Author’ Note: I appreciate the kindness of you, my readers. I am pleased you are enjoying this tale, and I hope you continue to find enjoyment in it.
A big thanks to my Beta readers. The sentences you read flow more smoothly because of them. There’s nothing more jarring than reading a story and reaching some word that doesn’t fit or an obvious misspelling. Breathesgirl and Ms Buffy are angels, and I am most grateful
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.
Sookie had been sleeping for a few hours. She was lying on her side, her hand tucked under her chin, which meant she was mostly silent. Sookie on her back was snoring Sookie. They had been here, in Bon Temps, for two weeks. If he was to be precise they had been here, within the confines of the property on Hummingbird Lane, for two weeks.
Sookie asking for the child had surprised him. She was so committed to her work with the Weres that she was able to ignore her body, her single-minded determination driving her forward. She was standing on her own, a force in her own right and claiming it, and then, in an instant, she was throwing it to the wind. With no warning, she now wanted to head in a very different direction, one that would force her to become a moon orbiting someone else’s world, a role she refused to play for him. He could still feel his shock as if it was that moment, but in the next moment she was in his arms and his own body and needs had asserted themselves.
For four nights, while he was awake, they were never out of bed longer than the minutes needed for Sookie to use the bathroom or prepare simple meals. The refrigerator was restocked every day and Eric could smell their guards on the first floor, but there were no disturbances. For four days they relearned the paths and trails of each other’s bodies. For four days they fed from each other, bodies intertwined, and joined in intimate ways.
On the fifth day, they talked, but not about this thing she wanted. Instead they talked of little things. She told him about the differences in landscapes and foods she had seen in her travels. He told her of trips he had taken to other countries and curious things people did there. She told him some of the silly jokes people went out of their way to share with her.
What do you call a fake noodle? An impasta. Why did the picture go to jail? Because it was framed. Why are frogs so happy? They eat whatever bugs them.
They moved to the first floor and Eric made a fire, even though it wasn’t cold. The shedding of his skin had stopped and Sookie was eating more. They felt stronger and talked about that. Sookie told him she was spending an hour or so in the sun every day, and that walking away from him the first few days was so hard it made her cry, but today it was almost manageable. “When we are ourselves again, Lover, you will find you are happy to go far from me again.” Eric stroked her face, already dreading that future his restless wife would desire.
“No, Eric. My wandering days are over,” Sookie’s eyes were bright, but he could feel a thread of regret flavoring the bond as she kissed him, so he didn’t believe her. She was sad now, but she would change her mind.
On the sixth night, he rose to the smell of sunshine. Her skin was more golden for all it stretched so tightly across her bones and she welcomed him with renewed energy. He felt purpose move within her again and she asked if he had changed his mind. “No, Sookie, I have promised. I will be ready when you are.” That night they rose from bed and started exploring the house. They didn’t get far, the family room, the kitchen. Sookie pulled open boxes that had been stacked in the front room, boxes that had come from his storage locker. Together they placed some of his personal items and hung paintings. Sookie found paper and they made lists of things they needed; brackets and nails, organizers and lighting fixtures to spotlight treasures. Much later, they found their way outside to the wide front porch and sat in the rocking chairs, holding hands and listening to the sounds of the night.
“We’ll have to install gates,” Sookie said. It was a curious thing to say.
“Are you thinking you want to fence the property? Gates without a fence don’t provide much protection.”
“No, silly!” she laughed. “Inside! For the baby!” He must have looked puzzled because she said, “All those stairs, Eric! Gates make sure he won’t get hurt.” She looked back into the night. It was on the tip of his tongue to remind her that a baby would need to be many months old before it would be ready to crawl, but her outsized happiness seemed too fragile to challenge, so instead Eric squeezed her hand and said nothing.
On the seventh night, Sookie handed him the phone and asked him to make the call to the clinic. “You know Jane better than me. Besides, I’m so nervous I’ll probably just burst into tears or get silly!” Eric thought it was a bad idea, moving so quickly, but he trusted Amy Ludwig to slow things down. The doctor hadn’t been out to see them yet and while Eric could feel they were Improving; he could also feel his lingering weakness. He wondered if Sookie’s enthusiastic, head-long rush to become pregnant was a symptom and if he should be worried. He was tempted to dip into her head and find out what it was she wasn’t telling him.
