Author’s Note: So close to the end now. The story got away from me a bit. There was so much to set up for the world where we will next find them, a world a year in the future. Of course, there is still something left to this one. They will marry by human custom in the next chapter. They will head to Nebraska to fulfill their promise to Niall. Then this mini-series of weddings and manners concludes. Thank you for taking the journey with me.
Thanks to my betas for their tireless efforts, and thank you Sephrenia for your funny, amazing art.
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.
“Thanks for making the run,” Charles took the tray of coffee from Owen.
“No worries. Any movement?” Owen glanced toward the front hall.
“Nope, but you didn’t really expect any, did you? She might sleep until he rises. It’s happened,” Charles peeled back the coffee lid and sipped. “Oh! Still hot! Thanks, brother. You must have been hauling ass back here.”
“Wasn’t that far, just near the highway ramp,” Owen pulled a wrapped sandwich from the brown bag and tossed it to his partner.
They arrived last night to find the front door unlocked and the house dark. There was no doubt the King and Queen were here. The Corvette was parked at an angle out front and there was plenty of noise.
When Thalia realized Sookie and Eric disappeared from the Stackhouse party last night, she activated the locator on Eric’s phone, and then called the Weres. Charles had been kicking back and Owen was reading, but it was the job. Within twenty minutes they were pulling up in separate cars. Charles tookthe first shift and Owen found the couch in the back room was long enough for some shut eye.
Now it was Charles’ turn to sleep. Owen would stay awake for the remainder of the day which meant when Sookie did awaken, and he knew she would, it would fall to Owen to keep her around the house until nightfall. Once it was dark, Thalia would arrive, and she’d been clear she wanted to speak with both of their charges.
Owen glanced toward the front hall again, “I figured her for a runner, but him? He knows what’s at stake.”
“He hasn’t been handling the separation well,” Charles shrugged. “It’s way worse than the last time.”
“I’ve heard rumors some vampire pairs have trouble being away from each other. They get sick. You think that’s real?”
Charles shrugged, “I think we should ask Thalia. She’ll tell us what we need to know, but for now? It won’t be good for anyone if the King starts acting erratically.” Charles yawned, “Whatever it is, Thalia’s concerned. She wants to talk with him before anything else happens tonight, although how she thinks we’d stop them from leaving is anyone’s guess.”
“Get some sleep, brother,” Owen gestured toward the family room. “It’s shady back there. Couch is comfy.”
Charles scrubbed at his face and then padded toward the back of the house. Owen stretched, plugged his phone in, and found a show. ‘Yeah, real glamourous life,’ he thought as he watched the credits scroll over the small screen.
Sookie awoke with that feeling that made her think ‘hangover.’ Her mouth felt as if it was full of cotton and her eyes were scratchy. Eric had her in a death grip and she seriously considered calling for help. She wondered if he would react to the slight Fae scent that would happen if she summoned the phone. She rolled, using her shoulder as leverage against his body and his arms did loosen enough so that she could wiggle out.
Sookie padded to the bathroom, picking up her bra and dress along the way. Her panties hadn’t survived. ‘Good thing I did me some vampire sipping,” she thought, “or I wouldn’t be walking now!” They played each other skillfully, each orgasm seeming to build toward the promise of another. At one point, Sookie felt such a strong connection with Eric that she heard him chanting her name although his mouth wasn’t moving. With each joining, she had been told all the way to her bones how much he loved her. Even walking this short distance made her want to turn around and climb right back into his arms.
Pam had brought towels and sandalwood scented bath gel when she stocked the house last night. Sookie turned on the shower, took care of human needs, and stepped under the water, adding her own hands and pretending they were Eric’s. It was her stomach grumbling and not the end of the hot water that finally got her moving.
“Guess I didn’t eat much at that!” Sookie said out loud as she dressed. She thought about driving Eric’s Corvette to the Piggly Wiggly. It wasn’t that far, but she hadn’t been behind the wheel of any vehicle since she moved to New Orleans. That realization put steel in her spine, and she walked over to Eric’s jeans and found his keys. She was walking toward the stairs when she felt the pull again, the one that sang about Eric and how comfortable his arms would feel around her. She walked back to the mattress and stood near his head. It was odd seeing him in the half-light that came through vampire-safe window. “I love you, and I’ll be back soon,” she promised, then leaned over and kissed his forehead, smoothing his hair as she would a child’s.
Sookie’s shoes were near the front door, as was her purse. She didn’t remember locking it, but it wasn’t like there was anyone around. She had her hand on the doorknob when a familiar voice said, “Where are you going, Majesty?”
Sookie jumped and spun around, her hand on her chest to see Owen standing in the dining room. “Cheese and rice, you scared the pants off me!”
“The King is resting?” her guard asked.
Sookie glanced at the stairs. It was daytime, so she knew Owen was confirming where the King was resting. “Yes, he is.” Then she shrugged, “I guess you found us, huh?”
“Were you trying to elude us?” the tone was light, but Sookie could tell he didn’t view it as a joke. He confirmed her suspicion by saying, “You know the front door was unlocked. Anyone might have found you.”
The very thought of anyone harming Eric made something within Sookie rear up on its hind legs and snarl. “It was foolish,” she choked out through clenched teeth, half-surprised by her flash of temper and half-emboldened by it as well.
Owen’s eyes widened, “I meant no disrespect, Majesty,” and bowed his head.
Sookie wasn’t sure what he’d seen. She glanced at the hand that was fisted at her side and she saw long claws tipping her fingers. She felt magic running through her, crackling along her arms, and tingling up her spine. She remembered when Bellenos describing this place as home ground, where her Fae essence was strongest. Sookie closed her eyes and breathed through her nose. When she felt calmer, she took one last, deep breath, faced Owen, and said, “None taken, Owen. Thank you for coming out here to make sure we were safe. I appreciate it.” Sookie’s awkwardness ended when her stomach growled again. “I was just going to make a run to the grocery store,” she said lightly, “Maybe I can bring something back for you?”
“It would be best if you didn’t leave, Majesty,” Owen mumbled and then, “I’ve been ordered to keep you and the King here until Thalia can speak with you this evening. What she said is that I should persuade you to stay here,” and Owen lowered his eyes as he said the last. He flicked his eyes toward the kitchen, “I did pick up some things, eggs and bananas. I didn’t realize there weren’t any pans, but there is a microwave. I could make an omelet, if that would hold you.”
Sookie picked up her purse and walked toward the kitchen, “It was your night off, wasn’t it?” Sookie now knew why Thalia was at the bride’s party. The small vampire was on ‘Sookie patrol.’ “I won’t make any more trouble for you. I’m sorry.” There was a sound from the back of the house. “Charles is here, too?” When Owen nodded, Sookie chewed on her lip, “You get here last night?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Owen didn’t meet her eyes and Sookie didn’t have to ask. She blushed all the way to her toes, knowing what they must have heard.
“Guess you patrolled the woods?” she asked hopefully.
“For a while,” he answered, and his tone was kind. Sookie couldn’t make eye contact. She opened the refrigerator to find the leftovers from her prior visit and some new items. It was tricky, but between travel cups and a spare baggie, they managed to make a couple more breakfast sandwiches.
Once things were cleaned up, Sookie retrieved her phone and texted Michele, and then Tara. Within minutes, Tara called her back.
“You are in so much trouble!” her friend teased. Tara described Thalia’s reaction when she realized they’d left the party. “That little woman, the Doctor? She was right in Thalia’s face telling her to give her fangs a rest. It was kind of funny,” and then Sookie’s friend asked, “You aren’t in real trouble, are you?”
