Author’s Note: Thank you Breathesgirl and Ms Buffy. I am thrilled and flattered that you have stuck with this journey. I am most grateful.
And thank you to my readers who have been so encouraging. The continued enthusiasm you show in reading the work is a gift beyond compare.
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.
“Boy, I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore,” Sookie grumbled as she walked down the stairs of the plane. It was late April and the wind across the Nebraska high plains had dropped the temperature to a chilly thirty degrees. At home the days were getting sultry, but here in the western part of the country winter held on with long fingers. The full moon sailed large and lonely in a sky so vast , Sookie got dizzy looking up into it.
Eric dropped his jacket over her shoulders, “Come,” he prodded her and together they walked across the tarmac and into the Scottsbluff airport.
“I thought Shreveport was small.” The whole airport was one large room. There was no Anubis Terminal here. Their chartered plane would return in a few days to retrieve them. “Why do you think Grandfather picked this place?” Sookie was really asking herself the question. She did not expect an answer and Eric didn’t give her one. It seemed so unlikely to find the Fae here. The land was sandy and the rainfall sparse. It was a pretty place. Sookie had looked at pictures of rolling hills giving way to dramatic rock formations. There was green but all in all, very few trees. Sookie wasn’t sure why she felt trees were important, but she knew to her backbone they were.
“Perhaps the Prince has a sense of humor,” Thalia offered. She was walking just behind them, the only one of their retinue Niall, the Prince of the Sky Fae had specifically requested accompany them.
“Like yours?” Eric asked. He was rewarded by Thalia’s dry chuckle.
“Yes, I expect Niall and I could find several ways to tickle each other.” Sookie was sure that any tickling between Niall and Thalia would involve sharp weapons.
It was late and Sookie noticed the rental car counter was closed for the night. There was one uniformed woman standing near the ticket counter. The woman was a loud broadcaster and she was curious but trying not to stare. She had seen vampires before, and Sookie caught an image of Finn from the woman’s head. She knew they were the famous Eric and Sookie Northman. She wondered if she would get in trouble if she asked for a picture.
Eric stopped, turning back toward the tarmac. Sookie could see the attendants pulling the last of the suitcases from the underbelly of the plane so she glanced at the woman, “Hey, how are you?” She felt the minute Eric and Thalia’s eyes fastened on her, but she ignored them. “Nice night?”
“Yeah,” the woman stammered. “Yeah, it is. I mean…”
Sookie stepped forward, extending her hand, “I’m Sookie Northman. I just wanted to thank you for staying open late to let us come through. You all are probably used to closing up a lot earlier. It sure was kind of you.”
The woman grasped Sookie’s hand, “Just doing my job,” she gawped. Sookie could hear the woman wondering why folks around here seemed to have a problem with vampires. Every one that she had ever met had been nice and here was this human married to one and she was real nice too. She would never sell information about flights or serve as a look out. She broke eye contact to look over Sookie’s shoulder and Sookie could feel her wavering when she saw Thalia’s stare.
“Oh, don’t mind Thalia!” Sookie smiled broadly, “She’s had a long night. Long week really. Just out of sorts.” The flight attendants walked by wheeling their bags and Eric approached them, extending his hand. Sookie smiled, “It was nice meeting you,” and she was just about to turn when the young woman found her courage.
“Do you think I could have a picture with you? I mean, you are the only celebrities I’ve ever met!”
“We’d be happy to,” Sookie pulled the scowling Eric next to her and took the woman’s cell phone, handing it to Thalia. “Please?”
Thalia’s eyes narrowed, but she did the honors, and as soon as the phone was handed back, Eric had Sookie out of the building and into the awaiting limousine.
“What was that about, Lover?” He pulled her against him, as if that would help remove the chill of that sharp wind.
“Vampires are not popular around here,” Sookie replied. “That woman back there? She feels differently than most of the locals, but she’s been asked to inform others about the comings and goings. Finn might want to find another airport to use in future.”
Thalia was facing them in the jump seat, “These small hamlets are all the same. They fear anything different.”