In past, he would have asked Pam to talk with his wife. Pam was a woman and had a way of finding things out and then explaining them to him in a way that made sense, but Pam was gone and they had no direct way to communicate. Eric knew Thalia and Karin were in town, but as quickly as he considered them, he dismissed the idea. Thalia would laugh at him and Karin? While his relationship with his other daughter had been restored, Sookie had been the reason he banished her. To ask Karin to interrogate Sookie about this desire for a biological child had disaster written all over it, so he decided to make the call and rely on Amy Ludwig to introduce moderation.
Jane answered almost immediately. She was surprised to hear from Eric and told him so. She told him she was delighted that they were ready to start and that the facility was anticipating the call, but she wouldn’t consider scheduling an initial appointment until they were cleared by Doctor Ludwig. It took everything Eric had not to sigh in relief. When he relayed the information to Sookie she looked angry, and then her face inexplicably dissolved into grief. Eric wrapped her in his arms, “All will be well, Lover!” he comforted her. “You are tired and we are still not ourselves. You would not wish to begin this and be too ill to continue, would you?”
“You’re right,” she sniffed. “You’re always right.” The way she said it didn’t exactly sound like a compliment. “I’m just ready to start our lives,” she whispered, and Eric wondered what she thought had been happening. He thought they had been living ‘their’ lives all along.
The next few nights passed more easily. They took walks in the moonlight and visited the horses in the barn. “When we are stronger, I would like to ride with you again,” Eric told her one evening, stroking his wife’s long, blond hair.
Sookie teased him, telling him she was getting so good at riding he’d have a hard time catching her. He growled and she giggled. It was like it was, and then her phone chimed. “Cheese and rice!” she exclaimed. “I’m sorry! I texted Michele earlier and I forgot to turn it off.” She raised the screen, but then instead of muting it, she swiped her thumb and keyed in her password. He saw her eyes widen and he felt a quick stab of sadness.
“What is it?” He wondered if there was a problem with her family and the temptation to dip in and pull out her thoughts was strong.
“Nothing,” she smiled at him with too bright eyes. “The thing with the Weres? It’s over. Things got pretty ugly in Denver and they’ve decided to take a break before trying again.”
Eric laid his hand on her back. He knew she felt strongly about this cause, “It may only be a year,” he said quietly. “You will be stronger when they are ready.”
“They won’t be asking me back.” She said it with a steady voice, but even with their bond muted, Eric could feel her twist of emotions. “They’ve decided they’ll be better off keeping it to all Weres. No outsiders.”
“They are foolish, Sookie,” and Eric tried to wrap her in his arms, but she pushed away after only a moment.
“I’m fine!” she announced and then said “Let’s head back to the house,” too quickly. She turned and walked out of the barn without waiting for him, but when he joined her in the kitchen her smile was in place and she was humming while she prepared her dinner.
For days he waited for her to tell him what happened, but each time he tried to introduce the topic, she told him it was over and she was over it. “Like my Gran used to say, Eric, no use crying over spilled milk. Better to look forward than waste time regretting yesterday, right?” The determined way she said it and the energy she poured into those things they did together almost made him believe her. Almost.
Eric’s eyes flicked back to his laptop screen. The little wheel was still spinning, meaning his email was caught in cyberspace, and then the error message came up again, telling him his email had timed out. With a growl, Eric came off the bed, and carrying his laptop, headed downstairs.
Had Eric been involved in the construction of the house, he would have had it hardwired for Internet. It was a modern convenience the Fae had not considered. Eric supposed he could look into satellite, but for now there was a router positioned in an empty bedroom on the second floor. What the Fae had built were very solid walls and corners that baffled sound. That meant that connectivity on the third floor for all but their mobile phones was almost nonexistent.
There was a room at the far end of the master suite they had been calling their office, although lately Sookie had been eyeing it in a different way. Eric wanted an office on the top floor, one capable of video conferencing and remote access. He wanted the cable run up for a small television. He wanted things that required the cooperation of the local cable television/Internet provider and so far they had had no cooperation. The company would not send their contractors out at night and Eric didn’t want anyone in his chamber while he rested. Almost every other thing they needed to turn their house into their home could be accommodated. Everything that is, except utilities.
