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 waited until they were in the smaller room to start to say something, but the Pythoness stopped her with a single, raised hand. Where outside in the auditorium the old vampire had walked straight and tall, once the door shut behind her, she changed. Before Thalia’s eyes, the Ancient Pythoness became smaller and more stooped. A handmaiden Thalia recognized as Diantha, Mr. Cataliades’ niece, rushed forward and took the crone’s hand, slowly and carefully leading her to a soft armchair. “Blood,” the old one croaked.
Diantha flashed Thalia a warning look, but Thalia couldn’t tell what the young demon was trying to convey. The second handmaiden hustled forward to hand the Pythoness warmed blood in a tall glass with a straw. The impossibility of the situation struck Thalia and she almost laughed. She was now at the head of an army, working for a walking mummy who drank blood through a sippy straw. “My Lady…” Thalia said.
“You will have to wait for your questions,” the Pythoness shushed, “The Clan Chiefs are just outside the door and there is still business to be done tonight.” Turning to where the handmaidens were hovering, the old one asked, “Is all ready?”
“NewYorkwillbeontheconference,” Diantha said in her breathless way. The demon glanced at her watch and then opened the drapes that covered a wall, revealing a large television monitor. Thalia realized she was looking at a conferencing center. The Pythoness gestured with her hand again and the other handmaiden opened a door, admitting Stan Davis and Felipe de Castro.
“Congratulations,” Stan grinned at Thalia.
“For what?” Thalia snarled, and Stan’s smile dropped. He turned his back to Thalia and angled toward the Pythoness to make his bow.
“You give up trying to charm her so soon?” the Pythoness purred, “Isn’t that your coin in trade, Stan? You deceive with your appearance and lure with your compliments? You are the master of the deal, always looking for the angle to exploit, but you are the least offensive. At least your faults do not seek to harm others.” Stan rose slowly, his eyes wide and his mouth slightly ajar.
“And you,” the Pythoness turned her beady stare through eyes clouded, but no less sharp, to Felipe de Castro. “Do you even remember your progeny’s name? What unnatural Maker allows his only child to fall?”
Felipe’s eyes darted nervously toward Thalia and the small vampire saw it, but De Castro’s answer was aimed at the Pythoness, “I miss my child,” he protested. “I did not tell her to do what she did. She took that step on her own. I wish now I had counseled her to take another path.”
“That, at least, is truth,” the Pythoness smiled her mirthless smile. “It must feel strange in your mouth, Felipe. How does it taste?”
“My Lady?” Felipe looked confused.
“The truth, Felipe,” the Pythoness sniffed. “It is a novel thing coming from you. Surely it tastes different than the other words you use.” Turning toward Diantha, she said, “It is time!”
The monitor glowed softly and then came into focus, showing a dark office space. Misha, the King of New York, walked into view and sat down, his broad face filling the screen.
“Aaah!” the Pythoness said in a long exhale that sounded like air escaping a balloon, “And here is the last of you. Misha, Prince of all you survey! At your age I would have expected more wisdom.”
Misha was looking left and right, apparently seeing each of them. Thalia found herself scanning the room she was in until she spotted the discrete camera perched near the ceiling of the room. “I see you have assembled an interesting group,” Misha replied. “All that’s missing is the North Man, but perhaps Thalia has finally tired of being under his heel and has ended him.”
Thalia hissed, but the Pythoness laughed, “Your view of your world is an interesting one, Misha. Always a plot or a stake waiting in the dark.”
“That is not my only view,” New York said, his tone mild. Thalia noticed his eyes traveling to a single, yellow rose that sat on his desk. “Greetings, my fellow Chiefs,” he added and smiled, showing teeth.
As Stan and Felipe nodded, the Pythoness signaled Thalia to take a place standing beside her. “You will not have heard that I have appointed Thalia the head of my army,” the Pythoness said to the screen.
“It is well that you finally call things by their rightful name,” Misha was still smiling but he didn’t look pleased. “I am assuming this means we are required to welcome these ‘representatives’ within our borders?”
“I expect you to invite them in,” the Pythoness smiled back, “Enthusiastically. Thalia will wield them as she sees fit, and if she chooses to insert them into an investigation,” and she stared at Misha, “or open an investigation,” and she swung her eyes toward Felipe, “then she is acting within her authority.”
“There may be many among our people who will object,” Stan said the words they were all thinking.
“You have allowed the discipline in your kingdoms to grow lax if that is the case,” the Pythoness hissed.
“We have allowed our Kings and Queens to rule!” Stan protested. “These are not the old days. We are more than a handful in numbers now, and we no longer require absolute obedience from our vassals.”
