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.
Thalia looked uneasily into the night. It was quiet here in the way all truly suburban neighborhoods were. It had been four months since the attempted takeover, four months since Thalia and Thierry had begun their final push to find Carlos. The trail they followed, tracking the New York King’s second, had intersected with the trail Thalia had been following for the rogues. Once she and Thierry located the gas station in Pennsylvania where Carlos had been captured on the surveillance camera, the path had been almost laughably easy to follow. Carlos used foolish names and charmed shop keepers. He hadn’t seemed to care about hiding his trail. He had met up with another vampire, and the two of them seemed to be treating their progress like some sort of rollicking road trip rather than a clandestine affair. When Thalia and Thierry reached the rest area outside of Scranton, Thalia recognized the overlap of Carlos’ trail with that of the rogues and for no reason other than instinct, she pushed the limits of their endurance to reach wherever the trail would lead as quickly as possible.
It hadn’t mattered. After several days spent buried in the dirt and nights spent tracking and trailing, she and Thierry found themselves in a small town in upstate New York. They were north of Saratoga, too close to the Canadian border. They had been eating up precious time, stopping at every gas station and package store that sold blood along the road. Their third stop was where they found what they were looking for.
“Oh,” the unshaven, lanky human had drawled, “you mean that big research place those vampire fellas have up on the mountain?” and then he’d given them both a look that was supposed to let them know he could tell them more for a price.
Thalia was ready to reach across the counter, grab the yokel by the neck, and shake it out of him, but Thierry stepped forward, smiled, and glamoured the man instead. Soon they had detailed descriptions of not only Carlos and his travel companion, but a number of other vampires and humans who were part of whatever operation was hidden away up on the mountain. The man didn’t know who owned the place, or what they were doing, but he knew their timetables; when trucks would come down the hill, stopping for snacks and gas, and he was able to draw a map to where the road to the facility was located. He was so helpful that neither Thalia nor Thierry thought to ask one of the more important questions: “When was the last time you saw anyone come down from there?” That oversight still made Thalia growl in frustration.
They parked their car well short of the road. They moved quickly enough, but climbing the hill, moving silently in parallel to the paved road, had been time consuming. The quiet of the place had been their first clue that something was off. The floodlights around the perimeter were on and there were lights burning inside the building, but there was no sound. There were cars parked neatly along the perimeter of the dirt apron waiting for their occupants to finish work, but there was a branch blown down on one truck that looked as if it had been there a while.
Thierry had confirmed Thalia’s uneasiness when he said, “There is something wrong here.”
Still, they sat in the shadows for an hour just to make sure. When it was clear there was no movement, Thierry moved to the front door. It should have required a keycard but it pushed open to his touch. That was when they knew.
At first glance, the building merely looked abandoned. Thierry walked straight through to the back and then through the doors. The yard was dark, but that didn’t prevent them from seeing what appeared to be close to fifty holes in the ground. This was a nesting site. Thierry walked to the first row of holes, which were all empty. Thalia wasn’t fooled. She could smell the bright scent of silver and, sure enough, there were long silver poles lying on the ground. “They killed them while they were in the ground,” she told the French Sheriff, and she pointed to the places where the ground was a little depressed but still intact.
“All?” Thierry was aghast.
Thalia scanned her head from side to side. She sniffed deeply for the dry, thin smell of vampire, but there was none aside from them. “All,” she confirmed.
Thierry hissed as he followed her back into the building. They soon found cages, and within those cages, the remains of vampires. Shirt sleeves still draped through leather-encased silver shackles. “The Makers?” Thierry asked.
“With the way the rogues were killed as they moved across the states, these vampires would have been insane. No Maker could withstand the deaths of so many if its progeny.” Thalia couldn’t stop looking. Five cages. Five vampires whose blood had been used to create the armies that had swept through the kingdoms, making progeny of their own. “We should see if there is any identification in the clothing,” Thalia said and then leaned in, carefully pulling the pants away from the silver. There were no wallets, no pictures in any of the cages. Thalia wasn’t surprised.
“Let’s find an office. There’s bound to be a computer somewhere. Maybe the files will tell us what happened here.” Thalia and Thierry separated. They found work areas and several offices, all with computer terminals, but the systems were locked and required passwords. Finally, in an office in the back, they found what they were looking for. The worker had taped his password under the keyboard. Thierry typed ‘startrek’ into the password field and they were in.
It didn’t take much searching to find a general email account that included letters and posts that appeared to have originated from Carlos. There were memos dated over a year ago asking for updates and demanding more vampires. There were memos dated more recently asking that surveillance be put in place to make sure the King (one supposed Misha, the New York King), didn’t find out about this place or what they were doing. There was a memo dated more recently that included a long diatribe about feeling betrayed by the King’s infatuation with the ‘bitch from the south.’ “I’m assuming that’s Pam,” Thalia had said dryly.
Everything pointed to a Second who had gone rogue, spending his own money to create his own private army. “I don’t believe it,” Thierry said when they read another email in which Carlos was venting that he had been cheated out of the Carolinas. “Old vampires don’t change. Misha would never have allowed any vampire in his employ enough rope to have done this. Carlos would have been watched even as he was watching others. That is Misha’s way.”