Eric sat down on a stool at the kitchen island, popped open his Drafts folder and hit send again. He knew better than anyone that there were other vampires living in the Area so this wasn’t just his problem. He thought about texting Indira to ask if she had a contact, but just as quickly dismissed the idea. Indira was a good manager with a reputation for being fair in enforcing the rules, but she was not the type to get involved with simple day-to-day challenges. Vampires in Area 5 hired day men and mostly had their appliance and utility work done before they moved into a house. If technology changed, accommodations had to be made or you just did without. It was why most vampires slept in rooms that had little beyond electricity, and sometimes not even that.
Shifting to try and get more comfortable, Eric opened another email, but the spinning wheel appeared again. He growled, low and menacing. He thought about moving. He thought about heading back to New Orleans. Then he did the logical thing. He reached for his phone and called his former day man, Mustapha Khan.
Mustapha was now the Packmaster for the Long Tooth Pack, but when he had been working for Eric he had impressed the Viking. He was a day man who always delivered. He was not Eric’s first day man. Bobby Burnham was someone Eric remembered with some fondness. Bobby had been a whiner, but made that tolerable by being willing to do anything. Mustapha was better. What he couldn’t get reasonably he strong-armed to achieve and Eric admired that about him.
When Alcide Herveaux stepped down as Packmaster under a cloud of disgrace, the tall, brooding Were fought for the position and won. Eric wasn’t surprised. Mustapha Khan wasn’t the most popular Packmaster, or the most conventional. Most Weres, particularly in this part of the state, had strong opinions about the sanctity of marriage and racial parity. Mustapha Khan challenged those conventions on both fronts, but it would need to be a strong Were indeed to step forward and challenge him, now that he had the title.
The phone answered on the second ring, “I heard you were prowling this part of the state. How long have you been back?” Eric could hear music playing in the background.
“Two weeks,” Eric answered, “I have decided to become a more regular resident here and I find I am in need of help. Do you know of someone who can install cable? With Internet?”
The Were laughed, “I’m not your day man anymore, Northman, but I’m touched that you’re missing me. Those cable guys are the best, aren’t they? You get more channels that you don’t want for more money than you want to pay and they put you through the wringer to get it. They have it all figured out.” The Packmaster chuckled a little more before saying, “Yeah, I have a guy that can hook you up. I’ll text over your info and ask him to call you. Should I give him this number?”
“It will reach me directly,” Eric confirmed. “Thank you.”
“No problem,” the Packmaster said, “By the way, I think you should know there’s a rumor floating around that you’ve got some kind of wasting sickness. Folks are saying it’s Sino AIDS and that you’ve moved back here to prepare for your final death.”
Eric grimaced. Before he left the city, Eric had handed over the monthly Assizes to Maxwell Lee. As Eric’s second, it was expected Max would handle the usual cases while the King was traveling. Although they hadn’t discussed what would be said, Eric had counted on Max to present an acceptable story, explaining his absence. While Eric couldn’t be sure these rumors were coming from New Orleans, it seemed likely. Whatever Max had said was not convincing enough.
In truth, both he and Sookie were feeling much better. Doctor Ludwig had been out to see them earlier this evening, pronouncing them mostly cured. The short woman had been full of caustic remarks about sex, blood, and Fae magic. She told Sookie that they could count on another few weeks before either of them should consider returning to their regular lives, cutting his wife off from asking about the clinic. Before she left, the doctor spent time walking around the house and then around the grounds, sniffing like a mother-in-law looking for a dirty sock, and exclaiming over the strength of the spells Niall, Prince of the Sky Fae, had put in place.
“You have a helluva protection ward here, Northman, a good one!” Amy informed him. “That Niall never does anything by halves!” Then the doctor had turned to Sookie, “And you, Fairy Girl! I can see you’re all hot to trot, and I’m sure your Great-Grandfather would thank me, but you need to cool your jets. Spend a little time starting small. Have your demon buddy out and have a couple meetings. Work up to it. I think you’ll find just doing normal things is more exhausting than you think. Give your body some time!” and with an eye roll, she was gone.
Sookie had slammed around the house for a bit after that, informing Eric that she used to think he was high-handed, but she could see she’d been wrong.