“No, not real,” Sookie told her, but she walked outside anyway for privacy. “I think that vampires are so used to being hunted they just naturally assume the worst.” It wasn’t exactly the truth, but there was something to it.
“So, that whole sleeping apart thing? I’m guessing you’ve blown that tradition out of the water ten ways to Sunday!”
“Could be!” Sookie glanced over her shoulder. “Truth is, we’re out at Hummingbird Lane…”
“Testing out the new mattress? Damn, Sookie! You crack the wrappers on some of those new toys you got?”
Sookie felt her cheeks getting hot, “No comment. Look, I don’t know if it’s possible, but you think you could run over some clothes? Looks like Eric and I are going to stay here until it’s time to get moving tonight. I’m sorry to be any trouble…”
“No trouble at all!” Tara laughed. “I have the kids. Okay to bring them?” When Sookie said ‘yes’, Tara added, “We can pick out the stuff you need to set up your kitchen!”
“That reminds me,” Sookie stammered. “No food here, and no way to prepare it. Just thought you should know.”
“Electric works, right?” Sookie assured her it did, “Well, I’ll stop and pick up a couple things so we can camp in style at your new hacienda!” and before Sookie could protest, Tara hung up.
Sookie wandered inside and told Owen Tara was coming, “I hope you don’t mind having kids around,” and flushed as she remembered Charles. “I wasn’t thinking about Charles sleeping. I’m sorry.”
“It is your home, Majesty, you should be comfortable in it,” but Sookie saw the way his eyes cut to the back of the house and she felt guilty. Sookie walked upstairs to make sure the doors to the master suite were closed at both ends. She couldn’t help herself. She walked back into the space and stood over him, watching her Viking as he lay motionless on the mattress in the middle of the empty room. She felt it again, that pull to crawl back in bed and wrap herself around him, becoming a single creature. It took an actual effort to turn away.
When she returned to the kitchen, Charles was up. He removed a Styrofoam cup of coffee from the microwave, “Thought you might be wanting this.”
“I am so sorry I woke you,” Sookie looked around and saw Owen through the glass door, standing on the side deck.
“Slept a whole six hours, better than I get most nights,” her husband’s guard smiled. “Feel great.” He glanced in the direction Sookie was looking, “Owen figured he’d take a quick lope around, see what was what.”
Sookie glanced at her watch. It was already three in the afternoon. There wasn’t anything planned until nine tonight. She and Eric would have a couple hours together to sort things out before they had to leave, like whether they would sleep here, or return to separate quarters. The thought of not being with him caused her to feel a stab in her chest so sharp it made her gasp. “You okay?” Charles asked.
Sookie let out a breath, shaking her head, “Fine, I’m fine.” She walked over to the counter and leafed through catalogs. There were copies of the ones she’d seen, and others featuring household goods and cooking supplies. “Boy, there are folks who sell everything!” Sookie exclaimed. Charles shrugged as if to say, ‘Have fun.’ “You don’t help your wife with the decorating?” Sookie asked.
“Not really,” Charles replied. “Mostly I tell her she’s all the decoration I need.”
“That is real sweet!” Sookie told him, “And she lets you get away with that?”
“I’m a lucky man,” he shrugged again, and settling on the bar stool, checked his phone.
Sookie picked out a couple bedroom sets for the second floor. She’d narrowed down her linen choices when she heard the sound of stomping feet. Sookie met Tara’s children, Sara and Robert, carrying grocery bags in the hall. Tara’s younger daughter, Jess, was puffing up the porch stairs, her arms wrapped around a huge package of toilet paper. Sookie and Charles headed out and in the next round they finished bringing in frozen dinners, boxes of plastic cutlery, bags of plastic plates and napkins, and the biggest jar of peanut butter Sookie had ever seen. Tara followed with some dish towels and oven mitts, “There’s a new Sam’s Club and they have just everything,” and she one-arm hugged Sookie while walking around her to get at the appliances.
“You kids head on outside and play!” Tara directed, and then turned back. “I know we need to line shelves and make this all official, but for now, let’s just shove things away. Picked up spaghetti and two fried chickens. Oh,” and she pulled the paper top off another frozen platter, “there’s macaroni and cheese, too. Figured I’d just warm everything up and chow down for an early dinner.” She looked at Sookie, “You get your coffee yet?”
“Charles brought me a cup,” Sookie looked at him gratefully.
“Seems someone knows you,” Tara nodded, “but I know that one is never enough,” and she pulled a coffee maker from one bag and coffee with filters from another. It didn’t take long to sort through things. Sookie used one of the plastic bags to line the new trash bucket, and the coffee maker was making promising noises. Sookie could hear screeching laughter from outside and for a moment, she saw this house as it would be, a home where she welcomed friends, a home that held family. Tara called her out of her thoughts, grabbing the top catalog from the stack. “Ready to do some more damage, girl?” and together they went to work selecting kitchenware.
It was a pleasant afternoon. The warm food was welcome. The children asked repeatedly what happened to the shaggy dog they were playing with outside. Owen told them he thought the dog headed home as he winked at Tara. By the time Tara loaded her children back in her car, the entire kitchen was ordered along with furniture for two bedrooms, furniture for the bonus room, and the area downstairs as well as all the linens.
When Sookie walked back into the house, she knew what she had to do. With a nod to the guards, she headed back up the steps. No explanation was needed. The King would rise in another hour and his Queen would be there when he opened his eyes.
Eric sensed her as he drifted in his twilight. It was like a breeze bringing a new and welcome scent. He found himself remembering a voyage he had taken when he was thirteen, already counted a man.
It was his first time raiding. He was on his uncle’s ship. The fighting was exciting and no one was injured too badly, but the crossing home was stormy and he caught the fear of his fellows. They prayed to Thor to allow them to see their homes again. After the storm blew over, Eric was unable to find sleep. As dawn approached, he stood at the prow, holding onto the dragon’s head. He stared forward, hoping to be first to see the dark line that meant land. Instead he smelled it. His uncle told him later that shore breezes were usual for sunrise. The thing Eric remembered was that in the middle of the sea he could smell the wet loam of earth. He found it as comforting as he now found his wife’s scent.
As he mulled over that thought, it came rushing through him, his rising. His eyes opened to her, and just as quickly he sensed another. He sprang up, fangs bared, taking a protective stance over his blinking mate.
“You seem to be feeling better,” Thalia stood near the double doors that led to their sleeping chamber. Eric knew she rose earlier than he did, but he hadn’t appreciated how much earlier.
“Did you come here from Indira’s?” he asked, turning to wrap the blanket around Sookie. He knew his mate did not appreciate being naked in front of others.
“No,” Thalia shook her head. “Compton’s. I didn’t think he’d mind.” Her head cocked to the side, “You are better?” she asked again.
“Yes,” Eric told her. He could feel Sookie’s concern.
“You were sick?” His wife laid her hand against his back, and it felt wonderful.
“I am well now,” He reluctantly looked away, “I am myself again,” he confirmed.
“We must talk. I will await you downstairs,” Thalia bowed, “Sookie,” and walked out the front door.
“Do you have it too? Bonding sickness?” Sookie asked.
“I am better now, min hustru. It is done,” Eric stroked Sookie’s pink cheek with his thumb. “It is not unusual. We will adjust.”
“Adjust how?” Sookie asked.