“Is there anyone the King trusts?” Thalia asked.
“Andrew,” Thierry said without hesitation. “He looks like the butler or a doorman, but Andrew is Misha’s real right hand. The rest of us cycle in and out of that kingdom, but Andrew? He’s Misha’s enforcer.”
Thalia had spotted surveillance cameras and they continued to search, looking for the security room which would house the feed. They found the heavy, fireproof door that led downstairs and as soon as Thalia swung it open, they knew they’d found the workers. The smell that reached them was the metallic tang of old blood. Walking carefully down the dimly lit stairs, they scanned from right to left, looking for some sign of attack, but there was none. There were blood stains at the bottom of the stairs and further down the corridor, several heaps of clothes. “Vampire,” Thierry said unnecessarily. Whoever had killed these people had cleaned up the humans, removing the bodies.
“We will probably find them outside somewhere,” Thalia said, jerking her chin at another of the dried blood pools on the floor.
“Makes it easier for us to move around down here,” Thierry nodded. “There is nothing more disgusting than the smell of a human decomposing.”
“So,” Thalia replied, “That would suggest that someone knew we, or someone like us, would come.”
“We were meant to find this,” Thierry agreed. Together they searched until they found the office that housed the monitors. The screens were black. Their search revealed that the footage from the past few weeks was missing, wiped clean.
“He’s good,” Thierry grinned, leaning against the metal desk in the office.
“Who?” Thalia covered her irritation by searching through some earlier tapes.
“Misha,” Thierry was now smiling. “I’ll look around, but my guess is we’ll find Carlos somewhere around here. I wouldn’t be surprised if the King had some hidden camera and was watching us even now.”
Thalia nodded, “Then we should go see him. It wouldn’t do to keep a King waiting when the matter involves his own kingdom.”
Thierry had been right. Remains that were probably Carlos’s were found, the wallet with his driver’s license conveniently located in the back pants pocket. “There were more vampires here than it appears,” Thalia observed. “They cleaned up the clothes, but they left the dust. Sloppy.”
“We will need to share that with Misha. If someone in his inner circle disappears, we’ll know the King was involved,” and Thierry winked.
“Interesting,” Thalia tilted her head to one side, “But without real proof we shouldn’t waste it. Better to figure out who was here and use that knowledge as leverage. Most will do what is needed to save themselves. If Misha is as you say, others will know that, too. It could be useful.”
A call to the King’s palace resulted in a quick invitation. They were met at the rental car office by Andrew. “Been a long time,” Thierry greeted the houseman warmly.
“The King speaks of you often. He misses you,” Andrew replied, and then turned to be introduced to Thalia.
Thalia lifted her chin briefly in greeting. Andrew had grinned and bowed in return. “You are everything your reputation says,” the New York vampire didn’t bother to hide his delight. Thalia watched the vampire carefully. Andrew was polite and pleasant, unassuming and almost unnoticeable. He was the perfect servant, and yet he moved with a quiet, coiled grace. Thalia was certain he carried weapons from the way his clothes pulled in certain places. He was certain to be underestimated by most.
“Is Pamela Ravenscroft in residence?” Thalia asked.
“No, sadly,” Andrew flicked his eyes in the rearview mirror as they headed into the city. “Mistress Pamela is in Connecticut. The Minnesota Queen is visiting Sanctum and Mistress Pamela is there to help with re-opening the facility.”
“I will be sorry to have missed her,” Thierry said pleasantly. “I hadn’t heard that Sanctum was re-opening, but we have been traveling for some time. That is a kind gesture on the part of the King.”
“It is a benefit to all vampires,” Andrew replied smoothly. “As you know, the King is much involved in good causes for the humans of the city. He was delighted to be able to be involved in a good turn for his own species as well. It is a cause that both he and Mistress Pamela share.”
Thierry and Andrew launched into a running chatter about mutual acquaintances. They reminisced about Jane, the vampire who had fallen in the Northman’s front yard when Angie of Nevada attempted her takeover. “She was so funny,” Andrew had remembered. “She could make me laugh until things started to hurt.”
“She was a rare person,” Thierry agreed. Her remains had been sent to Phoebe Golden of Iowa where they were preserved.
Misha himself stepped out onto the front stairs to greet them. He embraced Thierry, then stepped back, his nose wrinkling. “Andrew! Our guests need rooms and some time to refresh themselves!” Andrew nodded and Thalia and Thierry found themselves herded inside, their suitcases lifted from the trunk to follow them.
“Our refreshing won’t help,” Thierry shook his head, “what clothes we do have are filthy. Traveling and tracking is dirty business.”
“Don’t worry, my boy!” the King shook his head, “There will be robes and Andrew will see to everything!”
It wasn’t until they were inside that Misha stopped and turned to face Thalia, “And you are the famous Thalia!” Misha was smiling with his lips, but his eyes were cold and assessing. “It is strange we have never met, but, of course, there is talk of you everywhere.”
“I didn’t always travel as much as I do now,” Thalia replied, bowing her head just enough to be polite, but not entirely respectful.
“Of course,” Misha acknowledged, and still he stood looking at her.