“You still there, Northman?” Eric focused on the Packmaster. The music on the other end of the phone didn’t cover the low rumble of conversation, which meant Mustapha was likely sitting in the middle of a crowded club. If the Packmaster was willing to repeat the rumor with so many around, then it was likely being bandied about as common knowledge and that was dangerous.
“Sorry,” Eric made sure he sounded slightly bored, “I don’t know how these stories get started. I am planning to spend more time here because this is Sookie’s home. She enjoys country living and I have warm feelings for this area.” This was the story they had agreed to use. It wasn’t the strongest explanation, but the Viking knew from long experience that the secret to a successful cover story was simplicity and consistency. “I have been considering moving the seat of the kingdoms here. I can spend a week every month in New Orleans. I’m sure you appreciate that the tension of walking through demonstrators every night makes city dwelling less enjoyable.”
“Uh huh,” the Packmaster replied, “Look, Eric, I buy it, but there are plenty of folks that don’t. I’m down here at Fangtasia. The place is packed, vampires, Weres, humans with cameras. Why don’t you come down and do an hour? Let yourself get photographed dancing with that Queen of yours and yucking it up with Thalia? It’ll hit social media in no time; rumor killed.”
Eric laughed, sounding more carefree than he felt, “I like the idea, but my Queen is sleeping. As you know, she’s been traveling quite a bit. There were some things we needed to get straight between us. I believe humans call it a second honeymoon.”
Mustapha laughed a little too, “Sure, I get it! So I guess that leaves you at loose ends, right?” Eric could still hear the note of doubt and Eric realized the first one who would need to be convinced was Mustapha.
“You’ll be there for a while?” Eric asked.
“I will,” Mustapha confirmed. “Karin is here and Thalia. Indira scooted out a while ago to check up on something. You’ll be among friends.”
“It is my kingdom,” Eric replied. “I am always among friends.” He glanced at his watch. It was almost two in the morning but Fangtasia wouldn’t close for another few hours. It was a reminder that they were still healing that he considered waking Sookie at all, but he just as quickly dismissed the idea. Sookie would start her normal routine tomorrow. In addition to rising long enough to sit in the sun, his wife would resume training with Tamsin, her Fae magic instructor. Mr. Cataliades, her attorney and business manager would be coming in the afternoon and she announced she would be signing up for some more online business classes as soon as they could get their Internet sorted.
“I can be there in thirty minutes,” he told Mustapha and rang off. He texted both Karin and Thalia. It was better that they were waiting for him. He also texted Indira, giving his Sheriff the courtesy of knowing he would be in her gathering place.
Indira texted back. She informed him she had been called to Rubio’s Area. There was something in the way the text was worded that piqued Eric’s curiosity. He asked her specifically what got her in her car so late at night and she texted back that it might be nothing and she would let him know as soon as she did.
Eric’s next move was to call his guards. Charles and James were currently staying in the guest house just beyond the tree line of the yard. Part of what would need to be sorted if this was to become a more permanent base, was how the guard rotation would work. Eric didn’t think that having their New Orleans guards in Bon Temps would work long term. These were men with families and friends. Their lives were several hours to the South. Eric knew Mustapha would furnish day guards and things had improved enough that Indira could recommend vampires for night, but when he mentioned it, Sookie became emotional. “Everything is turned inside out and now you want to change this up, too? Mustapha doesn’t even like me! I just don’t want any more strangers around me, Eric! Unless our guards complain, I don’t want to go there!” and she’d stomped away.
Eric headed upstairs to dress. When he came back downstairs, James was seated at the island in the kitchen. “Charles has the Corvette outside,” the Were told him.
When he swung out the door and down the stairs, Charles climbed out of the driver’s seat and headed around the car to open the door. Eric slid into the driver’s seat himself. “Let’s go for a ride,” he growled, waiting for the flustered Were to get into the passenger seat.
The trip was quick, less than half an hour during which Eric opened the engine when they hit the highway. When they pulled into the parking lot at Fangtasia, they had to circle twice before Eric gave up and headed around to the back, pulling into Indira’s spot. Eric was wondering who he should text to open the back door when it swung open on its own and Karin’s face appeared.
“Daughter!” he greeted her as he unfolded himself from the car, “I heard you were here.”
Karin embraced him, accepting his kiss, but then went stiff in his arms. “You smell off,” she said out loud. “You have been ill! The rumors are true.”