“Then you will have farther to go in convincing your people,” the Pythoness shrugged, but turning to Stan, she continued, “But you, Stan Davis, will be the better for it. You already believe in what is coming. You see the possibilities along with the constraints.”
“It’s better for business if we aren’t killing each other…or humans,” the Texas King glanced at his peers.
“Spoken like a true businessman,” the Pythoness nodded. “Felipe, you and Misha could learn something from your fellow Clan Chief. He has the largest of the territories. He has more Kings and Queens, each with their own concerns and problems, and yet, Zeus Clan proves itself the best running and most profitable of all our territories.”
“Narayana is doing well!” Felipe protested. “Our profits increase and we can’t keep up with the opportunities available…”
“You would be stronger still if you had Kings and Queens to share the work,” the Pythoness hissed. “Instead you try to hold all things in your hand, but the harder you hold, the more things slip from your grasp.” The old one sat back, “Consider my words, De Castro. It is not up to me to change your fate.”
The words hung in the air and Thalia was sure that if he could have, the Nevada King would have paled. Turning her head back toward the screen, the Pythoness continued, “And you, Misha, who think so well of yourself. Wrapping yourself in beautiful things does not truly hide a rotting core.”
“What are you saying?” Misha hissed, “Are you threatening me?”
“No,” the Pythoness smiled thinly, “Why? Do you think I should?” The King’s eyes were blazing and he was no longer smiling.
“What is it you wish to tell us?” Stan asked. “You would not have called us together if you did not have a purpose, Lady.”
The Pythoness nodded, “I have decided that there will be one who sits in my place. I will be his counselor, but it is to him you will take your petty arguments and territory disputes. He will sit as judge in my place.”
“Northman!” Misha hissed from the monitor.
“Why him?” Felipe asked.
“Who else could I choose?” the Pythoness settled back. “Thalia respects him, so she will trust him to arbitrate disputes in the matter of the army. He has history with each of you, but no particular reason to treat any one of you worse than the other,” but she looked sharply at Felipe de Castro again. “And what is more, he has the kind of protection that will make it impossible for any one of you to successfully challenge him. I wish peace and order in my kingdom and the Viking is the only one with the wisdom and the strength to do it.”
“I will not submit to him!” Misha roared.
“Then your final death will come swiftly,” the Pythoness was no longer smiling. Her fangs dropped and her hands gripped the arms of her chair. “You defy me?” and flecks of spit flew from her lips.
Thalia and the others in the room watched with interest as the New York King visibly struggled to regain his composure. Thalia saw in that moment what Thierry had been telling her. Although he might manage to keep it leashed, under the surface, Misha had a rage that drove him. It was a dangerous thing and she could see from Stan’s face that the Zeus Clan Chief was taken by surprise. Felipe did not seem so surprised, and Thalia found she liked the Nevada monarch better for it.
“Will you submit?” the Pythoness stood up, her voice ringing like steel.
Misha’s jaw was working, his hands clenched as he gritted out, “I will, Lady. I will accept this.”
“Then you will live another night,” the Lady snarled and sat back down. Thalia found her eyes flicking to the seemingly frail woman. Did that mean the Pythoness maintained her own network of spies and agents in each of the kingdoms? Surely she wouldn’t make such a threat if she had no way of carrying it out, and then Thalia wondered about the conversation she had overheard with Niall. Thalia knew what Niall wanted, and the Pythoness was maneuvering to give it to him. Was the use of Fae as assassins what the Oracle had received in return? As if she knew what Thalia was thinking, the Pythoness turned toward her and nodded.
“Thalia, I will expect you to contact each of our Clan Chiefs, and the new Clan Chief that will be appointed for Amun Clan. You will let them know your plans,” and the Pythoness looked around her, “and you, my Chiefs, you will stand as surety that your people will agree and support my new commander.”
“How long do we have to prepare our people for these changes?” Stan asked.
“I will tell North Man of his good luck tonight,” the Pythoness purred. “And then I will make the official announcement tomorrow night at the ball. Within two nights time all the paperwork will be filed and posted,” and she smirked at Thalia, “Perhaps another ceremony can be arranged.” Turning toward the video feed of Misha, she said, “Once that happens I expect things to move swiftly.”
“So, the Viking doesn’t know?” Felipe couldn’t help but chuckle. “He was a most reluctant King.”
“And he will be an even more reluctant High King,” the Ancient Pythoness sat back. “It is what qualifies him. Of all my Clan Chiefs, he is the only one who doesn’t want it.”
“What if he turns it down?” Stan asked.
The Pythoness didn’t answer, instead she stared, and after a moment, Stan, and then Felipe bowed. At a nod, the monitor went black and the Chiefs understood they were dismissed. Thalia turned to follow them, but before she left, she said, “The Viking may say no to this. He has many worries. To do this now is not doing him any favor.”