Thalia recognized the King’s action for the power play it was. Thalia smiled thinly to let the King know she recognized it before saying, “I understand Pam Ravenscroft is traveling. I have word from her Maker. I will wait for another occasion.” Thalia was rewarded by a flattening of the King’s mouth. “But that’s not why we’re here,” Thalia continued as if she didn’t notice. “We come to you from a place within your own kingdom, but far to your north, so I might understand how this escaped your notice.” The words were insulting, implying that the King was not fit to oversee his lands, and Andrew threw Thalia a look that should have fried her. “It would appear there were illegal activities going on under your very nose,” Thalia continued, adding fuel to the fire.
Misha’s expression changed. Instead of becoming angry, his face softened into a look of woe and regret. “Yes, yes! Carlos! It is still hard to believe. I must be slipping in my older age, to have been so fooled.” The King turned to Andrew, “With a Kingdom as large as this, it is so important to have good help. I understand even Eric Northman struggles with securing his borders. Pamela told me all about that abortive attempt to take his kingdom. One wonders how so many could have snuck in without anyone noticing, that is until they stand in the shoes of one who was fooled, as I do now,” and Misha smiled.
It was everything Thalia had not to rip the King’s smiling head from his body. “Yes,” she agreed briefly, “Hard to believe.”
Thalia could see the King registered her hit, but there was no gloating in his tone as he said,“But this is a talk that will require many hours, and you need blood!” Misha glanced at Andrew who moved toward the stairs indicating they should follow him. Thalia glanced at the artwork as they passed first one floor and then another, climbing ever up. She wondered if Misha would be so smug if she ripped a painting or two from their frames and shredded them.
“Your master lives well,” Thalia said instead.
“My master does,” Andrew agreed and Thalia could tell he was watching her closely.
The conversation with the King had gone as Thalia would have predicted. The King was ‘surprised’ and then ‘appalled’ at what they found. He vowed to send people up to the facility to clean it out and make certain that anyone else associated with the operation was found and punished. Thalia suggested the new vampire police would serve the purpose. She offered to bring them in to lead the investigation, but Misha declined. “There aren’t enough of them yet. They need to root out Vampires First. That is their first priority. Were there more of them and were they better established, of course I would welcome their help, but for now, they should focus on the larger enemy, the one that threatens us all!”
It was masterfully done, and there was no opportunity to push further. During the course of the evening, Misha introduced them to his new second, Jason. “Jason comes to me from Boston,” Misha told them. “He shows great promise. I certainly hope he proves a more loyal employee than his predecessor.”
Later, as they boarded the plane that would return them to New Orleans, Thierry told Thalia that Jason was doubtless the one who had done the killing at the facility. “He had the scent,” Thierry told her, “and the look.”
Now Thalia was in Lafayette figuring out her next move. There was more to this, there had to be, but how to prove what she knew in her gut to be true? Danger would rear its head again, and when it did, Misha would be standing in the shadows, pulling the strings, Thalia was certain of it.
Thierry walked past her, heading for the garage. He was dressed well and wearing a light cologne. “Where are you going?” Thalia growled.
“Hunting,” he flipped his fingers and raised his eyebrows.
“Whoring,” Thalia snarled in return. “Why don’t you go crawling on your belly to Nabila so you can stop your pointless catting around? At the rate you’re going there will be no virgins left on the campus here, and the Christians will start seeking you out as the great corrupter.”
“I don’t have time for virgins,” Thierry laughed gaily. “They lack imagination. I prefer the older and willing to get wiser ones. Besides, Nabila would just as soon stake me as talk with me. I have nothing to offer her except talk, and she’s had her fill of that. Until we have something of substance there is no point in boring her with my tales of failure.”
“So you fill your time with rutting and feeding?” It seemed a pointless endeavor to Thalia.
“And it serves a purpose,” Thierry nodded. “There is something about that moment just after you cum. Your mind is a blank and in that instant, the noise of the world clears away to allow me to think great thoughts.”
“I know bullshit when I hear it!” Thalia snapped.
“And I know that honey catches more flies than vinegar. You would use a computer expert. You found one, a good one, but you had to piss off Sandy Seacrest. Now you can’t get access to him and Eric Northman can’t help you.” Thierry nodded knowingly. “It might interest you to know my hunting grounds are full of aspiring computer programmers.”
“That is the weakest excuse I’ve heard yet for fucking and feeding. You must think me a fool!” Thalia was losing what little good humor she felt. It didn’t help that Thierry’s needling was accurate. Thalia suspected the trail she wanted to find could only be found in computer systems, but that required an expert, a true artist. Those experts were few and far between, and it was fewer still, those willing to work with vampires. Thalia had never heard of a vampire hacker. It was humans who had developed the expertise to trace through the codes and traps of cyberspace.
Sandy Seacrest employed such a hacker, but the last time Thalia had been in her kingdom, Sandy had provoked Thalia. Thalia retaliated by getting a contingent of vampire police positioned in the middle of Sandy’s husband’s kingdom. While the police were proving themselves useful in some ways, it would be some time before Sandy would be thinking about forgiving Thalia for her interference.