“I am fine, as you see,” Eric said quickly and in a voice pitched to be overheard. He leaned in again, appearing to embrace her more warmly, but this time hissed in her ear, “You forget yourself! We do not discuss personal things in public!”
“I apologize, my Maker,” Karin gasped and stepped back, bowing deeply and exposing her neck. This was not how Eric had seen their first meeting in almost a year moving forward. While he had accepted Karin back into his family, the feelings between them remained ragged. She was his oldest progeny, his first, and she had betrayed him. To be precise, she had betrayed Sookie, but it amounted to the same thing. Pam and Sookie had engineered their reconciliation, but Karin had left for Arkansas, staying with Thomas, Eric’s Sheriff in the North. While they texted, they had not truly regained their closeness with each other, and Eric was feeling it now.
The Viking glanced over to the open door to see Thalia. He kept his eyes on the fierce vampire as he said, “There is no need for apologies between us, Karin. A misunderstanding, nothing more.” He returned his eyes to Karin and touched her, drawing her closer and hooking his arm around her in a display of support. “Sookie sends her regards. She will be sorry to know she missed you. As you may have heard, we intend to be in Bon Temps more regularly. Sookie is fond of her ancestral home and it pleases me to indulge her. It would please us both If you were to visit with us.” Karin was less stiff in his embrace now. “Maxwell Lee tells me you are showing a rare talent for negotiation. He reviewed the figures from the lumber sales and walked me through your role in securing the cutting rights. Most impressive.” Eric did not include his suspicion that the results were obtained more as a result of bullying than persuasion. His Karin was a blunt instrument. She rarely exerted herself to use charm if brute strength would work. It made her an outstanding warrior and an uneasy peace-time guest.
“I am pleased that I have pleased you, my Maker,” Karin’s tone and address remained formal. Eric sighed, knowing he would have to be the one to make the effort if they were to regain an easiness between them.
As they headed into the corridor, Thalia fell into step beside him, “I would ask a favor, North Man.” Eric stopped and then nodded once. “I would ask if you would meet with me privately.” Thalia’s eyes flicked toward the office doors they were passing.
“Of course!” Eric said smoothly. He smiled once for Karin and then acknowledged Charles, who slid into place beside the door.
As soon as the door closed, Thalia said, “You shouldn’t crush her that way. She was indiscrete, but she has been worried for you. The reports of your poor health have been on everyone’s lips.”
“She could have called,” Eric shrugged.
“She did,” Thalia hissed. “I did. You haven’t been responding to texts or messages.” Eric’s eyes flicked to his phone. He signed in, the first time in weeks, and looked at the list of missed calls and messages. “My guards are available,” it sounded like the excuse it was. “And Maxwell was available.”
“Maxwell is not showing well,” Thalia said shortly. “The rumors of your illness started in New Orleans. There is someone there who is not discreet, probably in the palace. Maxwell should address it.”
“Maxwell is not you, Thalia. He tries, but he lacks a certain….”
“Ruthlessness?” Thalia’s lip lifted just a bit.
“I was going to say ‘focus,’” Eric smiled grimly. “His figures are impeccable. He juggles Pam’s books, the Palace accounts, and personnel schedules and makes it all look easy. I have never met such an organized vampire. But I still find him…” Eric looked away. He didn’t want to criticize his employee, but then again, this was Thalia. She knew him better and longer than any other creature, “He lacks fire,” Eric finished.
“For all we are civilized now, we are still killers at heart,” Thalia nodded. “There will ever be a need for swords and discipline amongst us. Remembering that every hand, even those who appear friendly, can hide a stake keeps you vigilant. Especially those that appear friendly. Maxwell forgets that.” Thalia sat down on the couch while Eric sank down in the chair behind the desk. For a moment, it felt like old times. “Maxwell has become accustomed to talk and negotiation. He wants to believe that the violence that lies at our core has been tamed. It is a weakness. He is not a good second for times of war.”
“I don’t have an army and I am not aware of any war,” Eric reminded her.
“Every vampire that is within your realm should be ready to fight, Viking,” Thalia nodded. “I know you’re surrounding yourself with Weres. Sookie is pandering and prancing after them, but in the end, it’s fang that means something. You will need fang in the end.”