“What makes you think I like him any better than the rest?” the Pythoness hissed. “Why should I treat him differently?”
Thalia was surprised at the venom in the Old One’s words, so she bowed and retreated, but as she did she wondered again at what hold the Fae Prince had over the Pythoness, and what hold she had on him.
“Get the car!” Misha hissed. His fangs were extended and he was so angry his hair bristled on his head.
“Master!” Andrew said in alarm, and he glanced at the stairwell that led to the bedchamber Misha shared with Pamela Ravenscroft. Pam had returned from Minnesota earlier this evening and even now she was upstairs, presumably reading in their bed where he had left her.
“Then get me out of here!” Misha hissed again. “You know what I need!”
Andrew nodded, “Of course, Misha! Come!” and he moved swiftly down the stairs, pulling the King’s overcoat from the closet, and then racing down more stairs so he could go to the garage that sat on the back of the property. It was a luxury, having a vehicle on premises, but it had proved to be more than a convenience. Tonight was proof of that once again.
Misha was standing on the front porch, practically vibrating with suppressed rage when Andrew pulled the car around. Before the houseman had time to get out and open the door, the King was in the back seat and they were moving at high speed, away from the brownstone toward a certain brothel they knew that catered to a particular clientele.
From the light tight window, Pam watched the car pull away. She hadn’t heard much of what was being said downstairs but after the first shock of rage, the feelings she experienced through the blood tie muted to whispers but it was still enough to let Pam know something was wrong.
The tie that existed between them was thin at the moment. Pam initially planned on going along with Misha’s insistence that she take more of his blood. It had been some time since she had partaken, mostly because she felt awkward about it. It wasn’t that Pam felt any particular objection in feeding from the King. The experience was enjoyable for both of them and inspired their play. The thing that made it awkward was that Pam had no desire to reciprocate.
Pam knew Misha intended tonight to be a private evening between them. They hadn’t repeated their more intimate joining since that night long ago and Pam had seen no evidence of any playmate. Before Andrew knocked on the door, Misha had spent some time seducing her, and Pam was pretty sure that he was hoping she would share her blood this time, and perhaps more.
While she knew that this affair was winding down to its conclusion, Pam might have considered allowing it. In some ways, giving him her blood would make what was coming easier for both of them. Once Misha fed from her, he would know that the most she felt for him was affection. Pam had made up her mind. When she returned from this next trip to New Orleans, she would tell Misha she was breaking off their arrangement.
It wasn’t the first time Pam had delivered this kind of news although it had been some time since she had broken off a complicated relationship with a vampire of standing. As she sat on the plane earlier that evening watching the darkness dotted with small lights pass below her, she was almost resolved to do it immediately on her return. She’d tell him, turn around, and hail a cab. There were vampire-safe hotels in town and she’d manage. But then she’d arrived. Andrew was waiting for her in the terminal. They pulled up to the brownstone to see Misha standing on the front steps of the brownstone, flowers in his hand, and his eyes, so hopeful. Her favorite Chopin interlude was playing softly as they came through the door, and Misha couldn’t stop from bouncing from the room to return with a first edition Tom Jones he found for her. As he proudly handed it to her, Pam felt her heart melt a little toward him, but not in the way a woman should love her mate. It was more like the affection a mistress might feel for a pet and Pam knew her heart had truly turned.
As they walked upstairs, Misha complained that she only just arrived home and would be leaving right away for New Orleans. Pam could see and feel the King’s disappointment. He was so genuinely happy to see her and she just couldn’t bring herself to hurt him right away. As he chatted about mutual acquaintances, and asked about her trip and those she’d seen, Pam decided that breaking Misha’s heart was something that could wait until her return from her visit with Eric and Sookie.
Misha had just been slipping the straps of her negligee from her shoulders when Andrew knocked on their door. Misha hissed, ordering him away, but Andrew persisted, apologizing, and whispering that the King’s presence was being required for a conference with the Ancient Pythoness. “No one turns down the old girl,” Pam had kissed Misha’s cheek. “Go on. I’ll be here when you’re done.” He kissed her hand and then stroked her sex, his eyes burning before he walked away. Pam felt a pull toward him that was maybe more, and she found herself doubting her decision. She looked around their beautiful room with all its perfect things. ‘What would be so wrong in choosing to live like this?’ she asked herself.
But now, standing at the window and watching Misha’s hunched figure scuttling into the backseat of his limo, feeling the brush of his fiery anger, and something else, Pam wondered whether a fast exit would be the better choice. Clearly something had happened, something that drove all thought of her from the King’s mind and Pam knew she had to find out what it was.