Thalia watched the taillights of Thierry’s car grow smaller as he drove down the road that led to the University. For the first time in many years she felt herself at loose ends. ‘I need purpose,’ she thought. She considered returning to Shreveport. There was always a welcome awaiting her with Indira, but Nabila was also in residence. Thalia had nothing against the former Queen, but Thalia could foresee Thierry eventually asking her to spy, or worse, influence. It would be insufferable.
Thalia thought of returning to Jackson. The Kings had returned there; it being winter up north. Thalia knew she would have a place there, even an offer of employment, but the Kings would want to reminisce about Bill Compton. They had started a library in Compton’s honor and were thinking about starting a scholarship as well. It put Thalia’s teeth on edge. Eric and she had discussed it shortly before the Viking and his mate returned to New Orleans. They had agreed there was nothing to be gained by destroying the Kings’ illusions and so they remained silent, but it was hard. Every time Thalia saw an article or heard about another monument or tribute to the dead vampire, she wanted to stand on the nearest hill and shout out what Bill Compton had done. ‘No,’ Thalia thought. ‘Not Jackson either.’
Each place Thalia considered was not attractive. She couldn’t go north to Maude; she wouldn’t be welcome with Phoebe. She might have something in common with Isaiah but they always seemed to fight within a short period of time and then they didn’t speak for longer.
Thalia growled. There was really only one place she wished to be, and that was where the Viking was, but she found she couldn’t. Each time she thought of Eric Northman she remembered his sorrow. His grief over the loss of his human child made Thalia remember that she might have changed things. ‘You made your choice,’ she told herself, ‘and it was the right one.’ Thalia just wished she felt more comforted by that knowledge.
“So where is she?” Octavia leaned forward, wrapping her wrinkled hands around the warm tea cup.
“It was nice and sunny so I took her lunch upstairs to her little roof garden. It’s humid enough she’ll eat and then fall asleep. The sun’s good for her, and he loves how it makes her smell.” Devrah smiled tightly before sipping from her own cup.
“Things still aren’t right between them, are they?” Octavia already knew the answer. She could see it in the thin set of her cousin’s lips. When Devrah didn’t answer, Octavia said, “You know, I could charm them. It wouldn’t be a big thing, just a little push.”
“Don’t you dare to that!” Devrah hissed. “There’s plenty of things I can think of that would just put those two over the edge, and being manipulated against their will would be the worst!”
“She happy about the baby?” It was common gossip in and around the palace. Sookie and Eric Northman were pregnant again. They returned to the New Orleans palace within a week of the failed takeover attempt. They were subdued, but that didn’t surprise anyone. The attack had so quickly followed Rhodes and although the official story was that Sookie had transported them away from the explosion to safety, there were lingering rumors that Eric or Sookie or both of them had sustained serious injuries.
It was the heightened curiosity that was responsible for the close way the palace folk were watching them, and that was how the story about the tea traveled so quickly. Devrah had placed Sookie’s favorite sweet tea on the dinner tray. The couple was sitting in the little office. They were working and were expecting Mr. Cataliades. When the demon attorney sent word he’d be late, Devrah had a servant take in the Queen’s dinner. The door was open when the King told the servant to take away the tea. “My wife is pregnant,” he said clearly. “She should avoid caffeine.”
Within hours everyone knew.
The reaction was varied. There were some who said it was brave to go through in vitro again so soon after losing their first child. There were others who whispered that it took a certain amount of heartlessness to walk back into a clinic mere weeks after the fact and pick out another embryo.
The announcement about the miscarriage and the couple’s desire for privacy had been posted on a placard next to the front door of the palace. Stacks of sympathy cards were received from those who knew the Northmans as well as those who admired them. There was a general sense of sadness among many in New Orleans, a city that did everything, including mourning those who passed with style, that the promise of something so special and rare had been cut short. And now, so soon, that mourning seemed to have been shuffled to the side, and even those who supported the couple’s decision did so with quiet acceptance rather than open celebration.
But as the days passed, it became clear that something was not quite right. There was no official announcement of Sookie’s current condition and when Devrah asked, instead of looking pleased, Sookie looked embarrassed and then sad. What’s more, there was the clear sense that the Northmans had returned to New Orleans with no intention of returning north. The house in Bon Temps was closed up and a crew sent to clean and place things in storage. Arrangements were made to feed the livestock and a security firm hired to patrol the grounds. The Northmans had purchased the Compton property and there was some speculation as to what they would do with it. Like their own home in Bon Temps, the Compton place was closed up as well.
“I can’t say,” Devrah told Octavia. “It’s a fact. She’s getting bigger every day. She picked up that little belly of hers faster this time, but I guess that’s to be expected.”
“Well, I’m not sure what the problem would be. Not like they didn’t have to do some choosing to get themselves this way, at least according to what I read,” and Octavia shook her head. “I don’t think I would have made that choice to have another baby so soon after losing the first one. I hear some folks think it’s a good idea, but maybe this is the proof…”
“I don’t think this one is the same as the last one,” Devrah interrupted her, looking across the table under raised eyebrows. “There was no clinic visit, according to what I heard from Amy Ludwig’s regular assistant.”
“That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” Octavia shrugged. After a little bit, the witch asked, “You don’t think Sookie was raped or forced, do you?”