“Sookie does not seem to think that her days with the Weres will continue. She seems conflicted about it. What do you know?” Eric asked her.
“Not enough,” Thalia replied, then she lifted her chin, “You should also know that people are talking about a famous couple that is expected to visit Jane’s fertility clinic. There is a great deal of speculation.” Thalia sat back and stared at Eric.
“We have agreed to try,” he said levelly, his eyes not leaving his former second. “We will have our first appointment soon.”
“You should have your telepath screen that place and its personnel,” Thalia told him. “It was too easy for me to hear about an upcoming visit and it didn’t take much to put two and two together.”
“People should make up their minds,” Eric shrugged. “I’m finally dying or I’m reproducing.”
“They are not mutually exclusive,” Thalia observed dryly.
“You won’t forget the promise you made me?” Eric asked.
Thalia’s look turned dark, “No, Viking. I won’t forget, but I regret giving it.”
“I would trust no other.” Eric made an effort to shake off the foreboding he felt, “Not likely to come to anything anyway. Babies from bones? Foolish!”
“More foolish not to be prepared,” Thalia was not amused. ““It is good you are showing yourself.” She walked around him, her eyes narrowed, openly assessing him. “You should go sit in the booth. Your friend, Mustapha, is there. Let the vermin see you. Tour your territories. End the rumors. You need everyone talking about your strength and the reach of your rule if you expect to keep the curious away from Bon Temps,” and Thalia nodded and started walking toward the door.
“I have often wondered, my friend,” and Eric dragged his finger over the desk. “What did Niall tell you, when we were in Nebraska?” Eric had asked Thalia that question several times since they returned from the Fae joining ceremony. He knew the Prince had pulled Thalia aside and he knew that as soon as they returned to New Orleans, Thalia announced she would be stepping down as his second. Eric had no proof, but he was convinced the events were connected.
Thalia gave him a long look, “Nothing, Viking. He wished to reminisce about the past.” It was the same answer she gave him every time he asked. Eric thought about what made good cover stories and he knew he was listening to hers.
They stared at each other for one long moment, but it was Eric who dropped his eyes first. “It will be as you wish, my old friend,” he conceded and stood up.
“There is something more,” Thalia told him. “I have finished my work here. I will be leaving tomorrow evening. I intend to travel to Lafayette. Your Sheriff seems open to hosting me while I train the vampires in his area.
Eric sat back down. He struggled to keep his face neutral, but in spite of himself, he asked, “Have I done something to offend you?”
Thalia stood still, poker straight, shoulders back. Her blade-like nose and thin lips didn’t change, but he was certain he saw her eyes waver. “No, Viking. You have not offended me. I would do what I must to best serve you, and that requires that I travel away from you for a while.”
“And you won’t explain it?” Eric was convinced this had something to do with Niall. The Prince had shown her something, said something, and now his oldest friend, his most trusted advisor was deserting him.
“All will be well,” Thalia nodded. “Tonight will be incredibly annoying. Once your presence is known, the vermin will flock.” She didn’t look entirely unhappy as she turned to leave. Before she opened the door, she said, “You could consider making Karin commander of your army. Not your second, but your war chief. It will give her standing and help heal was lies between you,” and then she was gone.
Eric rose to walk into the Club. The music was loud and the scent and sight of the bodies swaying on the dance floor was pleasing. “Do you miss it?” Karin joined him as he emerged from the back corridor.
Eric looked at the sleek surfaces, the colors and layout so changed from his time here as Sheriff. “Sometimes,” he told his daughter, “but not often.” There was a sound and heads turned. The vampires in the club stopped what they were doing, turned toward him and bowed. The hiss of words and whispers sounded like an electric current, running just under the music. Weres looked. Some nodded at Charles, but there were hostile stares as well. Humans were turning toward him, their phones in hand. One girl pulled out a selfie stick and was walking well ahead of him, but he could see his image on the screen of her phone. Thumbs were clicking and people yelling to be heard over the music, telling others who weren’t there that Eric Northman had just shown up and to hurry over.
“You sure know how to make an entrance!” Mustapha Khan was seated in the corner booth that had been Eric’s once upon a time. The Packmaster was still shaving his head, but he had had a pattern tattooed on one side of his skull since the Viking had seen him last. Eric had heard Sookie calling Mustapha ‘Mr. Matrix’ once and he chuckled. The Packmaster did look like someone who would be more comfortable on a Hollywood movie set than sitting in a bar in Shreveport, Louisiana.