“I suppose we will become very familiar with each other,” he winked. He could feel her annoyance so he sighed and rolled over on his side. Pulling her to him. “I am worried this will make you angry,” he told her. “You will be sorry you chose to bond with me.”
“Wow! Are we actually talking about this?” Sookie asked, turning her head so she wasn’t so tight against his chest.
She was rewarded by the rumble of his laughter, “Yes, Älskade, we are talking. It was possible we would never experience bonding sickness. You are not vampire. It is something that only happens for some.”
“Grandfather said it was because I was away from you too long.”
“That is so,” Eric told her. “In some pairs, as time passes and the bond develops, the ability to be physically apart…”
“It hurts,” Sookie interrupted.
“Yes, like an ache. There are other things. It can cause anxiety when you are physically separated,” Eric stroked Sookie’s back, realizing it wasn’t her he was soothing, it was himself.
Eric’s mind moved ahead, as it always did, to a new world where Sookie stood physically at his side at all times. He thought of her need for human food. That, along with most of her needs, could be accommodated. Sunlight would be more challenging without interrupting her sleep. She needed her sleep. But she also needed her independence. He remembered her telling him about her need for work. He thought of her happiness in spending time here with her brother and his wife. ‘She will soon find that she hates the bond,’ and as he thought it, he believed it. It would be as before, she would feel trapped by him.
“Well, if this isn’t unusual, what do vampires do? You think Russell and Bart get it, bonding sickness?” she asked, interrupting the direction his thoughts were taking.
“It is not something that even you could ask politely. It is too personal, but I suspect they do. Both are busy, but they do not stray far from each other, and if they do, not for long.”
“Well, is there a way to fix it?” The Viking could feel her determination. He had to smile. His Sookie, always looking for an answer.
“If we were both vampires, we would dig into the ground and lay wrapped around each other for three days. It would restore us for a short time,” Eric leaned forward to kiss Sookie’s forehead, “but we are not both vampires. It is no matter. I would have you by my side in all things. You are my Queen, it will be as it should.” Eric hoped Sookie would see this as a benefit, but he suspected his clever wife would see what he wasn’t saying, and she didn’t disappoint him.
“So, you’re saying we can’t travel away from each other? Not even for a few days?”
“You are tired of me already?” Eric tried to make it sound teasing.
Sookie pushed away from him, “This is just not going to work and you know it! There has to be something we can do!” and then she rolled her eyes, “It’s because I’m Fae, isn’t it? It kicked something into overdrive and now we have this problem.”
“We can’t know that,” Eric told her, anxious that she not blame herself, “Bonding sickness is a vampire trait. I have never heard of it among the Fae. It is possible,” and he shrugged as if to say, ‘Fae sneakiness.’ “Most believe bonding tightly ensures you have another to defend you. It gives bonded pairs a distinct advantage.”
“Well, I for one think there is such a thing as too much togetherness!” Sookie sat up, the blanket puddling around her hips. “Grandfather recognized it right away. I told you that. And he made me better. He told me I could learn to minimize the effects. He made it sound like there was magic that could fix it.”
Eric asked the question he wanted to ask for some time, “You have been given many opportunities to develop your magic, but you haven’t. Why, Lover?”
Sookie dropped her eyes for a minute, and then placed her hand on his chest. He realized she felt the same comfort in physical contact that he was. “When I do something, I … well, I smell more Fae. I know how that affects you. And, to tell you the truth, there is something about it that just makes me uncomfortable, like it’s a door that once I go through, I can’t go back.”
Eric took her hand and kissed it before saying, “Pandora’s box.”
His Sookie smiled, “Yup, just like that. I may find that I like being that scary thing, and I worry that I’ll lose Sookie somewhere along the way. Anything I want? Snap! I think it and have it. Talk about straw into gold! Where would it stop? When would I start to think that I knew more, was worth more than anyone else?” She turned her worried eyes to him, “I’m already thinking about throwing humans out of the Palace. I’m judging who I can trust and who I can’t. I let people bow and fetch me things I’m perfectly capable of getting myself.” Her eyes held bright points of light, “I worry that I’ll look in the mirror someday and I’ll see Neave, all sharp teeth and long claws, and I won’t be Sookie anymore!” and she lay her head against him. He could smell sweet salt and he felt the wet of her tears.
“Lover,” he wrapped her in his arms, “Lover, you will not lose yourself, but you would change. As we grow older, we must change. I am not that same naïve braggart Appius Livius Ocella found on a dark road, but there are parts of that man that remain.”
Eric thought about how to explain this, “When Appius took me, he told me that all that I was, everything that made me human was over. He trained me relentlessly, trying to stamp out what he told me was my weakness.” Eric could feel her revulsion, and it made him love her more, but she needed to understand why he still felt gratitude toward his Maker. “The lessons might have been delivered in a different way, but I was like you, my wife. I was stubborn. He burned away much of my arrogance. He forced me to learn patience and guile. He taught me to see the world from the eyes of those around me, and to consider all the possibilities before acting. Those are all skills that have served me well, skills I would not have acquired if I had not embraced what I became and the possibilities that being a vampire offered.” Eric soothed her.
“But there is much of the human who remains. I was ever someone who wondered what lay around the next bend, an adventurer. I was curious about the world. I found pleasure in simple things. I found my best comfort in physical activity and I enjoy being among people, even if I don’t enjoy being part of a crowd. All those things that were are still me. Do you understand?”
“So, you think I should get serious about learning Fae magic,” Sookie sniffled.
“I think you should be open to possibilities. You have a rare gift that few have, something that could give us an advantage in this life. Why wouldn’t I wish you to explore it?” Eric kissed the top of her head. “I trust your kind heart, Lover. I trust your ability to choose what is right and to fight for your beliefs. You have held tightly to them, though there are times I wish you hadn’t. I think you can take what is offered and not have it twist you.” Eric willed her to look up at him and when she did, he told her, “But know this, Lover, if you decide that you don’t wish to explore your heritage, it won’t matter to me. I love you, Älskade. What tricks you choose to drape around yourself will never change who I see within my arms. I am yours,” and he kissed her until she kissed him back with her whole heart.
When he pulled back, she was breathless. Eric loved that expression, the one where she was a little wide-eyed, her lips slightly parted. He chuckled, “Come, Lover. Thalia is waiting for us downstairs.” He stood and held out his hand. “I am sure she intends to scold us for leaving our guards behind.”
Together they showered and dressed. Sookie glanced down hallways and into rooms as they walked down stairs. When she lived here before in that time when danger came from the outside and not from the man she married, she was protected by Fae wards. It was a powerful magic and it kept anyone who meant to do her harm outside her tree line.
As Eric and Sookie walked into the kitchen, Sookie’s eyes were drawn to Charles who was standing outside. Owen was speaking with Thalia in the family room. Sookie thought of the things she and Eric called to each other last night and she blushed hot.
‘At least I could make love to my husband without an audience,’ she thought, ‘that alone would make learning magic worthwhile.’ She dropped Eric’s hand to pour a cup of coffee. Sookie didn’t notice the Viking’s thoughtful glance.
Eric surprised her, “We will have a different protocol here. This is not like the city. When there are strangers here, people notice.”
“Your circumstances are different than what they were,” Thalia hissed. “You are King. She,” and the small vampire jerked her chin toward Sookie, “still attracts trouble.”
“All true,” Eric chuckled, then his face turned serious, “but there will be no close protection when we stay here. I wish to have privacy within these walls.”
Thalia’s gaze flicked from Eric to Sookie and back again, “I’ll arrange for a vampire to watch tonight.”