“I have thought of it,” Devrah replied, “especially at first, but now? No, I don’t think so. I’ve wracked my brains trying to figure it out. Charles and Owen are no help at all. They were there but they’re both silent as the grave. Told me it’s not my business!” Devrah snorted, “How can I do what I need to do if I don’t know what’s going on?”
“And they won’t say?” Octavia asked.
“You know me!” Devrah laughed, “I’m not shy! Of course I asked, but Sookie got real quiet and looked away. I asked the King if there was something I should know about this and he got cagey.”
“But how…” and then Octavia stopped. She drank some more tea and then tilted the glass looking at the leaves. “I know she shouldn’t, but do you think we could get Sookie to drink a little tea?” she asked.
“Maybe herbal or green tea,” Devrah shrugged.
“Won’t work,” Octavia shook her head. “If we could get her to drink a cup of black tea I might be able to read something in the leaves about this.”
“It’s not a choice anymore,” Devrah shook her head. “Anything with caffeine makes her nauseous. She’s real particular this time around. No chicken, no yogurt. I made her bread pudding when she asked and she was sick all morning. On the other hand, she can’t eat enough bananas and oranges. I’ve had the kitchen squeezing gallons of fresh orange and grapefruit juice for her two, sometimes three times a day.”
“That’s odd,” Octavia shook her head. “With Sookie being part-Fae, I wouldn’t have thought citrus would sit well with her.”
“Sits just fine,” Devrah shrugged. “Caught her the other day, eating the lemon I put in her water right out of the rind and she asked me for more.”
“Maybe she and the King are fighting,” Octavia suggested. “That might explain the unhappiness. Could be Sookie made the decision to do in vitro and didn’t ask him. With the pressure they’ve been under I could see them making foolish decisions.”
“No, that’s not it,” Devrah replied. “Fact is they are closer now than I’ve ever seen them. I don’t think I’ve seen them more than a few feet apart from each other once he’s up. Even when they’re across the room from each other you get the impression they are just two halves of the same whole. What’s more, I swear they’re communicating telepathically. One will look at the other and the next thing you know, they are moving just like they talked about it, but you are standing right there and they didn’t say a word.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case,” Octavia smiled. “They are powerful beings, the both of them. She was always telepathic, although she told me one time she couldn’t hear vampires. It was why she was so attracted to them. The quiet of their minds was restful to her.”
“I heard the King started hearing the Queen’s thoughts shortly before the explosion,” Devrah confided. “Folks said it was some kind of bonding gift from the Fae.”
“I imagine that would just piss off our Miss Stackhouse!” Octavia chuckled. “She always was a little too proud of having one up on folks by being able to see in their heads. I can’t see her being okay with having the tables turned on her.”
Devrah smiled, too, “I know that’s right! The temper on her can be a righteous thing, but I do think they can both do it now and it’s just made them closer, but sadder, too. I can’t explain it. They are just… careful with each other; real polite and always ready to protect the other. It makes you nervous just being around them. Still…” and Devrah gave her cousin a knowing look, “for all the talking and touching, there isn’t much sheet dancing.”
“And how would you know…” Octavia looked somewhere between appalled and delighted.
“I’m the housekeeper,” Devrah returned an arch look, “I see the bed linen and they may be holding onto each other, but there is no extra going on, and that’s just not good for them. They need to laugh and play, those two. It’s part of what makes them work as a couple.”
“It may be they just need time,” Octavia assured her cousin.
“I hope that’s it,” Devrah agreed.
Eric rose alone. It didn’t happen often, certainly not since before Rhodes. Sookie’s side of the bed was pulled together the way she did when she slipped out during the day. Reaching out, Eric could feel the soft buzz that meant his wife slept. This pregnancy was like the one before. Sookie ate more. She slept more. Sookie smelled sweet, but as Niall had promised, the Fae thread to her scent signature didn’t strengthen. Standing up, Eric stretched and then closed his eyes, pinpointing her location. She was above him, which meant she slept on the roof. It was dark and Eric wondered that she had been left up there alone. Not stopping long enough to throw anything on, he walked with purpose through their chambers and then into the hallway. Charles’ greeting was cut short and Eric could hear James chuckle. ‘They are thinking I mean to claim her,’ he realized and the thought almost made him pause. He had felt his old self for a moment.
Eric continued up the stairs. He didn’t know what to think about this. Sookie was pregnant. Niall insisted that somehow they had needed no intervention to make this miracle happen. The Prince had stood in their home in Bon Temps and told them both in clear, triumphant words that there could be no doubt that the baby within his wife was their child, his and Sookie’s.
The Fae Prince’s smirking assurances hadn’t stopped Eric from asking Doctor Ludwig more questions and after a few minutes, Amy growled and offered to do a test to confirm a DNA match. Eric had almost agreed when he felt the quick hurt from Sookie and he realized what such a test implied.
“Of course this child is mine,” Eric snapped at the small doctor, reversing his position and making the doctor growl even more. “There is no need for tests!” he assured Sookie, but still, there was something that lingered. Perhaps it was a reluctance to so quickly set aside the memory of that other child. Perhaps it was the stubborn belief that vampires were incapable of making biological children. Perhaps it was the way Niall had smiled, so sure of himself. Eric couldn’t accept this thing. He was reluctant to touch her, reluctant to get too close, and from her head, Eric could hear that Sookie felt the same way. It wasn’t that they felt any less affection for each other; in fact, the events of the past months seemed to bring them even closer which made the situation both better and worse.