“I grew up in a small town. I know what you’re talking about.” Sookie looked out into the dark. They soon passed out of the town and then its suburbs. The land seemed to stretch out all around them with little to no vegetation in sight. From time to time, the car would slow to allow an animal to bound across the road. Sookie felt her eyes grow heavy, “How long?”
“Two hours, maybe less,” Eric was looking out his window as well. His Sookie snuggled into his side, pushing a little so she would have room to bring her feet up on the seat and within minutes, she was sleeping.
“How does she do that?” Thalia asked.
“It is admirable,” Eric agreed. He looked back out the window, “It feels foreign, this place.”
“Sand, but not desert,” Thalia him, her gaze steady. “Niall will push for a full alliance.”
“In writing,” Eric agreed. “Something that will be filed, not just witnessed.” He glanced at his sleeping wife, “He is taking no chances.”
“You did leave her once before.”
Thalia didn’t look away when he growled, “It was my Maker’s command. It was not my place to question him!”
“It was enough to cause doubt in Brigant’s mind,” Thalia cocked her head to one side. “It was the honorable thing, but it was also a thing that brought you deep discontent.”
Eric glanced down again. How long ago it all seemed, yet still fresh. “She was not mine. Not truly. She questioned everything. She fought our bond at every turn. She was like a caged animal, one minute loving and then angry in the next. I wanted a sign. She broke our bond.”
“And she used her magic to save the shifter,” Thalia nodded.
“Yes,” Eric sighed.
“So, you stopped fighting,” Thalia nodded.
“What was another hundred years?” and Eric looked out the window, the despair of those days crowding around him.
“Two hundred, Viking. Two hundred! You punished yourself…”
“For being foolish enough to love a woman who did not love me. Yes, I did.” Sookie moaned, snuggling a little closer, and then starting her gentle snore. Eric shifted her expertly until her head moved lower and she made a sound. The snoring stopped and Eric chuckled. “But all turned out well in the end.”
“Did it? You hold a title you never desired. You will be bound by contract to a bargain you may not like, certainly one that will create problems with your own kind.” Thalia stopped. It was in his eyes, the way he looked at her. ‘A dragon encircling his own,’ she thought. Sookie’s hand had curled, grasping his shirt, her face serene, claiming him as much as he claimed her. Thalia was reminded there was no use in fighting this. ‘Fated,’ she thought, then turned to stare at the passing landscape, the features clear to her eyes under the moonlit skies.
“Get dressed,” Finn opened the doors of his closet. His companion still lay on the bed. Her dark hair spun across her pale skin in a way that reminded him of seaweed tossed by the waves. Her violet eyes tilted up slightly as she smiled. Tamsin and he had shared each other’s bodies for years, but she still delighted him.
“Tell me of her?” she asked. The slender Fae rolled and then stood, every movement gracefully fluid in the way of a feral animal.
“I’ve but met her a handful of times.” Finn watched Tamsin finger walk through the clothes stored here for her. “She seems pleasant enough, perhaps too polite. She’s got the Brigant coloring.”
“Blond or red?” she held a black dress against her, but Finn shook it off. He wished to see her in lavender and he pointed it out. “You and your pastels!” and her laughter was like water running in a brook.
“Blond. Blue eyes. She and the Viking make a striking pair. But you’ve seen their pictures, so why do you ask?”
“The Prince has suggested I look at images, but I didn’t want to be prejudiced. I’ll wait to see her with my own eyes and not through some photographer’s interpretation.” The Fae slipped the dress over her head, not bothering with undergarments. Her body was compact, her breasts high and tight against her chest. Finn didn’t have to be told she wasn’t human. It was in the feel of her skin and the play of her muscles. She looked like those around her, but her essence was something other. He would see it from the corner of his eye from time to time, gleaming eyes and feline fangs. Isaiah called her ‘Howler’ and said she was nothing more than a mountain cat. Finn suspected his friend was right, but it was something he never asked. She suited him and he seemed to suit her. It was enough.
“You should stay long enough to meet them,” Finn caught her hand. “Stay. She has to meet you soon, anyway. What’s the harm?”