Pulling her bathrobe over her negligee, Pam padded down the stairs. She walked straight through the living room and into the elegant office. The office chair still sat in front of the monitor. Misha must have been teleconferencing.
Pam mentally walked through the sequence of experiences she felt, waiting for the King upstairs. There was his annoyance, but within a short period of time, that escalated into sullen anger, and then that turned into a sharp blossom of rage. It was enough that Pam had risen from the bed, determined to investigate when the emotions broadcasting through their tie stopped. Pam was sure Misha clamped down on his end and shrugging, she’d settled back on the bed again.
Temper and vampires tended to go together. If Misha was in enough control to remember their tie, all was probably well. But then, without any explanation, Misha left the brownstone without even a word to her. It was so out of character that Pam knew she had to take a look to see if she could figure out what happened.
The laptop screensaver bounced from corner to corner, the password sign-in floating more slowly. Pam didn’t have Misha’s password. She saw no reason to violate his trust that way, but she felt no qualms about accessing what information was available through unsecured means.
Pam walked over to where the larger monitor was mounted on the wall. Over her many years, Pam had overseen the installation of many a security system and she recognized the box on the back of this one. Like many teleconferencing systems, this one had its own on-board microprocessor that allowed the user to show video streaming with a slight delay. This meant the microprocessor recorded what streamed through it and saved up to fifteen minutes or so in a temporary file. Picking up a pencil from the desk, Pam turned on the monitor, the on-board speakers, and then the buttons on the black box that would play back whatever images were stored on the small drive.
Pam stood back as the video began to play. She saw the Pythoness and Thalia. The Pythoness spoke, accusing Misha of being rotten to the core. The recording did not play back Misha’s response, but it wasn’t hard to put together the pieces. Pam listened to the Pythoness telling the Clan Chiefs that she intended to declare Eric Northman as High King over all the Clans.
Pam found her eyes drawn to Thalia. She wished she had been in that room to share the moment with her small, fierce friend, and then the Pythoness was looking straight at the camera, ordering Misha to submit.
Pam found that everything within her became calm. She didn’t need to hear Misha’s words. It was obvious that the thought of her Maker being given dominion was why she felt the rage coming from him. Others tried to tell her that New York was dangerous, but Pam had decided to ignore them. The playback of the Pythoness was now telling Misha that he would live another night. Pam knew that it was Misha’s fury that caused him to drive away from his own home and his anger at her Maker that caused him to leave without saying one word to her.
A growl crept from Pam’s throat as she stalked over to the small box mounted on the back of the monitor and pushed the small button that would refresh the temporary drive, erasing the recording.
Walking deliberately upstairs, Pam took her robe off and climbed back into bed, picked up her book and settled back. Misha would return before dawn and he would either confess and apologize, or he would lie about what happened. If he lied, Pam would know that some part, maybe the most part of what others tried to tell her about the New York King was true. What she didn’t doubt was Misha’s affection for her. She felt it through their tie and that could not be manipulated, but Pam was also experienced enough to know that sometimes what masqueraded as love was something else. A person who loved her would understand the place her Maker held in her heart. A person who loved her would welcome a strong alliance with Eric Northman, not rage against it. Something was amiss, and Pam had no intention of tipping her hand until she understood what that something was.
Eric opened his eyes to the sound of Sookie’s tone deaf crooning. His mate was lying propped up against the headboard and she was stroking her rounded stomach. Their eyes met and as she watched, he rolled over so he could kiss first her hand, and then her stomach. “Is he restless tonight?” he asked her.
“Been kicking all day,” Sookie rolled her eyes. “He’s quieter now. I can’t tell if he actually likes my singing, or if I’m so bad it just stuns him into staying still.” Eric grinned and then placed his hand under hers, holding it still against her. Almost immediately, Eric felt a small, but distinct, kick. “See?” Sookie told him, and pushing his hand a little, resumed her rubbing and humming.
He didn’t have much occasion to use it, but Eric had a fine, deep voice. Moving up on his knees, he took over massaging his wife’s belly, rubbing in firm, circular motions and he started singing his own song, a bawdy drinking song he learned in his years of traveling through Europe about a barmaid and an innocent lad. Eric could almost sense the child settling. Making sure he continued to rub her belly, he leaned forward so he could kiss Sookie between the chorus and the verse. When she grinned at a particularly obscene turn of phrase, Eric used his free hand to push up her nightgown and added massaging between her legs to his actions.
“Oh,” Sookie said, arching just a little as he found that particular place that always pulled a reaction from her. “I guess this is a ‘do as I do’ song?” Sookie said a little breathlessly.
“Think of it as theater,” Eric smirked, positioning himself so that he could draw her legs over his hips, “Where the people act and then sing for no reason.”