“Mustapha’s Weres can provide daytime security,” Eric nodded. “I want Charles and Owen given a night off. Arrange rooms at Shreveport’s best hotel. They both did more than should be expected. I appreciate their service.” Sookie couldn’t help feeling relieved that the Weres would be far away. Maybe the guards hadn’t heard everything, but the possibility that she would hear a replay of last night in their heads made Sookie wish for a bottle of brain bleach.
Thalia was saying that as Eric’s Second, it was her job to accompany the King. “Last night was enough girl bonding for you?” Sookie teased.
“I am not worried about your protection, Mistress,” Thalia finessed. “Pam will be with you. You will also have Indira and Jane, and both are good fighters. Rubio with be with us, North Man, but It is best that I be there as well.”
“Well, sure, that sounds all kinds of logical,” Sookie said with a wink.
Eric walked back into the room, “I am not certain what your brother has in mind for tonight. Perhaps it will be something that involves a mental challenge. We had a physical challenge the last time.”
“Don’t count on it,” Sookie stood on tiptoe and pulled him down for a kiss, “but try not to get any more ink on you. I didn’t think we’d ever get it all out of your hair.” Sookie pulled his head down a little more and pulled the hair to the side to examine his scalp. She sighed when she saw there were still places where his skin was a pale blue.
Sookie placed a quick peck on Eric’s head and released him when the doorbell sounded. Jason. Mustapha Khan and Rubio Hermosa were standing on the porch. “You ready, bro?” Jason asked Eric.
“Don’t you get him too banged up!” Sookie warned her brother, “And I better not hear anything about strippers!”
“I can’t believe you’d think I’d do anything like that!” Jason was all wide-eyed innocence, and then he gathered Sookie into his arms and hugged her hard enough to have her squealing. “You just go off and have your little hen party and don’t worry your pretty little head none about what us menfolk are doing!”
Sookie could see disapproval on Rubio’s face, but she chose to ignore it. She appreciated that all this touching didn’t sit right with vampires, but Jason was family, and vampires be damned! “I mean it, Jason Stackhouse! I’m not showing up at the jail to bail anybody out!”
“Well, since Andy Bellefleur is coming with us, you won’t have to. Andy’s got the keys,” and Jason turned toward Eric, “You weren’t planning on coming back here, were you?”
“Yes,” Eric said without a trace of humor. “This is where I will be returning.” He turned to Sookie, “I will see you here later,” and it wasn’t a question, which suited Sookie fine.
Cars honked in the driveway, “Looks like your ride is here, Sook.” Jason turned to Eric, “Well, come on then!” and he headed for the door.
Eric turned back and gathered Sookie in his arms. “I will be waiting for you, Lover. I intend to learn every inch of this house later,” and the way he said it let Sookie know that ‘learning’ would involve being naked. “Heidi will patrol your woods tonight,” and her Viking flashed Sookie a mischievous grin. As he walked to the door he looked back over his shoulder, laughing as if he knew her eyes had slipped a little south of his waist.
Sookie walked out to the porch to find Eric hadn’t got far. Pam and Twy had her Viking cornered, and they were arguing. Brock was standing to the side, his face alight with glee. “What’s that about?” Sookie asked.
“Someone changed the Internet site for Fangtasia Ltd,” Brock was chuckled. “It advertised a special on children’s parties, and now Pam and Twy are booked for two. Part of the deal is they will perform as clowns.”
“Clowns?” Sookie squeaked.
Eric was saying, “I don’t understand the problem, Pamela. You seem to have an affinity for clowns. Surely anyone who could design such a theme for my car knows everything there is to know about it. I believe you and your accomplice will find the contract’s binding. I may be a silent partner, but it is within my authority to sign on your behalf.” He turned to Twy who resembled a bristling ginger cat. “You will look charming in a red nose.” He winked at Sookie, and then Eric moved at vamp speed to Jason’s car.
“You going with them?” Sookie turned to Brock. She knew better than to look Pam and Twy’s way.
“Hmm, let me think!” and the slight man tapped his lips with his finger. “I can go with the Mouth Breather Club and tramp through the woods getting shot with projectiles,” and he rolled his eyes, “Or, I can be sitting in a warm place watching gorgeous sweaty men dance for me while drinking. Decisions, decisions…”
Tara walked up on the porch, “You ready?” she asked Sookie and then without blinking an eye, scolded Twy, “Just get that poopy face in check, girl! You all decided you had to play with fire, you shouldn’t be crying when your fingers get burned.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Pam drawled.
“Just because I’m Southern doesn’t mean I’m stupid!” Tara fired back. “I wish you all would just give it a rest. There will be plenty of time to short sheet his bed or put pudding in his shoes after the wedding.”
Sookie added her plea to Pam, “I wish you’d stop, too. I can tell you are having a wonderful time, but the tension is starting to grate on my last nerve!”
“It’s good for him,” Pam sniffed. “He needs to be off-center to be at his best.”
“Oh, so this is some kind of favor?” and Sookie rolled her eyes.
“Of course!” Pam said agreeably, turning towards the cars, “Which is why I know he’ll like the festivities tonight.”
Brock nodded, “Let’s say he should get all caught up in it!” and then the assistant laughed.
Sookie’s hands fisted at her hips, “Pam, really? Can’t you be the bigger person here?” But Sookie could see Pam had no intention of backing off. The Regent was smiling, and there was something in the way she kept looking at Sookie that wasn’t making the telepath comfortable. Sookie remembered Eric telling her Pam would like nothing better than including Sookie in her game, so the telepath decided to hold her ground, “I can see that look in your eye, Pam, and I’m telling you right here and right now, if you try pulling me into it, I will end it! You know I can get my hands on a gun, and you know I know how to use it. I’ll use birdshot on you. It’ll sting like hell, and make a mess of every damn thing you have on!”
Pam’s eyes widened. She had a healthy respect for Sookie’s ability to hit what she aimed at, and she seemed sincere when she said, “Agreed. You remain off limits.”
“You’d really shoot her?” Brock was the one looking interested now.
“Oh, good grief!” and Tara grabbed Sookie’s arm, dragging her toward the cars
Sookie didn’t need to be told and she didn’t need to read anyone. She knew they were headed for Hooligans.
Hooligans looked exactly as Sookie remembered. The parking lot was packed and the telepath thought her cousin, Claude, would have been proud. She missed her cousin, even though he turned out to be another rat in the parade of rats that had surrounded her. There were times he’d been nice. Claude was her roommate after Amelia moved out. Sookie remembered one wonderful afternoon they’d spent with her young cousin, Hunter, at a park. ‘Both gone, now,’ Sookie thought, and then pushed the sad thought from her head.
Hooligan’s belonged to JB DuRone, Tara’s husband now. “You don’t mind?” Sookie asked Tara again.
“He won’t be dancing tonight,” Tara answered, not needing to ask what Sookie meant. “It’s the deal we worked out. I told him I don’t need to know what he does here as long as I believe he saves his best dance for me.”
“Come on!” Pam bustled up behind them, “I’ve been instructed to return you by two!”
“Our little Cinderella!” Brock smirked, his joy infectious.
Twy followed more slowly, her fingers moving over her phone. Tara followed Sookie’s gaze, “The Fangtasia Ltd site is getting busy. Seems timing was good.”
Tara leaned in, “Twy said Max isn’t leaving now. He and Pam had some kind of talk, and then they both went to see your hubbie. Max is staying in New Orleans. He’ll handle the business end from there and remain working for Eric.”