“The Prince wants this his way,” Tamsin arched her brow. “There is no point in prodding him. He has become more tolerant. Why disrupt that?”
“He is more tolerant because he knows you will leave to train her,” Finn grumbled.
“You can’t expect him to support this,” Tamsin shrugged. “We are natural enemies. He needs to trust me with his Great Granddaughter. He trusts you, but you are vampire, like the North Man. There are realities he is coming to accept, but it is not easy for him. The only reason I am here at all is because of his affection for you.” Tamsin laid her hand against Finn’s cheek. “Don’t do something that could lose us what we have. I…” and she dropped her eyes, “I appreciate my time here. I,” and her eyes were saying something more than the words she gave him, “would miss you if I was forbidden from seeing you.”
They finished dressing in silence. When she lifted the white gold necklace from the dresser, he walked up behind her, accepting the ends from her hands and, with a sure touch, clasped it. He stood behind her and they looked at each other in the mirror’s reflection. “I will see you tomorrow night,” his lover smiled, and then she was gone. Finn noticed the room seemed darker.
“It is late.” Tamsin knew Niall would be sitting in the great hall. His chair was set at the top of the longfire. Of course, it wasn’t actually fire. The glow and warmth from the low, glowing pit were the effects of a chemical reaction. It released neither gas nor smoke, but the feature served the same purpose. A longfire kept the underground halls dry and added warmth. It cast an appealing glow to the faces of those who sat around it. It lent itself to gatherings for music and stories. Tamsin stepped forward so the Prince could more fully see her face.
“I was tempted to stay. I wished to see her,” she told him. There was no purpose in denying it. The Prince knew all.
“You were right to come here first,” he agreed. “To meet her standing beside Finn would have given the wrong impression.” The woman bowed her head and turned to leave, but Niall thought it was past time to say things that needed to be said.
“I have turned a blind eye to your affection for Finn.” She stopped, but didn’t turn to face him. ‘Ah,’ he thought, ‘she fears. Her feelings must be engaged.’ There was a part of him that was pleased. “I, too, have affection for him.” Now he waited her out. She did turn, but wouldn’t meet his eyes. “You have managed things with great discretion, but I sense that it becomes harder for you now,” and the Prince bent his will upon her.
“Yes,” she gasped, then recovered herself. “Yes, I enjoy my time with the vampire. He is most… engaging,” and her spring flower eyes met his now. She couldn’t hide the slight pleading from creeping into her voice. She was more than interested in his ward.
“It has been many ages since you took a lover, Tamsin. Those you played with in the past were not like the vampire. They were noble and of your kind.” He didn’t wait for her answer, “You know I don’t approve of the races mixing.”
“And yet your own Great Granddaughter has bonded with one,” Tamsin’s eyes flashed.
Niall fought to keep the curl from his lip, “Yes,” he replied, his voice mild. “We live in changing times. Who would have thought that this daughter of my house would be accepted as heir? A hybrid? I have lived to see a great many wonders.”
Tamsin bowed, “As you say, my Prince.” He could see her quiver. ‘So hopeful!’ he thought. He looked at the carved arm of the chair that rested beneath his hand. He picked at the inlay for a moment, allowing her hope to gain an edge of anxiety. Better to have those around him uncertain. It kept them more aware of their surroundings, better able to anticipate danger.
“Do well with Sookie. Help her to embrace her potential, accept who she is, and there will be rewards.” Tamsin smiled briefly before becoming wary yet again. ‘Good,’ he thought, ‘she grows in wisdom.’
“I wish him, my Prince.” Niall’s nostrils flared. He had not expected a declaration from her. Niall almost told her she was reaching above her station, but then he held back. As fond as he was of the vampire, Finn was still a creature. Nothing could change that. Tamsin was not without connection and she was full Fae. If this alliance with Northman was successful, there would need to be further proof that the idea of vampire and Fae co-existing was possible.
The Prince nodded, “I will consider it,” he agreed. The woman bowed more deeply and then moved away, her feet flying. He could see her cat-like features and the close fur that covered her. None of his people were truly hidden from him. He suspected Finn saw her in her true state as well, and he still accepted her.