“You telling me this is my very own musical?” she laughed and then gasped again as he rocked forward, the tip of his cock sinking into her and then pulling back out again.
“It seems to be something you enjoy,” he teased, and then careful not to place too much weight on her, he rocked forward, deliberately moving back and forth in time to the song he sang. When he reached the end of the next verse, making the words about the young lad being seduced little more than a growl, Eric pushed his hips forward, burying himself fully. Sookie hissed, and then catching her breath, rocked against him, trying to bring him further within her. “Time for you to sing, Lover,” Eric whispered in her ear.
Whether it could be called singing or not was a matter of interpretation, but Sookie did make a great deal of noise before they were done. When she was a panting mess, her walls gripping him in time to her gasps, Eric rolled them over and then pulling from her, tucked Sookie into his side. Reaching under her thigh, he pulled her leg up so it lay over him. He knew this position took some of the pressure off her back, and rubbing her head, he purred, “I believe our son likes you singing that song as much as I do.”
“He isn’t kicking the crap out of me, if that’s what you mean,” Sookie laughed. Eric bit his wrist and held it out to her, and while she drank, Eric rubbed his hardening erection against her leg. It was a perfect moment, the way she felt, so warm, her stomach slightly warmer than the rest of her. His cock stiffened further and Sookie moaned, her enjoyment of his blood almost a sensual act between them.
“Do you think you could play a little more?” Eric asked, anxious to drink from her and feel her, warm and wet around him again. Sookie answered by pushing herself up until she was straddling his hips. “Turn around,” Eric instructed her, and sitting up himself, pushed her forward so she was on her hands and knees. Rising behind her, he placed his head at her entrance and then gripping her hips, he entered her in one swift movement. “You are so warm, Lover,” he sighed. “I could get lost within you.” Rather than move right away, he leaned over her so that he could lick the back of her shoulder.
“Eric,” she sighed and she moved restlessly beneath him.
“I will have you, Sookie,” he growled, and slipped his fangs within her even as he pushed up into her sheath, rotating his hips to move even deeper. As he pulled his fangs from her, he reached around to play with her clit. He watched the small rivulets of blood run over her perfect back, slowly heading toward the side of her breast. The sight of the twin trails stimulated him further and Eric pressed into his wife again before leaning forward to heal the marks. Sookie was so sensitive that it didn’t take much effort on his part before she was moaning, then calling out his name. Rising up on his knees, Eric sucked his thumb and then breached her rosebud. Changing the angle of his cock, he timed his movements so that both cock and digit were penetrating her in tandem, and he purred as her cries transformed into screams. Her orgasm moved swiftly, her walls clamping down on him hard, her arms collapsing as he rocked more quickly. Three more strokes and he was shooting his essence within her, his teeth clenched, his head thrown back. She was in his head and he was in hers. The experience was intense and Eric felt his balls tighten again. “You will be my final death, my Lover!” he growled as he felt his cock jerk and his cum coat her walls again.
“Back at ya, Buster,” Sookie mumbled into the bedspread, her ass still high in the air. Eric collapsed onto his side. He threw his head back, breathing in their combined scents, and then sat up long enough to wrap his arm around Sookie, who was still panting into the bed. He pulled her onto her side and spooned up behind her, kissing her hair and wrapping her in his arms.
“And what about now?” he asked lazily. “Is my son still restless?”
“Oh, I think your boy is going to sleep for a long time,” Sookie said with a laugh.
“Are you sure?” he teased, his hand moving up so he could circle her erect nipple with his fingernail.
“What’s gotten into you?” Sookie laughed.
“I am in bed with my beautiful wife,” Eric smirked, “and I have been told that modern husbands help out with their children. I am helping.”
“Well, when folks say that, I think they mean changing diapers and night feedings,” Sookie laughed, ‘not fucking their mothers until they pass out.”
“Consider this practice,” and Eric raised himself on his elbow so he could turn Sookie onto her back. He licked her lower lip and Sookie was just opening her mouth to welcome him when a loud crash sounded above them. “Damn him!” Eric hissed and rolled away. With a single motion, he rose from their bed and headed for the door. “I hope he has not blundered or broken something.”
“Can you put something on?” Sookie called, but she knew it was useless. Eric would head up the stairs, wearing the evidence of their love-making, and stake his claim…again.
Alcide Herveaux and his construction crew were upstairs as they were every night, working on a project to renovate the fourth floor of the New Orleans palace. When it was finished, the floor would no longer be a combination of royal chambers and guest suites. Instead, it would be a more contiguous family area incorporating bedrooms and gathering spaces. Sookie knew that part of what was irritating Eric was his own guilt over insisting that all the construction be done at night. Eric told her he wanted vampires available to keep an eye on things, but Sookie knew he really wanted to keep his own eye on Herveaux.