“I didn’t know,” Sookie said out loud, but it didn’t sit well. While she was annoyed that Tara knew more about Eric’s business than she did, there was some small voice that taunted, ‘your own fault. Take the time to learn!’
With a start, Sookie realized the woman at the door collecting the cover was Fae. Sookie knew some were left behind when the portals closed, but this was the first one she met. The woman leaned in and breathed deep. “Sister!” she greeted, the irises in her cat’s eyes widening.
“That’s not creepy,” Brock grimaced. Sookie wondered if he could see the woman as she was, but then Brock looked away.
“Sister,” Sookie returned the welcome.
“Your party is already here, Princess,” the woman ignored the others, taking Sookie’s hand and leading her to a large, U-shaped table filled with people she knew. The Fae leaned again but this time, Pam positioned herself at Sookie shoulder. The Fae glanced up nervously and when Pam flashed her fangs, the woman walked away fast.
“Nice!” Twy snarked.
“Party time!” Jane, Eric’s former Sheriff interrupted. The vampire grabbed a short costume veil from the table and handed it to Pam, who positioned it on Sookie’s head. “Now that you’re my boss, I expect I’ll be seeing you more often,” Jane said with a bow.
“Boss?” Sookie asked, unsure of what Jane was getting on about.
“You own the largest share of my facility,” Jane stared at the telepath in that still vampire way.
Sookie recalled Eric and Niall telling her that her dowry had something to do with a laboratory and she knew Jane was involved in research, but she hadn’t really thought through what that meant. “I guess you’re right,” Sookie fumbled. ‘Something to talk with Eric about,’ she thought.
Amy Ludwig was sitting further down the table, giggling with Maxine Fortenberry, “Sit down, already!” she called. The doctor signaled a waitress, “Get the bride one of these!” and she held up a pink drink in a martini glass.
Sookie was escorted to a chair trimmed in white. A pink drink rimmed in pink sugar crystals appeared in front of her.
“It’s called Sookie’s Surprise!” Halleigh Bellefleur laughed.
“We had them craft it just for you,” Pam sat beside her, lifting her own much darker drink.
Michele Stackhouse stood up, and raising her Sookie’s Surprise, said, “To my sister-in-law! Sookie, I have no doubt by the time you finish drinking a bunch of these,” and Michele held up her glass a little higher, “you won’t remember some parts of tonight, so let me say what’s in my heart now. There were days in the past that I worried about what I was getting myself into. It wasn’t long after I met Jason that I realized I was part of a family that was special. More special than others,” and there was some snickering from several of the women.
“Over the years I’ve come to see that being special in this world is more than just being different. It has given me amazing moments, much more than it’s tried my heart!
“From the moment I met you, I knew you were all that’s best about being special. I will tell you something I’ve only told Jason. I thought you belonged with Eric Northman way back when. There was a lot about that big ol’ Viking that gave me pause, but it didn’t matter what I thought. What mattered was that he was right for you. Sookie Stackhouse…”
“Northman,” Sookie said automatically.
“Sookie Stackhouse Northman,” Michele amended, “It took way too long, but for better or worse, I have no doubt you have finally found your destiny. To Sookie and Eric!” and there was a general cheer as everyone lifted their drinks.
Sookie sipped her drink, hugged Michele. In no time her glass was empty, and another of the all-too-smooth drinks was in front of her. ‘Oh, this isn’t going to be good,’ she thought. There seemed to be a line of women waiting to hug her and chat.
There was music playing and the place was filling up. Amy Ludwig was just telling her how happy she was that Sookie hadn’t died when the lights dimmed and the crowd moved to their seats.
A tall Were walked out on the stage. “She’s our emcee,” Tara whispered beside her.
The Were wore a short skirt and heels so high Sookie thought she might get a nosebleed. “Ladies!” the woman called out, turning as she scanned the room. She had a long, black, ponytail that hung almost to her hips.
“Damn, she must have a headache with all that hair,” Sookie whispered to Tara, the wondered if her whispering was too loud, when the emcee’s eyes narrowed in on her. Tara giggled and reached for another pink drink.
“It gives me great pleasure to stand before you, bringing you the men of your dreams,” the emcee crooned. “In your bed at night, you might close your eyes and see a tall man, or a man who looks you in the eye while he wraps you in tight,” The emcee stalked to the far side of the stage and kneeled down, running her hand up her arm, “Or maybe it’s a strong chest and chiseled abs that set your heart to pumping.” She stood and strutted to the other side of the stage, turning around and then grinning at the seated women over her shoulder, “Or maybe it’s that handle ass. You know, the one that has just enough to fill your hand and make you want to jack hammer all night long,” and she made the hip motions to match. She walked back to the front and positioned herself right in front of Sookie, “Or maybe, just maybe, it’s that taste of the exotic, that walk on the wild side that haunts your dreams,” and she blew a kiss. Sookie blushed a bit and glanced over to see Pam leaning forward, her eyes following that emcee like a cat stalking a bird.
“Well ladies, it doesn’t matter how you want them!” the emcee announced, “It doesn’t matter because tonight is your lucky night! We have them all, the lovers you see in the shadows, right here on this stage and waiting to make your every dream come true!” and as she finished, the song, “It’s Raining Men” started and six men in matching tight pants, and oiled chests moved onto the stage. Their steps were choreographed and they danced well together. Tara leaned over, “These are the guys who dance here all the time,” she explained. “Cute, huh?”
As the song continued, each stepped out from the line, did a couple extra moves, flirted, and then stepped back. Most of the women in the audience were on their feet and there were already dollar bills in hands. Halleigh and Tanya were standing on their chairs, clapping and dancing in place. Maxine Fortenberry was waving a dollar, and Brock was calling, “Come to Poppa!”
As the song continued, the lights in the audience went up and the dancers walked down stairs on either side of the stage, working the room. A tall black man with amazing definition leaned over Maxine who, to Sookie’s surprise, showed not one minute’s hesitation in reaching out to stroke his chest while shoving a bill into his waistband. Sookie had a quick vision of her Gran doing the same thing. As if reading her mind, Tara said, “Your Gran would have been dancing right along!”
The men came closer, and Sookie felt a moment of panic as she considered vampire rules about touching and being touched. When she did lay a hand on someone it was usually in a friendly way, and the connection allowed her to take a dip into their head if she needed. This was different.
Sookie thought about hiding in the ladies’ room, but then the emcee announced, “I understand we have a bride in the audience!” and the women in the room cheered. “What do you say we try to talk her out of it, girls? What do you say we show her there are still plenty of fish in that sea?”
‘Come on, Sookie!” Pam was beside her. Michele was laughing, and Sookie found herself dragged up onto the stage where the emcee had placed a chair.
The men followed her, dancing closer. As the emcee indicated with a flourish that Sookie should sit down, Sookie hissed, “Don’t let them touch me! I’m married to a vampire!”
“I know who you are,” the woman answered, “Just don’t move. They won’t touch you if you don’t wiggle around.”
As the spotlight zeroed in, Sookie heard the grinding rhythms of Pony and she found herself surrounded. Long arms extended around her head while a man fell to his knees in front of her, rubbing his hands up his chest. He rose up, his hips impossibly close to her face, and then turned away to be replaced by another who was facing away from her, rotating a truly admirable ass just as close. The music snarled and the men danced, each time so close she thought they’d touch her, but they never did. The audience was hooting and hollering and Sookie grasped the sides of the chair, her fingers aching.