Niall turned his gaze back to the longfire. No, there was no reason to deny Tamsin’s request. Were it any other creature, he would not have hesitated. But Finn? Finn was special to him.
As he had a thousand times before, the Prince waved his hand and the image of his beloved Einin wavered above the red glow of the longfire. He saw her again, blond hair and laughing eyes. Had there been one of his Fae subjects in the great hall, they might have failed to recognize their ruler, his face so changed at the memory of his human woman. She had been his great delight. She had never feared him. She teased him and chided him. She fed him simple foods and made him clothes with her own hands. She loved him until her breath gave way with the birth of their second son, Dermot.
Niall willed the memory to come forward and play out slowly. He watched the triumph and love etched on her lovely features the morning Einin held their first son, Fintan, in her hands. Once again, he heard her words, his own lips moving to say them with her, ‘I’ve given you a son, Darlin’. Oh, he is so beautiful!”
Niall paused the image. He knew there was no point in touching her. There was no cheek to stroke nor forehead to soothe. There was only the ghost of what was. He looked at her, refreshing once more each feature, each second of that one moment in his mind. When he felt his attention begin to waver, he waved again, and the memory resumed. The grimace as the next set of birth pains began. The midwife’s terror, sensing his otherness and believing his Einin to be cursed. He had been helpless as he watched her, willing all to be well, holding Fintan and promising him his mother would be fine.
Of course she hadn’t been fine. Her bleeding couldn’t be controlled, and her life ebbed as their second son, Dermot, greeted the world with a lusty cry. Niall had not been able to bring himself to hold Dermot. He would only hold Fintan, whose face still held the memory of his mother’s smile.
It was not Dermot’s doing, the death of his mother. More likely it was Branna’s curse. Still, from that time to this, Niall could not find it in his heart to embrace his second son. Even now, with the rest of his progeny gone to the Summerlands, all save this one, Niall had no love for Dermot.
Of course, Dermot knew. His whole life was one of knowing. Niall made no effort to hide that Fintan was his favorite. He had taken his half-human boys from their mother’s home and hid them away. He found foster parents for them, first in Ireland where they grew to be men, and then in France. He didn’t dare bring them to Fairy. Branna, his wife and Queen, would have found them and killed them. For centuries he moved them around, hiding them from conscription and religious zealots through magic. When the Revolution began to sweep France, Niall moved them to the Americas, hiding them near New Orleans. Their command of the language and ease with the outdoors allowed them to quickly blend into the French settlements.
He taught them magics and sent them teachers when he was busy fighting wars. He sent gifts, though never exactly the same gifts.
It was shortly after he relocated the twins to Louisiana that Branna, his angry Queen, broke from him. They had hated each other almost from the first, but Branna was descended from both the Water Fae and the Earth Fae. Their marriage had been arranged to cement the alliance between their Clans, but it had seemed doomed from the first. Branna felt her title gave her precedence, that she was entitled to take the lead in all things. But Branna was brittle and did not command loyalty among her peoples, and so Niall was acknowledged ruler, though his title was Prince. The harder his Queen pushed him, the less he gave her. Soon, they were barely speaking.
But she did give him one thing that she could not poison, although not for lack of trying. Branna presented Niall with a son, a full-blooded Fae Prince. Dillon’s birth followed shortly after the birth of Einin’s twins. This full Fae was dark-haired like Branna, his mother. Niall remembered feeling pleased at the news. The blood-line was now secured and Branna might have returned to her family’s home, living her life away from Court, but with respect.
Niall had no special love for Dillon from the start. It was seeing his mother’s features so clearly in the child’s face that conspired to place the distance between them. Dillon was everything a future ruler should be, tall and keen-eyed. In time, Niall and Dillon became closer. Niall found he could rely on the young man’s counsel, and he often included Dillon in matters of Fae rule.