Within three days of the takeover, Sookie announced she could hear his thoughts. Eric realized that had she told him that news at any other time, he would have been delighted, but now? The turmoil Eric was experiencing was new. He had only recently come to understand and accept the strong emotions he felt for his wife. He had recklessly embraced the feelings he had for his unborn daughter, and that head-long, no-holds-barred acceptance was what was at the root of his problems now. When she died, Eric found he had no defense against the grief he felt. It recalled his past and more. For centuries, Eric Northman had learned to live without the encumbrance of emotion, and now? Now he rose each night in a twist, remembering his existence in one moment and his loss in the next. Sookie had been his strength, and she still was, but there was something about the fact of this new pregnancy that didn’t make things better. It only served to remind him of what he had lost.
When Sookie suggested they leave Bon Temps, Eric jumped at the suggestion. He was happy with the idea that by leaving this place that held so many memories he would also leave the overwhelming sorrow behind. It was a lie. The sorrow followed him to New Orleans. He would catch Sookie staring at her changing body and feel her sadness. He would wish to comfort her and she would, in turn, wish to comfort him. They were wrapping each other in cocoons of caring, but in the process, Eric had a suspicion they were serving to keep the sorrow close at hand rather than helping each other to work past it.
Eric stepped from the stairwell. Sookie was lying under a blanket. The evening was unseasonably warm, and his wife looked beautiful, her hair spilling across the chaise, silver in the light of the moon and reflected city lights. Slowly he lowered himself to sit beside her. She must not have been deeply asleep because she opened her eyes to him, her slow smile greeting him and he tweaked a strand of hair from across her forehead. His fingers came away carrying the heady scent of sun. He felt his desire for her rising and Sookie held up her wrist to him. “For you,” she said softly.
Eric held her arm and watched her as he licked twice, preparing her. He sipped just a little, but it was enough. He licked again, sealing the wounds and he saw her eyes stray to his erection. Smiling, he drifted lower, pulling the blanket and then her pants from her. She tasted wonderfully. Not quite the same as the last time, but still so good. Eric suppressed the comparison and focused instead on the moment. He ran the flat of his tongue between her lips and then, parting her with his fingers, dipped in to kiss and pull, tongue and flick. It took little time to have his Sookie moaning and shifting and he held her more securely, using his fingers now to mimic the movement of entering her. She came in a bright, sharp cry and a burst of energy across his brain. Eric slipped his hand down to stroke himself and he started to move over her, but in the process, he touched the swell of her stomach. ‘Changeling.’ The word sprang to his head and he backed away, continuing to stroke until he brought himself to completion.
When he opened his eyes, it was to find her looking at him. “I think it, too,” she told him. He could hear her thoughts. She was a roil of emotion. She felt angered and sad; guilty and frustrated. She felt the creature that was growing within her was more invader than welcome, but, at the same time, she felt protective of it.
Eric laughed, but it was not happy, “Fucking fairies,” he said out loud.
“Niall didn’t say the Fae had anything to do with it,” and Sookie sat up. The last time she would have feathered her hand across her belly. When Eric had seen her do it he could imagine that same hand cradling their daughter. This time Sookie seemed to avoid touching her growing stomach, as if avoiding it would help it to not be so real.
“Niall didn’t say the Fae didn’t have anything to do with it, either,” Eric pointed out. He stood up, “Come, Lover. It is getting damp out here. You are hungry. I am sure Devrah has something ready for you.”
He waited while she dressed and then Eric walked them to their chambers. Sookie smiled at Charles and then at James as they walked through the doors. Eric handed his wife carefully into one of the chairs, called downstairs for dinner, and then walked through the bedroom to put clothes on. After dinner they would head downstairs, her arm through his as they rode the elevator. Saul would make some remark about how well they were looking and Sookie would thank him. They would spend at least an hour with Mr. Cataliades, and then they would attend to anything extra that needed their attention. When they had spent enough time with Max, Emil, and whoever else was visiting, they would retreat to their special room. Since it was warm, Eric probably wouldn’t start the gas fire tonight, but they would pick up the book they were reading together and they would remain close, touching each other, until Sookie fell asleep. It was the same routine they had followed almost every night since their return.
It was Devrah herself who brought the tray in tonight. “You’re looking better,” she smiled at Sookie, even though she really thought the telepath looked worn. “I wanted to remind you that Doctor Ludwig wants you in Shreveport sometime tomorrow.”
Eric walked out from the bedroom, “You are feeling well, Älskade?” he asked.
“Yes, it’s just that Amy wants to do an ultrasound… you know, check out that everything is developing well.” Sookie said the words to her plate, cutting the pork chop into little pieces.
“You didn’t think to tell me?” Eric wasn’t angry, just curious. He glanced at Devrah, then thought, ‘You don’t think I should be there?’
‘I’m not sure I want to be there,’ his wife thought back at him and Eric found himself looking at Sookie, really looking at her. Her face that had glowed with happiness was dim. Her eyes were patient, but rarely did they sparkle.
