it would accelerate his healing, maybe even shave weeks off the process.”
“Then that’s what we should do,” Sookie said with more confidence than she felt. “Is Karin returning at sunset?”
“Yes,” Amy nodded, “Along with Jane, Indira, and Pam. Karin texted me that Pam arrived last night. I’m pretty sure they are all at Indira’s home.”
“Good,” Sookie nodded, and she found she was having trouble keeping her thoughts together. She sipped her coffee and realized she was staring in the general direction of Eric’s room.
“We better talk about the baby before everyone arrives,” Amy’s words broke through Sookie’s fog. When the telepath raised her head, her eyes wary, Amy said, “You’re sure?”
Sookie took a deep breath. Her mind flashed to that moment when the pressure hit her and she was rushing backward. The air was hot and there was a roar in her ears and, in that moment, she felt the thing she hadn’t realized wasn’t her stop. She knew that was the moment she felt her child’s life end. “Yes, I’m sure.”
“Would you mind if I checked?” Amy’s face was kind, kinder than Sookie ever remembered and it surprised her enough that she nodded. Doctor Ludwig pressed her hand to Sookie’s abdomen. She closed her eyes and seemed to focus hard. After a minute, she looked at the telepath and then the Doctor laid her hand against Sookie’s cheek. “Miscarriage in the first trimester is more common than you think. Happens with Weres all the time. We will need to complete this one and soon.”
“What does that mean?” Sookie couldn’t feel sad. She couldn’t feel anything. There were too many things to do and now this would need to be fitted in.
“You take a pill. That gets things going. Takes about twenty-four hours.” Sookie had a good idea that the process wouldn’t be as simple as the Doctor was telling her.
“How long will it take me to recover?” she asked.
“I generally do it as out-patient. You’ll go home same day and just rest for another. Fact is, we could implant again in two weeks.” Sookie grit her teeth but in spite of her best efforts, a single tear slipped down her cheek. “I am sorry, Fairy Girl. I know it’s a disappointment.”
Sookie wasn’t sure where the steel within her came from, but she thought of her Gran. Within the space of a year her Grandmother, Adele, had buried both her children. She found herself raising grandchildren with almost no income, yet she never made either of her grand-babies feel like a burden. “When Karin and Pam arrive tonight I’ll tell them I want to take Eric to Bon Temps. He needs to recover as quickly as possible and spending the time in the ground is worth a shot. While he’s there we’ll take care of this other thing. Can you make the arrangements?”
Amy nodded, “Yes, I’ll get things set up. We’ll want to do your procedure here at the clinic. If you don’t have someone to give you a ride, I’ll do it myself. Sookie…” and the small doctor paused, then without saying another word she leaned forward and kissed Sookie’s forehead. When she stood back, she looked as surprised as the telepath, and she pulled a frown back in place, “I already called to have some breakfast sent up. You need to eat!” she snapped, and somehow Amy Ludwig growling and snarling at her made Sookie feel better.
Sookie looked at the television mounted on the wall. Following her gaze, Amy grabbed the remote and turned on the set. The news was on and there was a reporter standing near the broken front of the building in Rhodes. Yellow tape was flapping in the wind. “The investigation is now moving forward with the assistance of a new vampire investigative squad. They actually sniff for remains,” and the reporter made a smirk that looked mocking. “As a result of their work they have confirmed that over thirty vampires, mostly local citizens, were killed in the blast. These deaths add to the mounting number of fatalities including two who were well-known names on the national level. Eric Northman, the popular New Orleans vampire, is reported among the dead as is renowned novelist and screenwriter, William Compton. The outpouring of grief from Mr. Compton’s fans…”
“Folks think Eric is dead?” Sookie exclaimed. “We can’t have that! If vampires think he’s dead, they’ll be high-tailing it down here faster than poor relatives! I need to find my phone!” and Sookie started to push herself out of the chair. “Have you seen my phone?” she demanded.
“No, no telephones came through with you. The two of you arrived with the clothes on your backs. The Viking had a wallet in his back pocket and I set that aside, but nothing else.”
“People will have been texting,” Sookie said half to herself, and then she turned to Amy, “Can I borrow your phone? I need to call Mustapha.”
When the call went through it picked up on the second ring, “What do you want, Troll Lady? I don’t have any blood to donate today.”
“Mustapha,” Sookie could hear her voice shaking, “It’s me, Sookie.”
“Shit!” he sounded as if the wind had been knocked out of him. “Shit, where are you? There’s rumors flying all over that you were killed with him!”
“Listen to me,” Sookie interrupted him, “Neither one of us is dead, well, not finally dead. Eric is here in Shreveport and we need to let folks know.”