“I don’t know, fellas,” the emcee purred, “She looks like she needs to see more!” Sookie could hear the cheers erupt and as the music segued over to “I’m Too Sexy,” pants were ripped off, revealing a dizzying array of well-endowed G-strings. Dancers worked the crowd first, offering signature moves, and then moved in to try and tempt Sookie, each careful not to make actual contact. Sookie was sure there were people taking pictures, probably videos. She laughed, because it was better than yelling.
Finally, the emcee said, “Well, I guess we won’t be able to change your mind! Must be one hot stallion to keep you on the straight and narrow! What do you say, Sookie? You going to let these fellas see if they can scratch their itch with the other gals here instead?”
The emcee held out her hand and Sookie placed hers in it. Sookie walked from the stage and the men strutted after her into the audience, dancing in front of patrons, flirting, and collecting tips. They pulled bills from cleavage with their teeth, and rubbed themselves up the fronts and down the backs of willing patrons.
Sookie felt her face burning, and before she knew it, two more of those pink drinks found the bottom of the glass in front of her.
“You were a real good sport,” Tara was laughing beside her. “You looked so cute up there!”
“I don’t know how funny Eric will think it is!”
“Oh, don’t worry about him,” Pam smirked, “He’ll have his own blackmail material before the night’s over!”
“What are you talking about?” Sookie asked, but Pam just finger-waved, turning her attention to the emcee as she stalked through the audience. Sookie could see Twy shooting dagger eyes, and she found herself happy she wouldn’t be around Pam’s house tonight.
The revue concluded and the headline dancers started their routines. There was a lovely blond boy in a sailor’s uniform. He was followed by a muscular dark man in a hard hat, tool belt, and little else. Even Indira laughed and danced as the evening progressed. “Just a little spike in the blood goes a long way,” Pam whispered in her ear. The music was good, and Sookie was on her feet, fueled by that signature drink. She didn’t dance with the men, but she danced with almost every woman at her table and a few who weren’t. Sookie was a good dancer, so she didn’t think too much about it when those around her started cheering. She was dancing with Portia, feeling fuzzy and really good. They were really shaking their assets, selling it, when Sookie turned and found herself face to face with Alcide Herveaux. She realized he’d been dancing behind her while Portia kept her occupied. The women around her howled with glee.
“Always knew you were a boy who liked playing with hoses,” Pam was close to Alcide, and she fingered the suspenders holding up his pants.
The former Packmaster was dressed as a firefighter. He grinned and when Sookie didn’t say anything, he swiveled his hips and said, “Happy to see me?”
“Well yes… no…” and Sookie blushed as Pam ran her fingernails over the Were’s bare chest. “What are you doing here?” she hissed.
“Been dancing here for a month or so,” Alcide replied like they were talking on the street somewhere. He wiggled his hips and Sookie could see he was a favorite. Women were calling to him, waving large bills. “Found myself a little cash strapped and saw the ad. Did it on a dare, and I made so much money I came back.” Alcide strutted down the table, rubbed himself down Amy Ludwig, and nipped at Tanya Grissom’s shirt with his teeth before returning to Sookie. “When Tara called to tell me you were coming, I figured this would be fun. After all, you kind of deserve to watch me make a fool of myself,” and he fell to his knees in front of her and ran his hand up Sookie’s legs.
“Don’t you get your scent on me!” Sookie gasped. Alcide kept moving, rising up and down in time to the music.
“Just a little fun!” he chuckled. “You refused my bed often enough. No one’s going to think this is serious! Besides, everyone in your crowd knows I’m happily married with children. Northman understands this is for cash and his little ice cube,” and he glanced at Pam, “Has agreed to vouch as witness.”
“I shouldn’t say it, but you trust Pam?” Sookie huffed. “Didn’t Eric break your arm?”
Alcide stood up in a single motion, looped his arm around her waist, pulling her into a standing position, and then leaned way back. He rubbed his hand over his own chest and dry-humped Sookie twice in time to the music before turning around and placing her hands on his ass. “Sure did, sweet cheeks. Now we’re even,” and he held her hands in place as he backed into her and then knelt down slowly, running the back of his head between her breasts and then down her stomach.
“Shit, Pam!” Sookie squawked, “You know this is a bad idea!”
Pam was laughing, her phone held up as she videotaped the whole thing, “You wanted the whole human wedding experience and Eric agreed. I’ve done my research! Why should you be denied?”
“Relax!” Tara laughed snorted, “We’ll all vouch for you! Just be a bride and take your teasing!”
Alcide moved on, wrapping his arms around Pam who gave him a playful push. He pulled Twy behind him, and then moved with purpose. Women from the audience were crowding around. When one waved a larger bill, he would pause long enough to allow that woman to stuff it in his pants. By the time he returned to Sookie, he looked like a cash quill porcupine. “I won’t be coming to the wedding, Mrs. Northman,” he said close to her ear, then he shimmied a little, looking like he was flirting. Instead his eyes became serious as he said, “I’m happy for you, Sookie. You deserve each other, and I mean that. Hope you can forgive and forget.”
If she hadn’t been so tipsy, she might not have cried, but there was something about the way he said it, that made her dissolve into sloppy, stupid tears.
“I love you too, Alcide! You’re a really good friend,” and she hiccupped so hard she felt that pink drink in the back of her throat. “Oh shit!” Sookie knew her head was swaying on her neck more than a little, “Pam? Pam, I need to go home!” She didn’t say it loud, but she knew she didn’t have to. Pam could hear her perfectly well.
Pam was right in front of her face almost before she finished saying the words, “How many of those did you have?” she asked.
“I counted ten,” Brock said helpfully.
“Maybe she should throw up before she gets in your car,” Tara looked serious.
Pam took Sookie’s arm, steering her toward the front door. The music seemed very loud. Michele asked if she was okay and Pam answered for her. On the way someone took her arm, and they were writing something on her. Then another person had her arm. It seemed to take a long time to get to the car and Sookie did have to ask Pam to pull over on the way home.
When they arrived, Heidi met them on the porch. Pam was carrying Sookie bridal style because the telepath couldn’t walk. She heard someone giggle, and then she was upstairs and Pam was helping her out of her clothes. “Maybe we should get you in the shower,” she suggested.
“Not with you!” Sookie slurred, adding, “You did this on purpose!”
“I’m not the one who decided to power drink, little sister. This is all on you!” Sookie collapsed on the bed, but when putting a hand and a foot on the floor didn’t stop the room from spinning, headed to the bathroom on hands and knees. When she finished hanging her head over the toilet the second time, Pam did turn the shower on. “Just crawl in there and sit against the wall. I’ll stay here and when you’re done, I’ll help you get in bed.” Pam perched on the toilet seat and started playing with her phone.
After a while Pam reached into the shower and turned off the water. She sat Sookie on the toilet, toweled her off and gave her a large glass of water and two aspirin before tucking her back in bed.
When Pam started crooning, Sookie grumbled “you can’t carry a tune in a bucket either.” When she fell asleep, it was to the sound of Pam chuckling.
“I thought this would be a game of skill,” Eric turned the paintball rifle first one way, and then another. He had used firearms before, but not often.
“This does involve skill,” Jason chortled, “It involves skill at not getting shot.”
“Then the object is to evade the bullets?” Rubio’s look said it all. Hoyt tossed him another plastic canister loaded with paintballs. Rubio caught it but he held it away from himself as if it were a bomb.
“Not bullets,” Calvin Norris laughed. “Paint. You allow someone from the other team to tag you, it’s the walk of shame.”