When Eric slid into the booth, the Packmaster nodded, then said, “I can see the reports were exaggerated. You’re lookin’ good, Eric.”
“You look like you need a fashion consultant,” Eric replied.
The tall Were laughed, “That’s jealousy speaking. You wish your ball and chain would let you dress this cool,” and he sipped his drink and slowly turned his head, tracking his eyes from one end of the club to the other. “Come on, Viking! Smile nice for your adoring fans!” Eric glanced at Mustapha before raising his face to look at the crowd that had gathered around the front of the booth. Charles was maintaining a line about five feet out, but they still seemed too close. Mustapha nodded and one of his Weres joined Charles. Together they moved the by-standers back another few feet.
When the noise dropped a tick, the Packmaster turned back to Eric, “I heard about what happened in Denver. Good thing Sookie managed to get out of there in one piece. You know how Weres feel about witches. When she summoned that blade? It looked like all kinds of witchcraft to those local yokels. I’m not sure they even believe the Fae exist. Not like they see them out there anyway.” Mustapha made a point of turning away before he said, “Guess Sookie won’t be attending any more conferences for a while.”
Eric frowned. Sookie hadn’t mentioned running into trouble in Denver, only that she was no longer going to be part of the movement. He felt his teeth grinding. Thalia was holding secrets. Sookie was holding secrets. Rather than explore it any further, Eric said, “I wasn’t aware that Weres felt so strongly about witches.”
“Goes way back,” Mustapha glanced at the vampire. “Y’all probably don’t notice because you like to be in charge. You hire witches when you want something and you hire us. It’s the only time we are willingly involved with those people, and preferably when you hire us to fight them,” and Mustapha chuckled, “Which could be happening again pretty soon.”
There were more camera flashes, so Eric looked away when he asked, “What do you mean?”
“Sure you heard Indira flew out of here earlier,” Mustapha hid his mouth behind his drink. “There’s a rumor the witches are figuring out a way to remove glamour. They are gathering secrets and fixing to use the information to blackmail folks. Now, I’m not thinking that it will bring many crows home to my roost, but I have a vested interest in keeping certain secrets a secret.”
“Where did this rumor start?” Eric hissed.
“Where all the best rumors start, New Orleans,” the Were answered. “Maybe you know the lead bitch too. I hear it’s your wife’s former roommate.”
Eric knew without being told Mustapha was talking about Amelia Broadway.
The Viking had never liked her. Every time Sookie was teetering toward him, Amelia Broadway had found a way to push her until she wasn’t any more. The witch had pushed Alcide Herveaux into his wife’s bed. She had encouraged his wife with John Quinn. He knew the witch’s father had been involved in shady deals and Amelia was no better. He pulled out his phone and texted Maxwell Lee and Indira, asking them to collect information and then he felt it, the pull. Dawn was an hour away. Sookie was a half hour of that hour away from him. He needed to get home.
“Thank you,” he told Mustapha, and slid out of the booth. He signaled Charles and the Were slipped quickly toward the back hallway, clearing the way. As he moved through the crowd, Eric signaled Karin and she joined him. “Please plan to visit with us,” he told her. “You are missed,” and he embraced her, sending her comfort and affection.
Charles had the driver’s door open, but Eric walked to the passenger side. When Charles pulled out onto the road, Eric laid his head back and said, “Drive like the wind.”
Sookie slipped from the house and walked past the roses and through the trees. There was no fence at this end of the cemetery and she walked confidently toward her Gran’s grave. It was comforting, passing the monuments she knew so well. There was the one with the angel, it’s wings arched forward as if it was protecting the person who rested there. There was another shaped like a tree stump, and one that was shaped like a long, low bench.
Sookie found herself stopping in front of the one with the lamb perched on it. She knew it had been placed for a child that had died. The girl’s name was carved in the stone along with the dates of her birth and death. She had only been two years old when death had taken her from a family that had loved her enough to commission such a special monument. There was something about this, the immense mortality of it that had Sookie questioning her own desire to have children. What if something happened to them? Would she have the strength to place them in the ground leaving nothing but a stone for remembrance?