Something about the project had triggered a primal reaction in Eric. It went beyond his usual jealousy and unsettled nature when there were other males nearby. Sookie understood his possessiveness and she could manage it through their mental and blood bonds. This reaction was a little different and Sookie thought it might have to do with instincts that were not vampire at all.
Eric had definite proprietary feelings about this nest that would house this family, his family. Within hours of the start of the project, Eric went upstairs and started wandering through the fourth floor. For several nights on an almost hourly basis, he would excuse himself from what they were doing, walk up the stairs, and inspect every change. He would stop the crew, asking minute questions about what was done, and how it was accomplished. By the third day, Sookie received a call directly from Alcide Herveaux during daytime hours. She hadn’t changed her phone number, still, she was surprised to see the former Packmaster’s name come up on her caller ID. It was customary that any male calling her, even her own brother, would route through the Palace network.
“You have got to stop him,” the former Packmaster said without even pausing to say ‘Hello.’
“Well, nice to hear from you, too, Alcide,” Sookie sassed, and then asked, “What are you talking about?”
“Your husband. The King is driving my guys crazy. Maybe you should move out for a while, go back to Bon Temps until the work is done, or at least can get started?” When Sookie laughed, Alcide pressed on, “No, I mean it! If he doesn’t stop hounding them, they’re all going to quit! Even if they don’t, I’m going to have to charge you more and your kid will be in high school before this job is finished.”
Sookie sighed. “Okay, I do know what you’re talking about. He is being a little over the top,” to which Alcide made a sound that let Sookie know the Were thought her husband was a lot more than that. “I’ll talk with him tonight,” she assured Alcide. “Let’s see if we can keep the interference to a once a week meeting.”
That night Sookie confronted Eric about the impact his behavior was having on the project. Eric had to admit that the work would advance more quickly if he wasn’t continuously interrupting those doing it, but, for all of that, he found it difficult, if not impossible, not to show up on the floor at least once a night. It was better than it had been, but Sookie suspected it was why Alcide himself joined the work crew. When Eric’s head and shoulders would emerge from the stairwell, the Were would head him off and give him a quick, guided tour, detouring him around the crew, and allowing his people to keep working.
Eric knew Sookie found his compulsion amusing and she told him more than once that he was being ridiculous. For her part, Sookie stuck to the plan to only inspect the construction site once a week, and she refused to allow Eric to tell her anything about it at any other time.
It was proving challenging, the logistics of the floor plan. The building was essentially a large doughnut with all the rooms arranged around an airshaft that allowed light to travel to the garden space on the first floor. When Tara and Sookie started talking about how to arrange the nursery, Tara had suggested they just convert the space across the sitting room in the royal chambers, the space Eric and Sookie used as their private sanctuary. The room had originally been a second bedroom designed to house a royal pet, but now it was furnished with books and keepsakes, and it was the place that allowed Sookie & Eric to escape the pressures of their world and just be themselves. Eric had not expected Sookie to be so quick to turn down the suggestion, but he was pleased and delighted that she did.
Instead the decision was made to renovate the entire floor. They would break through into the bedroom suite that shared the back wall with their own bedchamber and closet. Their current bedchamber would be reconfigured and their closet and bathroom would be moved into what had been the next room. A small hallway passed through into another smaller bedroom that would function as a nursery, and later could become an office. This new bedroom was equipped with light tight windows, both above and in the wall with shutters that could be closed. A new kitchenette complete with a sink large enough to bathe an infant was added, and soundproofing blown into all the walls. In addition, the other bedrooms on the floor were being transformed. Some were eliminated in favor of open gathering spots and a larger ‘family’ room would be added, complete with a television, bookshelves, and plenty of room for sofas and a table. There would still be a suite set aside for a guard on the floor, but now there were bedrooms that were created ‘in anticipation.’ Sookie had blushed when Eric started talking about how many bedrooms should be added.
“We don’t know if this will happen again,” Sookie told him, her hand resting below the swell of her stomach.
“We know we don’t have to count on it,” Eric shrugged. For the first time in a while, Sookie remembered the embryos that were stored at the reproduction clinic in Shreveport and knew that was what Eric meant. “Surely you would wish our child to have siblings?” Eric told her and when she didn’t answer right away, Sookie could feel his growing uneasiness. The possibility of a child had seemed such a long shot that they’d never really discussed how many children they might wish.
“Yes,” she assured him, ”I would want more than one if we could.” She felt his confidence return and she was glad they were on the same page about this.
Eric turned back to the design, “I think three bedrooms,” he said, and Sookie realized the conversation was not over.