“Walk of shame?” Thalia asked. She declared herself referee, refusing to join in.
“At the end, your own teammates get to shoot you up with paint for letting them down.”
They were at a paintball field near Minden. There were areas for speedball and a larger area for woods ball. Jason tossed a coin and declared speedball was first. He explained the rules of the game. There would be three teams. Each team would shoot different color paint. If a member got shot, or tagged, he was out for five minutes. If all the remaining members were tagged during that time, the team was disqualified.
Jason demonstrated how to pull the triggers to allow an almost continuous stream of paintballs, helping to offset the generally poor aim of the rifles. Rubio explained that with their speed, vampires would have an unfair advantage. It was really a dodge to get out of play, but Jason made him demonstrate, and the gun quickly jammed. “Looks fair to me!” Andy Bellefleur declared.
The humans with them and several of the Weres were wearing special vests and knee pads. All were wearing helmets that protected their faces. Eric couldn’t help cringing as he tried his helmet on. It smelled of sour human. “And I have to wear this?”
“Insurance,” the man behind the counter shrugged.
“Don’t worry,” JC told Eric. “I’ll show you how it’s done!” Jason Stackhouse’s oldest boy was glowing. This was the first time his father had included him in anything this adult. Jason shrugged off Michele’s protests, telling her since Eric Northman made JC his best man he could hardly freeze him out of the stag.
JC could still see his momma’s face as they got in the car, “Don’t you take him to see no strippers, Jason Stackhouse, or that’s the only fancy dancing you’ll see for a long time!” JC hoped his father hadn’t heard.
Eric smiled, reminded of his human days. It seemed to be happening often around Sookie’s family. JC took the paintball gun from Eric’s hands and demonstrated how to load and fire. He talked about firing patterns and cautioned about jams. Rubio and Thalia wandered over and watched as the young human showed the Viking how to use a squeegee to clear a fouled barrel. “Speed is important,” JC lectured. “But not too fast, or the gun will jam, like you saw. If you can’t shoot, you’re a dead duck out there.”
Out there was a lit area with large inflatable objects or bunkers. There were a couple other groups already in the field, and the sound of the paintballs being discharged and hitting the bunkers was distinct. It sounded like hailstones.
“How do I know when I’m hit?” Rubio asked.
Hoyt laughed and pulled his trigger, the paintball hitting Rubio in the shoulder. The vampire jerked. “Think you’d feel that?” Hoyt smirked.
Rubio glanced at his shoulder and then flexed it. “Yes. It is distinct,” he answered slowly.
“Advantage you all have is that at the end of the night, we’re going to be covered with a bunch of round bruises. We’ll be limping and cursing all tomorrow, too. Figure by the time you vampires leave here, the sting won’t be nothing but a memory,” Jason said generously. The words had the desired effect because Rubio smiled and stopped watching Hoyt so closely.
The teams were announced. Rubio and Eric were split up, which meant Rubio would need to fire on his King. Eric made that all right by pronouncing it a training exercise. The Viking said he’d be interested in seeing how Rubio’s skills had progressed. Calvin Norris headed the third team. Because they were Supes, there were some additional rules. Vampires would not be able to travel any faster than a Were. There would be no use of special skills, like flying. Weres would not be allowed to transform during play.
As they walked to their three different starting positions, Eric glanced down at JC. “It would be best if you remained behind me,” he said. “I am still able to move faster than you.”
“True,” JC shrugged, “but if we coordinate fire, I can protect your flank so you can advance.” He glanced at Andy Bellefleur, who was their third.
“JC is a dead shot,” Andy didn’t bother to hide the pride he felt in Jason’s son. The detective knew the young man had a cool head. He puzzled things out and he seemed ten times smarter than his father. Andy had hopes that JC would think about making law enforcement his career. “We might want to come up with a game plan. Those Pack boys are used to hunting together.”
Jason decided to put Rubio and Hoyt together on his team. It was a smart move, and Eric could see Hoyt making arm gestures and Rubio nodding. The other team was Calvin Norris, JB DuRone, and Mustapha Khan. Warren, Mustapha’s partner, was coming to the rehearsal dinner and the wedding, but he declined the stag. Eric wasn’t surprised.
Thalia stepped up on a raised platform, standing next to the referee, and a whistle sounded. Eric watched his teammates, and he was soon crouching and glancing around bunker corners, firing when one of the other team members appeared.
It was frustrating. Eric was certain he was aiming properly, but the paint didn’t go where he intended. JC pulled him back and gave him some pointers, reminding him about spray patterns. The sound of the paintballs hitting their bunker and whizzing around them was impressive. “Come on!” Andy yelled, and Eric’s next attempt had Jason tagged out. His satisfaction was short-lived when Mustapha used the distraction to tag him.
It stung when the paintball hit him. He understood now why the others wore layers of clothing. Being vampire, the sting quickly faded, but the impression was lasting enough that he didn’t relish being tagged again. During his penalty time, Eric’s team mates held out. He rejoined them, and for the next twenty minutes they fired and dodged and called insults to each other over the whine of paint.
Next they played woods ball. The object changed. Instead of shooting against known positions, this involved stalking and taking out the opposing team with more well-placed shots. Jason announced, “Since you all can see in the dark and smell pretty much everything, we Weres will be allowed to shift. That equalizes things.”
JC spoke up, “We don’t have Weres on our team!”
“Nope, son, you’re right!” and Jason just winked and turned away.
“We will need to be very sneaky!” Eric assured JC.
“Shouldn’t be no problem for you!” Andy teased, “It’s what you folks do, right?”
“Thinking ahead and out-maneuvering your opponent is important,” Eric replied.
JC stopped pouting and the three of them discussed their game plan, moving into the woods to find a position.
They had been at it for almost half an hour, moving quietly, using the shadows of trees and moon. Eric could tell their opponents were to the east. They didn’t seem to have moved, which meant they thought they had good ground for an ambush. Eric had developed a new appreciation for the detective. For a large man, Andy Bellefleur moved with surprising grace through the underbrush. JC, on the other hand, seemed unable not to find twigs and leaves with his over-large feet. After the third or fourth time, he added a slight whine of frustration, which made it worse. Each time JC made a noise, they would all freeze, waiting and listening, before moving ahead again.
Finally, they were almost on top of where Eric could smell their opponents. Remaining quiet until the last possible moment. JC gave the signal and they ran up the small hill, firing down as they crested, only to find themselves firing on empty clothes.
Eric realized this was a set up, but it was too late. Paint sprayed from all sides. Andy and JC slipped back, leaving Eric Northman standing alone in the middle of a paint barrage. It took another moment before he understood that this was part of the human hazing ritual Pam had described, and his growling and hissing was just incenting his ‘friends’ to continue shooting. “I give up!” Eric yelled, raising his hands and his rifle over his head. The paint stopped and Jason was the first to walk out.
“I give you credit, bro-in-law! You take it like a man!” He clapped Eric around the shoulder and called, “What do you say, boys? Could you do with a beer?”
Eric looked down at his dripping clothes. He had paint running down his neck and the bastards had hit him a couple times in the balls. “Blood, please,” Eric said in a purposely high voice, and Jason laughed louder.
When they returned the gear and went out to the cars, Eric understood that wet clothes were expected. The humans pulled tarps from their trunks and covered floors and seats. “Fangtasia?” Rubio asked.
“Nah!” Jason smiled, “I got another place in mind.”