“Well, why don’t you come down to Fangtasia…” and Sookie interrupted again.
“He’s hurt, Mustapha. He’ll heal, but it may take a little bit. The first thing I need is replacement phones, one for me and one for Eric. People will have been texting us, calling us. I need to return those so it gives the impression we’re okay. I know it’s asking a lot…”
Mustapha chuckled, and the deep warm sound of it made Sookie feel better. “You need me to be a dayman for a day, huh? Well, I guess I can lend a hand. Let me get a piece of paper. I need your phone numbers and social security numbers. I’ll get someone to set up replacements and download your settings. Assuming you were both good about backing up into the cloud?”
Sookie gave him the information and then asked, “How long?”
“The package will be delivered to the hospital in about an hour,” and then the Were asked, “What about you? Were you hurt, too?”
“Not like Eric,” Sookie told him.
“You know he’s going to have to be seen around if you want to keep the scavengers from sniffing too close,” Mustapha told her.
“I have a plan,” Sookie replied, “and I may need your help with that, too. But there’s some other things. We’ll be in Bon Temps, but I don’t want too many people around. I’m going to have the New Orleans guards come up here to cover days. Just Charles and Owen. Bubba and Heidi will handle nights. I want you to give the rest of the guards a vacation. I can’t risk anyone seeing him right now.”
“How bad is it?” Sookie could hear the Packmaster’s concern.
“He’s missing some parts,” Sookie told him. “Nothing too vital, but he looks bad. Amy thinks he could be pretty well back to normal in a few weeks.”
“Weeks is a long time with injured vampires,” Mustapha reminded her again.
“I know, but I have a way to make it look like Eric’s up and around. It will take some play-acting, but I’m sure we can carry it off.”
Sookie hoped she sounded more certain than she felt, and she figured she did because the Packmaster chuckled in his mirthless, too cool way and said, “I can’t wait to see what you have cooked up.”
‘Yeah, me too.’ Sookie thought, when she disconnected the call. Breakfast came and Sookie managed another shower with help. The phones arrived and she spent the next hour returning texts. She texted those who had called as well. She returned two texts from Eric’s phone when she realized her mistake. It wasn’t sundown yet. She hoped no one would notice.
When Sookie could feel it was getting closer to sundown, she headed back to the room.
On her way down the hall, a woman stopped her. “Here, Amy asked me to give you this.” It was one of the nurses from last night and she had Eric’s wallet in her hand.
Sookie took it with her. She used a button to lower the bed, and then pulling up a chair, she sat as close as she could. She had been so relieved when Dr. Ludwig confirmed that the hand she’d seen dissolve the night before wasn’t Eric’s. He was on his back, his good hand resting against the rail and Sookie reached out to stroke his long, strong fingers. She thought of that hand and how it felt on her. Although it still jarred, she glanced at his face and noticed that it looked less raw than it had yesterday. She looked at the wallet in her lap and flipped it open. It seemed odd that in all this time she’d never looked through his wallet before and she found herself smiling at the line-up of credit cards. His driver’s license was behind the see-through plastic. “Figures,” she said, “You would take an amazing picture!” She pulled it out and ran her thumb over his rakish smile, then lifted it to her face and kissed it. She put it back in its place and opened the bill holder. There was about a hundred dollars in small bills, probably money he figured for tips. She ran her finger into the pocket under the cards and she pulled out two pictures. The one on top was a photo from their pledging. They were smiling at each other. It was the shot Sookie had wanted for their official portrait, but Eric had told her it was too informal.
The picture under it was the ultrasound. It was creased as if it had been pulled out and looked at many times. The place that was the baby’s face was smudged, and Sookie was sure it was Eric’s thumb that had damaged it. Seeing this made her remember his face when they found out they were expecting a girl, how happy he’d been, and the enormity of what had happened washed over her in a great wave. Not knowing what else to do, she wrapped her hand around the rail closest to his hand, laid her head against the bed, and gave in to the hole that opened in her chest, crying out her pain in great gulping sobs. She cried for Eric and she cried for their child who would never know them. She cried for all the others who died in Rhodes and she cried for the days that lay ahead. Sookie cried until her throat was sore and her face ached, and then pulling herself up, she walked to the table and grabbed the tissue box.
Watching herself in the mirror, she wiped herself down, and blew herself out. When she didn’t feel so damp anymore she looked at Eric reflected in the mirror behind her. “I’m okay now,” she told him. “I’ll be strong for you just like you’d be strong for me.” It was in that moment she felt it, the quickening that she knew was his rising approaching him. She took a deep breath, and then sending all the calm and love she had in her through their bond, she sat back down by the bed and held his hand.