“Well,’ she said, biting her lip a little, “I kind of think round numbers are better,” and she glanced up. “See, if there’s an odd number, one of them always gets left out…”
Eric had grinned at her, pulling her close to kiss her. “You are so clever, my wife!” he purred, nuzzling her ear. “Six, then!”
“Whoa, Buster!” Sookie huffed, pushing away from him, “You can just cool your jets! Let’s start with the idea of two and we can see from there!”
A decision was made to more fully tie the rooftop garden into the floor downstairs, reserving the space for the use of their family. While Sookie loved the idea, it meant access to fresh air and sunshine within the walls of the Palace was temporarily denied the telepath until the work was completed.
Sookie decided that she would get her daily dose of sunshine by taking long walks every day into the City. Devrah or Angel, Devrah’s daughter, would accompany her unless Tara was in town. Tara had started coming down to New Orleans more often, sometimes bringing her children with her. Her shop near Shreveport was doing well enough between regular customers and Internet traffic that she was able to hire plenty of help. Tara’s Togs was now identified as the primary shop used by the Queen of the Vampires, and that notoriety had created a boost in her sales, although Tara sometimes shook her head at the kinds of clothing some people expected her to carry.
Every day, just after breakfast, Sookie would take her ‘constitutional’ through the streets of New Orleans. More often than not, she would find herself walking through the streets of the Quarter. Even though the guards trailed closely, it wasn’t long before Sookie acquired an entourage of admirers. There were the shop owners and street vendors who made a point of stepping out of their store doors or turning from their wares to greet her by name and ask after her health. There were others too who went out of their way to wave or shout their encouragement. Once her condition became clear, Sookie found herself approached by people on a regular basis who wanted to press gifts on her, ‘for the baby.’ There were toys and hand knit booties. One woman had made her a homemade quilt.
“They really love you and Eric here,” Devrah told the telepath, “They see you as part of the City now. One of their own!” Sookie could hear the thoughts around her, her pregnancy making her ability to both listen and block stronger, and she knew the housekeeper was right. The well wishes warmed her as much as the sunshine on her skin, and she told Devrah as much. Still, the housekeeper and guards would make sure that someone from the Palace stepped between their Queen and any gift giver, certain that no unknown item or person got too close to Sookie.
Sookie learned how to thank the person while her guards accepted the gift ‘on the Queen’s behalf,’ holding it respectfully, but securely, until it could be taken to the Palace and fully inspected. That wasn’t to say that Sookie didn’t still encounter the occasional problem or the odd heckler. She suspected there were those from the Palace she didn’t see who ranged ahead of her path, clearing out any Silent Witnesses or others who might try to upset her, but still some got through. But there were others who trailed her as well, and as the days passed, their surveillance became more persistent. Sookie suspected these watchers were from the FBI, although neither she nor Eric had heard directly from any agent in some time.
Eric growled about her walking out in public this way, but Sookie pointed out that she needed the exposure to sunshine and Doctor Ludwig was adamant about her getting regular exercise, “and I think she means more than the horizontal mambo,” Sookie informed her husband when he got that interested look in his eye.
Sookie sighed and got out of the bed. She walked to the bathroom and turned on the warm water in the shower. She wasn’t surprised when the door opened after a bit. “Can you hand me the conditioner?” she asked as she rinsed the shampoo from her hair. The bottle was pressed into her hand and she could hear the sound of Eric using the soap against his skin. When the foam was rinsed from her face, she opened her eyes and said, “So, everything still good?”
“It’s fine!” Eric shrugged, but Sookie could feel that her husband was disgruntled.
“Alcide give you a piece of his mind?” she asked, knowing immediately she had hit the nail on the head.
“He is too sensitive!” Eric growled.
“You did walk into a group of Weres smelling like a…well, smelling!” Sookie pointed out.
“They should have been pleased,” Eric grumbled.
“You could see how it might be distracting,” Sookie poked his shoulder and gave him a look. “Look, Eric, I’d like to get this work done and these guys out of the house before this baby comes,” she scolded. “You think you can rein it in for a couple days?”
Eric didn’t answer. Instead he turned her away from him and started washing her back. “Your Grandfather is returning tonight,” he said, changing the subject.
Sookie shook her head, allowing Eric to slip off the hook, “Yes, he is,” she sighed. “Have you thought about the name?”
The Prince of the Sky Fae had become a regular visitor as of late. He would appear in the vestibule every other night, upsetting their guards, but waiting, courteously, until he had been introduced. Niall generally joined Sookie for dinner and they would talk together about the future. Niall had proposed they name this first son Fintan Brigant Northman. The suggestion had come at the conclusion of a chess game that Eric had won, and the Prince had been almost apologetic in how he presented the option.
“I have no particular objection,” Eric replied, his hands never hesitating. Sookie could feel and ‘hear’ that Eric was telling her his true feelings. “What about you?” he asked.