Dillon found his own mate, a love match. She presented him with three beautiful children, two girls and one boy. It should have been a time of peace, a time Niall could start to hand over the reins of power to follow his own pursuits, but instead, Branna fomented rebellion with their nephew, Breandan. Breandan had inherited rule of the Water Fae when Niall’s brother, Rogan, fell. Instead of consolidating power, Niall found himself taking up arms against his wife. Dillon chose his father’s side, and his own mother cursed him loudly, declaring he would know how it felt to lose his children. How Niall now wished he had killed Branna before she uttered those words.
There were many who believed that the reason Branna betrayed him was because of Fintan and Dermot, but it wasn’t the case. There were only a few who knew that it had been the vampire Niall found in Ireland who had caused the final rift between the royal couple.
Niall would never forget the day he first saw Finn’s face. Although he had moved his boys from Ireland, Niall still enjoyed the country. Like Einin’s people a century before, Finn’s family and those who lived near him, remembered and honored the Fae. They left gifts as the way to appease the Shining Ones. They showed the proper respect. Niall had been aware of the young man who slipped from the house to watch the hunt as it flowed across the fields on moonlit nights. It warmed him to think there were still humans who honored the place his people held. But for all of that, the Prince had not been drawn in any particular way to this lad until that night.
Niall had been hunting with Dillon, just the two of them. It was an opportunity to bond with his heir. They had received word that there was a rogue vampire hunting in the territory. It was not usual, vampires in Ireland, and his people had not learned to hide their scent as they did now. He and Dillon had just crested a hill when Niall heard the cry, and in that moment, he heard Einin’s voice. He rode like the wind down that hill, his steed’s hooves muffled by a charm. He could smell the vampire before he saw him. The creature stank of old earth and new blood. He could smell the second vampire, so newly made, and he raised his sword to kill them both. When he struck the head from the ancient one, the new-born raised his face and what he saw stayed the Prince’s hand. The young vampire kneeling on the ground was Fintan, or could have been Fintan. The features were almost identical, but instead of near-white hair, this man’s was flaming red.
Dillon had caught up with him by then. He never questioned his father’s decision. They secured Finn a place and caught humans to feed him. Niall called in a favor and had a vampire brought over to help the young one transition.
Niall had always meant to ask Fintan about Finn. When the vampire had revealed his name, Niall was certain that somehow this creature was connected to his favorite son. The Prince thought he would have forever to solve the mystery. He had been wrong. Centuries passed, and there were other problems to be solved. The matter of a lone vampire seemed small. That was, until Branna saw him. Niall never found out who revealed Finn’s presence on Fae lands, but Branna demanded the vampire be destroyed. Niall refused. Branna made clear that she knew of Fintan and Dermot. She threatened to kill them both if she ever got her hands on them. She told Niall that at the least, she could kill the misbegotten creature that had to belong to one of them. She called it stemming the contagion and made clear her hatred of hybrids. Niall had chains of magic placed around his hateful Queen to stop her and then spirited Finn from the country.
It was many years before the Prince was able to contact the vampire again. By then, Finn had grown into his gifts, among them, the gift of sight. It was a rare gift, but it was something all those of the Brigant bloodline could do. For Niall, it was just further proof that Finn had to be in some way connected with Fintan. The Prince made arrangements and sent Finn to America, and then he returned to fight the war that his actions had made inevitable.
More centuries passed before Niall was able to travel to the Americas himself. By then, Branna was dead and Breandan in exile. Niall found the portal in Louisiana, although too late. Fintan was gone. He made his arrangement with Eric Northman to watch over the Stackhouse family and took his leave.
Finn had been named King in Nebraska and Niall headed there to explore the possibilities of that vast place. The Ancient Pythoness herself had confronted Niall about the vampire, demanding to know If he was part Fae, but the only one who knew the answer was Fintan, and he had gone to the Summerlands carrying his secret.
Niall smiled. He too knew a great secret. The Pythoness was tired. She looked now for the one who would take her place, the one who would direct the loyalties and policies of all vampires in the centuries to come. Even now, she searched. It took a great deal of magic to fool her sharp eyes, but what was a Fae if not magic? When the time was right, Niall would have Finn step forward. But for now, the demon attorney’s niece would watch over the Ancient one, keeping her safe and safely looking elsewhere.