She gulped and then shook her head, pushing away the morbid thoughts. Gran was just a little way ahead and Sookie smiled as she sank down on the bench she had set here many years ago.
“Been awhile,” she said out loud, admiring the way the daisies were swaying in the wind. Sookie supposed she should trim the flowers, make the site tidier, but there was something wonderful about the way nature had found to bring its glory to this place. The rose bushes were twining to either side, and iris bloomed in clumps.
Training this morning had been frustrating. Tamsin was trying to show her how to teleport. Sookie knew she could do it. She’d been startled and somehow she had done it naturally, but now, when she was trying, it seemed she couldn’t even find a clue of the elusive edge that would allow her to slip from one place to another. It had taken everything to drag herself upstairs, shower, and not just crawl back in bed.
Mr. Cataliades would return later this afternoon and they would review the quarterly statements. Once Eric rose, they agreed to go to Fangtasia and make an appearance. So much to do, but all Sookie wanted right now was a quiet moment with sunshine, a moment to sort out why she felt so confused.
For many days she had been convinced that the answer to her lack of direction was children. She had proven she couldn’t handle official supernatural business. The more she thought about her failure with the Weres, the more convinced she became that she had no place trying to be involved in their business. She already knew that vampires wouldn’t accept having her be a Queen for all the title she held. She was a warm and giving person, everyone said so. Why not focus on something she could do?
But now Sookie found she was questioning whether she was doing this for the right reasons. Children were such a large commitment. What if she wasn’t meant to be a mother? She remembered saying that she didn’t want children. She didn’t want to condemn any child to have to grow up with her telepathy, unable to understand the terrible gift of hearing the thoughts of others. What had changed?
As if in answer to her prayer, Tara DuRone walked toward her, “I thought this is where I’d find you. Text your guard, by the way. He’s looking pretty frantic.” Sookie sighed and pulled out her phone. Owen was here today.
“What am I doing?” Sookie asked her best friend. “I’m not responsible when it comes to my guards. What makes me think I could be anywhere near responsible enough to be a parent?”
Tara leaned against her, “I’m not sure why you’re struggling with this. You’ll make a wonderful mother, and Eric? Well, he’s a natural. I’m surprised Jason’s boys haven’t moved in with you already.”
“What if I have them and then I figure out it’s a big mistake?” Sookie could hear how silly it sounded, but she was worried. “I thought being married to Eric would be enough, and the next thing I knew, I was running all over the country, trying to solve other people’s problems.”
“You worried you won’t have enough to keep you busy?” Tara laughed, “Well, I can tell you for a fact that having children keeps you busy and then some!”
“I guess,” the telepath shrugged. “I guess I wonder if it will be enough.”
“You thinking about being a stay-at-home mom?” Tara asked, and then said, “I could see you’d have that option, being rich and all. I decided to keep working. Mostly it’s because I have my own business and I couldn’t see letting it go. But look at Michele. She’s stay-at-home and she has so much going on. I don’t think the Church could run without her and she’s the person most young mothers go to for advice. There is no single right answer here, Sookie. But let me tell you what you get in return if you’re brave enough to try.”
Tara looped her arm around her friend’s shoulder and pulled her close, “You get a lifetime of firsts. You get the first time you see that baby in the ultrasound photo. You get the first time you hear its little heartbeat and the first time you feel it roll over just under your fingers. I’ll never forget the look on J.B.’s face when he felt those twins. You know what he did? He leaned over and kissed my belly, and he laid his head against me so he could feel them through his cheek. We lay there all night and he tried to talk me into eating spicy food so they’d roll some more!” and Tara laughed.
“I’ll tell you for a fact, there is nothing to compare to the first time you hold that baby in your arms, or the first time it smiles up at you. When you hear it laugh and when it reaches for you, all chubby arms and messy mouth! Oh, Sookie, it’s a lifetime of firsts and the risk is worth every second.”
“Thank you,” Sookie sniffed.
“Well, you’re welcome!” Tara shoulder bumped her, “Now let’s get back to the house so you can feed me that lunch you promised.” As they walked up the path, arm in arm, Tara tossed her head a little and said, “Oh, and I can tell you for a fact, pregnancy sex beats regular sex hands down!” and when Sookie blushed, Tara laughed again.