“I just don’t like the idea of Grandfather naming our son,” Sookie groused.
Eric chuckled a little. “Still,” he continued, “It is a strong name. It would make clear our son’s right to rule the Fae if he chooses to pursue that destiny.”
“You sure you don’t want some other name?” Sookie asked.
“Like what?” Eric shrugged. “I don’t wish to give him my human father’s name. We fought for most of my life because I was not my brother and I survived. My mother was the one for whom I felt love and there has been no other male who I would wish to remember in this way.”
“Hmm,” Sookie murmured, wracking her brain for an alternative, “I guess I kind of feel the same. I thought about Jason for a while…”
“It could be a kingly name,” Eric acknowledged, turning her back toward him and handing her the soap before turning himself.
“No,” Sookie grabbed the washcloth and then got to work, scrubbing the long planes of Eric’s back. “Much as it bugs me to give in to anyone, I guess Fintan Brigant is okay.”
Together they emerged from the shower. Sookie glanced at the dresser where the latest baby photographs sat. “We should bring those with us,” she said. “Grandfather will get a kick out of them.”
They had been back to the clinic in Shreveport several times for doctor’s visits. Their curiosity had finally won out and they agreed to the more definitive ultrasound. The first image of the child within captured them both. Sookie and Eric held hands as they gazed on their son. They knew it was a he when within moments they had the answer to the question of their child’s gender. He displayed himself so clearly that Doctor Ludwig chuckled about ‘scaring small children with that thing!’ He was also a thumb sucker. Each time they saw him, his digit was firmly planted in his mouth, and for some reason, that endeared him even more to Sookie.
Two visits ago, their son had rolled over to reveal knobs near his shoulders. “I think they’re vestigial wings,” Doctor Ludwig announced. It gave both Sookie and Eric pause.
When Doctor Ludwig left them so that Sookie could get dressed, they talked about it. It hadn’t occurred to either of them that this child might manifest physical attributes that would set him apart from others. “You know my cousin, Claude, had his ears surgically altered,” Sookie told her husband as they stared at the photographs from that night’s visit. “I was never really sure what I thought about that.”
“It doubtless made his mainstreaming easier,” Eric replied and then waited patiently for Sookie to continue. He had learned that it was better now, as she entered her third trimester and her hormone levels ping ponged, to let her process things and then talk. Anticipating her answers only seemed to lead to arguments.
“We couldn’t hide wings,” Sookie said uncertainly.
“Well, we don’t have to make decisions right away,” Eric assured her and they decided to think about it some more, and then discuss options on their next doctor’s visit.
Fortunately, they were spared from doing anything when the knobs just disappeared. “That happens,” Amy Ludwig explained. “Humans have them too, organs they don’t use any more. I usually see tails that are there one day and then just re-absorbed back into the body the next.”
Eric wasn’t sure when it happened for him, the true acceptance of this child, but he knew it had. He didn’t spend hours singing to it as he had with his lost one, but he enjoyed the feel of his son’s movement under his hand. Like before, he would rest his head on Sookie to hear the fast heartbeat. As the boy grew, larger now than his sister, Eric found he was excited by the baby’s progress. He had started collecting ultrasound images in his wallet and, sometimes, after Sookie fell asleep, he would pull them out and lay them in chronological order on the bedspread in front of him so he could see how his son had grown from one visit to the next.
Once they had dressed, they walked down the flight of stairs to find Niall, Prince of the Fae, already seated in the small office. The Fae rose and walked gracefully over to Sookie, wrapping her in his embrace and then laying his hands on either side of the child she carried. “You are radiant!” The Prince complimented her. “And you,” he said, smiling at the mound of Sookie’s stomach, “You are growing so quickly!”
“We have pictures for you, Grandfather,” Sookie told him, and then glanced at Eric who handed Niall the sheet of images.
The Prince looked at the pictures, and then, for a moment he looked frail.
“Grandfather?” Sookie asked and she stepped forward.
“It’s nothing!” the Prince waved her off, but still he turned and walked to the nearest chair, sitting heavily.
“Let me send for something,” Sookie persisted. “Some tea, perhaps?”
Niall’s eyes remained on the images, “He looks like Fintan,” the Prince said. “How can that be?”
“We have decided,” Eric sat down on the couch across from the Prince and held his hand out for Sookie.
“Decided?” the Prince looked a little lost.
“We’re going to name him Fintan Brigant,” Sookie smiled.
Niall swallowed twice and, for the first time ever, Sookie thought she saw the hint of tears in his eyes. He cleared his voice and then glancing at the photos again, laid them on the table. “He will want for nothing,” the Prince declared, “And neither will you.”