Eric’s suspicions were correct. They pulled up to a strip club just outside Shreveport. It was known for its ‘exotic’ dancers and Eric knew at least one vampire who stripped here. Their party was expected and Jason led the way to their ‘reserved’ table. There was a special stage set up in front of them and Eric heard Jason tell his son, “If you mention one word of this to your mother, you’ll be sitting at the kids table until you’re twenty!”
Eric nodded at Thalia, and she made her way to speak with the owner. Jason walked over to where Eric was standing and handed him a True Blood. “What’s that about?” Jason asked, looking at Thalia’s animated conversation.
Eric fixed his brother-in-law with a steady stare, “I am pledged to your sister. You know this.”
“Yeah, so what?” Jason asked, taking a long pull from his beer.
“Thalia is explaining that I may not be touched without your sister’s permission.”
“For real?” Jason’s disbelief written across his face. “So… if someone just touches your arm, like this,” and Jason poked him, “that’s a problem?”
“It is a matter of degree. There are those touches that are understandable. Someone falls against you or you are jostled in a crowd. Someone, such as you, touches when they communicate, although that is not encouraged. But generally speaking, I am hers.”
“Like, she owns you?” and Jason’s face screwed up a little, “Eww, that’s so… so…” He took another pull at his beer, “Now I definitely don’t feel so bad about this,” and he gestured behind him. Hoyt was grinning, and he pulled out what looked like a ball with a chain attached to it. Jason walked over, gestured Eric to lean down, and hung the chain loop around his head. “Looks like you already know how this feels, bro!” and the men around him laughed and cheered. “Little gift from Pam,” Jason confirmed.
Music started and an attractive redhead danced around the pole on the stage in front of them. She was lovely, but Eric could see the bounce of breasts that were not real. He glanced over to see JC, staring at the dancer like a dog at a bone. “It’s better when their breasts are real,” Eric shared.
JC’s glazed expression broke as he asked, “How do you know?”
“Once you touch them, it’s apparent, but it’s also in the movement.” Eric explained what he was seeing, the way part of her flesh moved while another part didn’t. He glanced at a waitress who was near them. She was wearing pasties and a short skirt. Her breasts were natural, and Eric launched into a short compare and contrast talk.
“Thanks, Uncle Eric!” JC grinned, and Eric felt absurdly pleased with himself. He wondered if Jason would arrange a bed companion for JC. The boy seemed eager enough. It might be something he could assist with, finding the right one. He remembered he was older than JC when his father gave him his first. Sookie said that children grew up faster now. He wondered if it applied to fucking as well. It would be something to discuss with Sookie’s brother later.
When the woman stepped down from the stage, dancing and pausing for tips, she stopped in front of JC long enough to ruffle his hair. She avoided Eric altogether.
After a while, a young dancer approached Eric. She stood in front of him wearing nothing but a G-string and a smile. “That fellow,” and she pointed at Andy Bellefleur, “Told me he’d give me ten bucks if you autographed my ass. Now, mister, I could really use that ten bucks. You going to help a girl make her rent?” and then she held out a pen. Eric could see the laughing, interested faces. He thought about Sookie and the importance of being seen as belonging, one with the community. With a brief smile, Eric took the offered pen, and waited as she leaned over and looked flirtatiously over her shoulder. As expected, this was the first of several women who asked to be autographed on various body parts in order to collect tips. Eric allowed the teasing, then excused himself to chat with Rubio.
Eric felt his phone vibrate, and he read the text.
PamR: Having fun? How are your writing skills?
EricN: Improving. I assume you are taking care of Sookie.
PamR: Watching her sleep, so yes.
EricN: So soon?
PamR: She snores.
Knowing his wife was home in bed had Eric glancing at the time. “Oh, no, brother! This is just about your last time getting out without the old ball and chain being able to tell you what to do!” Jason’s speech was slurred and he pushed Eric’s phone down.
“It’s late,” Eric pointed out.
“Well, I’ll tell you what? Why don’t we all take a run out back of your house? The moon is out. We can howl together. What do you say?” Jason threw his arm around Eric, and then pulled back, “Whoa! Whoa, did I just violate the no touch zone? Wouldn’t want Sookie running after me with a shotgun or nothing!” and there was some drunken giggling around them.
Eric saw Rubio and Thalia watching him. Eric knew Jason didn’t mean to be offensive, but the combination of drink and tradition was not mixing well. “I will join you for a run,” Eric nodded.
Andy agreed to take JC home (“Not a word to your momma!” Jason cautioned), and JB DuRone took Hoyt Fortenberry. The rest of the party climbed into the remaining cars and headed for the woods surrounding Hummingbird Lane.
Eric offered to drive, but Jason insisted he was fine. Whether it was stupidity or just red-neck luck, Jason drove straight as an arrow. He pulled over near the old cemetery where his Gran was buried and flung open the door, then started pulling his shoes off. The others arrived and the air shimmered with shifting. Mustapha’s wolf was just as impressive as Calvin’s panther. Jason was that odd patchwork of fur and skin that marked him as a hybrid, but his movements were every bit as graceful. Rubio and Thalia stood on either side of their King and at a signal, they all moved through the trees. The vampires were faster, but the Weres weren’t far behind. They startled deer and woke roosting birds. They climbed trees and playfully ambushed each other.
They were near the back of the property where the old logging road ran when Eric smelled the distinct odor of new vampire. Thalia came up short next to him and they both turned, their noses directing them. “Bring the others,” Eric called to Rubio.
Thalia and Eric emerged from the tree cover into an area that was largely sand. It didn’t look as if it had been cleared deliberately, but the ground was pocked with shallow holes. Eric started counting. He could identify over twenty depressions in the ground. Some were unoccupied, but others were harboring new vampires, the magic weaving through them, transforming flesh from dead to undead.
Thalia scowled before heading back into the woods, breaking branches from trees. Jason and Mustapha were in the clearing by the time she returned. “You think this is where they’re coming from?” Mustapha asked.
“Look at the holes,” Rubio gestured, “They are being reused. Someone has marked this place as a rookery, a nesting place.”
Eric knocked the branches from Thalia’s hands, “If we kill them here, they’ll find another place. Better we use this as a trap. When they emerge, we destroy them, but we will also capture those who are the Makers.”
Jason glanced back at Calvin Norris, “So, you were right. These vamps weren’t supposed to be here.”
“What do you know about this?” Thalia asked the Hot Shot Packmaster.
“I know we’ve had strange vampires wandering through for some time. My folks don’t bother them as long as they don’t bother us. We didn’t hear different, so we just figured it was a vampire concern.”
“It could be all our concerns,” Rubio spoke up. “The Makers are strangers. They are operating outside our law and in defiance of our rules. We are doing our best to stop them.”
“We would appreciate your help in solving this problem,” Eric confirmed. “These, who will emerge,” and he gestured toward the holes, ”they were not prepared. They come into the world hungry and without guidance. I’m surprised you haven’t had an incident before now.”
Calvin nodded, “We have. A few. We don’t believe in mercy when anyone attacks our own.”
“We are destroying them as well,” Thalia nodded.
“Look, I have a game camera,” Jason offered. “We can hang it out here. Battery runs for weeks. You’d be able to see who comes and goes and when these folks crawl on out,” and he gave a shudder.
It was agreed, and they all waited in the field while Jason and Mustapha headed to Jason’s house to get the camera and whatever other supplies would be needed to put it in place. As they stood there in the moonlight, surrounded by the scents and sounds of transformation, Eric thought about how this was on Sookie’s land, his land. He wondered if it was a coincidence, and worried it was not.