“I wish to go,” he said out loud, and he made sure his tone conveyed an interest. When Sookie looked up in surprise, Eric deliberately walked across the room to stand beside her and then he kneeled down. Licking his lips, he laid his hand on her softly rounded stomach and looking into her eyes, he told her, “You are beautiful, Sookie. I understand now why there are men who wish their wives to remain pregnant. You are beautiful at all times, but now,” and he stroked her stomach, “now you are radiant. You are my sun,” and he found himself warmed by the smile that lit her face.
Eric could feel the brief and subtle breath that he had come to recognize as her entering his thoughts, and he made sure that what she found in his head matched the words he had given her. His reward was the return of some part of the sparkle he realized he had been missing from her eyes.
When he walked Devrah to the door, the housekeeper turned before she left and whispered, “Bless you!” It seemed a little thing, although it had taken more from him than he anticipated, but Eric realized it had changed things.
“Nice, strong heartbeat,” Doctor Ludwig was smiling. The doctor stood on a stool so she could pass the wand back and forth. The last time Jane had been here. The now gone vampire had used a different machine, one that showed their daughter in amazing detail. Eric wasn’t certain he would have been able to maintain his optimistic outlook, seeing the face of this new child. It was hovering there on the fringes of his thoughts, the feeling that the baby within his wife was something made of Fae magic, that somehow their real child had been taken from them to make room for this other child. Eric knew it was foolish, a holdover from the myths and legends of his human years. Eric also knew with Sookie’s new ability to read his thoughts, allowing this idea to take hold would hurt her.
The image on the screen was less distinct this time. There was a profile and a grainy arm reaching toward its face. “I think he’s sucking his thumb,” Amy Ludwig was smiling.
“He?” Sookie asked.
“Too soon to tell, particularly with this technology,” the doctor smiled at his wife. “If you’d like, I can get the other machine…”
“No!” Sookie exclaimed, saving Eric from having to say the same thing. There was something in the tone in her voice that made Eric look at her and then dip into her head. He could feel her emotions rocketing back and forth and he quickly withdrew. There were times in this pregnancy her ricocheting emotions made him feel ill and overwhelmed and this was one of those nights.
“All is well, Lover,” Eric stroked her forehead. “There is no need. Perhaps next time…”
“You want it?” Sookie was starting to sweat a little and Eric realized she was starting to feel almost panicky.
“No,” he shook his head, “No, Älskade, there is no need to see what we will both see in person soon enough,” and he pushed calm toward her.
When they were in the car on their way to Tara DuRone’s home, Eric asked, “Are you sure you wish me to leave you with Tara? I can stay if you wish.” Sookie had calmed down, but it was Eric who took the copy of the ultrasound images. Sookie would have left them on the counter.
“I’m fine, Eric,” Sookie insisted. “It’ll be good for me to have a little girl time. Besides, just the thought of walking into Fangtasia has me figuring out how fast I could make it to the women’s room. This morning sickness stuff is really kicking my butt.”
It occurred to Eric this was the first time Sookie had mentioned her frequent bouts with nausea in terms of morning sickness. She had been referring to it as ‘being sick’ or ‘not feeling well.’ Eric realized that like him, Sookie was dodging what was becoming an increasingly obvious reality and Eric acknowledged he bore some of the blame for it.
Deliberately laying his hand on the swell that was the child, Eric smiled and said, “This one is different. I have heard they are all different.” When he could see his words didn’t have the desired effect, he dug a little deeper, “Perhaps this one is more like me. He demands your attention.” These words worked a little better and Sookie’s smile seemed a bit more genuine.
As he walked her to the front door, he asked again, “You’re sure? I can see Mustapha another time.”
“No,” Sookie smiled, and she looked more like the saucy, strong woman she was, “It’s all good. I’m really looking forward to some girl time. You’d just cramp our style. Just don’t be too late and text me when you’re leaving,” and Sookie pushed up on her tiptoes, using a hand against his shoulder for balance so she could kiss his cheek. Tara swept out of the house and wrapped his wife in her arms, and Eric could feel the comfort Sookie took from it. For a moment, he was jealous of how happy she was in the arms of another, but he bit back his growl and patiently allowed Mrs. DuRone to hug him as well.
Suddenly the front door was shut in his face and Eric was walking alone back to the car. Rather than sit in the backseat by himself, Eric slid into the passenger seat next to Charles. “Women,” Charles shook his head. “No one knows the mystery of women. Best to let them have their hen party and don’t ask about it later.” Eric nodded. He had come to appreciate Charles’ insights into married life.
“Do they talk about us?” Eric found himself asking, and Charles answered by laughing out loud.
“So, you really think that somehow you got pregnant… like… the usual way?” Tara placed another plate of thinly sliced lemons in front of Sookie.
“There’s no other explanation, unless somehow someone came in while we slept, and Eric would have smelled it if there were some stranger in our bedroom.”
“Sookie? That whole smelling thing? It’s weird, I’m just telling you,” Tara smiled and rolled her eyes, “But I guess is does eliminate some possibilities. By the way, creepy possibilities! I swear! You live one weird life!”