The house could be seen from many miles away. The land here was a succession of gently rolling hills. The car would crest a hill and the house would be visible, then the car would head down into another trough of land and the house would disappear. The next time it appeared, it would be closer, but still so far away. One realized the space here, the vast proportions of this place. Slowly, the house grew closer until they were turning into a drive lined with poplars. Their way headed, ruler-straight across more rolling hills until it ended in a great graveled lot framed by tall trees, barns and the house itself. “I never liked farms,” Thalia said sourly
“It reminds me of Russia,” Eric replied. “But more mechanized.”
Their driver, a Were named Gus, said, “We grow wheat here, and corn. But mostly it’s for the horses.” He jumped out and ran around to open their door, but Thalia beat him to it. She stood in the cold wind and looked around while Eric woke Sookie.
“We are here, Lover. Time to wake up.” Eric took a strand of her hair and used it to tickle her ear. She brushed at it twice before she opened her eyes and smiled at him. “There you are!” he sighed. It was in her look, in every aspect of her, this new acceptance of their status. She had told him she was his before, but Eric could feel the difference. She wasn’t just telling herself she was his wife. She knew it, and that knowing made the time between them even sweeter.
“I hope he believes in bathrooms.” Sookie sat up and brushed at her eyes. “Did I snore?”
“I wouldn’t let you,” Eric chuckled. “Don’t worry. I save that little treasure for myself.”
She swiped at him playfully as she exited the car. The wind made her shiver, and it was all the excuse he needed. Eric swooped her up and raced her in through the open door. “Perhaps you could show us to our rooms before our evening begins?” he asked the driver as he set Sookie down.
“Of course,” another Were answered. He was tall and dressed in a dark suit. “I am Daniel. I am butler here.”
“I will wait down here,” Thalia told them, so Eric nodded toward Daniel. The butler bowed and he gestured toward the stairs. As he led the way, he said, “I understand that you will be sharing chambers, but if Madame wishes a day room, that can be arranged. All the rooms here are light tight and we do have shutters that close automatically on all the upper floors. The downstairs area has certain rooms that are allowed to remain in daylight,” he glanced over his shoulder, “an accommodation for our non-vampire guests.”
The butler stopped before a dark, wooden door and then opened it with a flourish. The room was furnished with a canopy bed. The closet doors were open and the light shone through an open door that led into a bathroom. “The King will await you downstairs. Mr. Cataliades is also here.”
“Will we be staying here?” Sookie asked. Somehow she had thought they would be staying with her Great-Grandfather.
“I have not been informed of any plans beyond this evening,” Daniel replied evenly, and then, with a bow, he left, closing the door behind him.
Sookie rolled her eyes and walked directly into the bathroom, shutting the door. Eric had told her it made no difference. He heard her equally well whether the door was open or closed, but it seemed to give her comfort, this illusion of privacy, so he turned his attention to the suitcases their driver had deposited on matching stands. The instructions had told them they would not need to pack for more than a few days, and that formal wear would be provided to them. Sookie had insisted on packing a couple dresses anyway, ‘just in case.’ Eric retrieved his hanging bag, taking out his suit and placing it in the closet.
Sookie rejoined him, and walked over to her suitcase and retrieved a sweater. “Think we should change?”
“No. I think that when there is a need for a particular costume, we will be told,” and Eric winked at her.
“Funny! You never know. They could find you a pair of little wings and pointy shoes. You could be the tooth fairy!” and his wife giggled at her own joke.
“Teeth fairy, Lover. I am a vampire after all,” and he dropped his fangs and leered before pulling his beautiful wife into his arms. He kissed her and then trailed his lips and teeth down and along her neck. Before things became too heated, he tickled her and she giggled again. He felt his dick twitch and considered taking her quickly against the door, but dismissed the inclination. The demon lawyer would not hesitate to interrupt them if they kept him waiting, so instead, the Viking stepped back and held out his hand, “Come, let’s see what Niall has in mind.”