“It is weird,” Sookie nodded. “If someone had told me that I’d be married to a vampire and related to fairies… well, I guess when I was a little girl I would have thought it was pretty cool.”
“You always were a strange one!” Tara smiled and leaned over to squeeze Sookie’s knee, assuring her friend that was a good thing. “So, let’s suppose that somehow after Eric got better, he really got better.” Sookie blushed a bit and Tara arched her eyebrow. “I’d say we can’t rule anything out,” Tara nodded, “Let’s just say that those swimmers are fully functional. Kind of changes things, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t think he believes it,” Sookie bit her lip. “He was thinking for a while that this,” and she glanced down, “was some kind of changeling or something.”
“A cursed child?” Tara made a sour face, “Really?” Then Tara sat back and asked, “What do you think, Sookie? Are you happy about this little baby?” and Tara leaned over and stroked her hand over Sookie’s belly.
“I don’t know what to think,” Sookie said, but even to her own ears it sounded more like an excuse.
“Well, I don’t know what that means,” Tara got matter of fact with her friend, “But what I do know is you have a little baby right here,” and she took Sookie’s hand in her own and laid it so it was palm down against her own belly. “A little baby that can hear you and feel you, and I’m betting if you’ve been carrying on the way you are now, he’s more than a little lonely.” When Sookie looked at her skeptically, Tara nodded, “You bet! You don’t think that some little person who is all tied up inside of you knows what’s going on? You need to pull your head out of your ass and start treating this little baby the way he deserves. You just told me yourself you believe this is you and Eric. I’m not saying the timing was perfect, but maybe in some ways, it was.”
Sookie felt quick tears coming to the corners of her eyes, but Tara wasn’t having any of it. “Now you just stop that right now!” she ordered. “What happened in Rhodes was terrible. It wasn’t your fault and it wasn’t Eric’s. You were both lucky from what I hear, not that either of you would tell me one piece of truth about it.” Sookie opened her mouth but Tara held up her hand, “Don’t bother! Jason told me some things and I figure the less I know the better I am, but there are some things I do know about, like how you can’t deny the bond between you and your child.”
“I’m not denying it!” Sookie protested.
“No, you’re ignoring it, and that’s worse!” Tara replied.
“I can’t help how I feel,” Sookie told her friend.
Tara narrowed her eyes, “Because how you feel is always right?” she asked. “I remember when you didn’t like me much but that was because you didn’t know me.”
Sookie smiled and laughed a little, “I thought you were pretty stuck up,” she admitted.
“I was really just shy and once you gave me a chance, we became best friends,” Tara nodded. She looked toward Sookie’s belly where her hand rested on top of her friend’s, holding it in place. “Maybe you need to give this little one a chance,” she told the telepath. “Talk to him. Comfort him. I think you’re going to find that he’s just what you need, what you both need.”
“I keep thinking that if I spend all my time thinking about this one, I’ll forget my little girl,” Sookie said quickly.
Tara scooted over to sit next to Sookie on the couch, “Well, over the years I’ve heard you say some pretty stupid things, but that? Sookie Stackhouse Northman, that is one of the stupidest things I think I’ve ever heard come out of your mouth. Your Gran would be pure embarrassed to hear that! I know you don’t have one brain cell. You act like you only have room in your head for one thought! You are smart as they come. How could you ever forget that first little girl?”
“Yeah,” Sookie sniffed, “It does sound pretty dumb.”
“So,” Tara asked, “Is that why you moved away?”
Sookie nodded, “That’s part of it.”
Tara wrapped her arm around her friend’s shoulders and pulled her close, “Running never solves anything,” she told Sookie. “And trying to make time stand still doesn’t work either. The only way to work through the sad times is to push through them and grab the happiness you find on the other side to keep you moving. This?” and she lay her hand on Sookie’s stomach again, “This is pure happiness just waiting for you to grab hold. This is smiles and laughter and love for a lifetime, and for you? Well, that’s a pretty long time.”
“What if something happens to him?” Sookie asked. “What if I lose him, too? I don’t think I could survive that!”
“What kind of talk is that?” Tara asked her. “So you’re going to live your life afraid of the ‘what ifs’? Where’s my friend, because the Sookie Stackhouse I know looks at those silly ‘what ifs’ and spits in their eye! There is danger that we all face every time we walk out our own front door. If I spent all my time thinking about the things that could go wrong, I’d be a shivering wreck under my bed every day. I have three beautiful babies who I have to send out into the world with their heads held high and I can, because I have faith that life had something good in store for them.” Tara squeezed Sookie and didn’t let go until her friend looked her in the eye, “I know life has something good in store for that little baby inside you! My God, Sookie! With your looks and Eric’s charm? You’ll be beating those gals off with a bat!”
Sookie smiled, too, “We don’t know yet if it’s a girl or a boy,” she told Tara.
“Well, you better find out,” her friend replied, “Because we are going to spend some of that money you have on the best baby stuff, and I’m not interested in doing some half-assed green or yellow theme. It’s blue or pink all the way!” When Sookie grinned, Tara shoulder bumped her, “Now eat your lemons! Everything is going to be fine!” and for the first time, Sookie believed her.