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.
Brian’s wife apologized, telling Sookie it had all been a misunderstanding, although that didn’t stop the sidelong looks Sookie got around town. The lingering suspicions she caught only added to her doubts. She was sure there was something going on, but she just couldn’t put her finger on it. She tried to keep busy, but Sookie would find herself drifting, her mind a whirl of questions: Was Kathleen right? Was Eric cheating on her? Where had he gone? Why wouldn’t he answer?
Sookie’s uneasiness grew when Eric didn’t return after two nights and it grew some more when the next night came, and the night after that with no word from her mate. Sookie texted. She called. She asked Pam and Mick. They told her they didn’t know anything. Sookie believed Mick, but Pam? There was something in the way Pam wouldn’t meet her eyes. Sookie walked away feeling betrayed by her friend, sure Pam knew something she was holding back.
On the fifth day, Ian stopped by to pick up his things. “He’s released me,” he told Sookie. “I don’t know what I did, but he sent one of his Sheriffs last night with a check.”
“I don’t understand,” Sookie stammered.
“Neither do I,” Ian shrugged. “He gave me a good reference, though. I’m sure I’ll be able to find another job. Good Daymen are hard to find,” and he’d chuckled, making the best of it.
“Did Eric say where he was?” Sookie asked.
“No,” Ian frowned. “Like I said, I didn’t even speak to him,” and then he stared at Sookie. “You didn’t know about this, did you? I assumed you knew…” When Ian had his extra clothes and laptop, he headed for the front door. With his hand on the latch, he said, “I’ll miss you.”
‘That’s more of a goodbye than I got from Eric.’ She couldn’t stop the thought as she stood in the middle of their parlor, staring at the closed door and feeling the emptiness in her house surround her.
Sookie’s thoughts immediately turned to Pam, so she checked the clock to estimate the number of hours until her friend rose before she remembered. Sookie had cornered Pam two nights ago, insisting she come clean. ‘I can’t tell you anything,’ Pam stammered between gritted teeth. ‘I’m under Eric’s command. He’s not hurt. He cares about you. It’s all I can say,” and she’d grimaced as though in pain. Now, Pam was gone. ‘On business,’ was the excuse she gave Maryann.
‘They’ve abandoned both of us,’ Sookie thought morosely before taking a deep breath and reminding herself that business trips ended. “They’ll be back!” she told her reflection, hoping that hearing the words aloud would make them come true.
Rubbing her arms, Sookie turned and almost immediately tripped on the small rug. Her clumsiness was back, stalking her every step. ‘Exhaustion,’ she told herself. She tripped and she dropped things. She fat fingered her keyboard, erasing hours of work, only to find she’d accidentally disabled the recovery routine on her laptop. It was one piece of bad luck tumbling over another, making the growing hole in her chest all the worse. ‘It’s where the bond should be,’ she realized, rubbing the bone between her breasts where her heart ached. ‘At least you know he’s not injured. If he was, the bond would be open. He’s got to be okay if he can close it off.’
‘What it really means is he’s cut himself off from you,’ her inner voice jeered. ‘Wake up! He’s left you!’ She shushed her doubts, telling herself it hadn’t been that long, but the fear she’d first felt was slowly transforming to anger as each night passed with no word from Eric Northman.
If she had her way, Sookie would still be with Maryann at Seacoast Shores, but she’d only stayed the one night before returning to Goat House. It was high season and the walkers were back. A new worker, Mary, now lived in the apartment over the garage behind the B&B. If Sookie stayed at Seacoast Shores, it meant she was taking a room Maryann needed for paying customers, so Sookie lifted her chin and came back to her own house, chastening herself about making the best of things. ‘He’ll call,’ she promised, but as each day passed, she felt less certain.
Looking around, Sookie realized she wasn’t sure she really wanted to be here anymore. She loved this place, but she loved it because Eric was here. Now, each piece of furniture and every knickknack reminded her of his absence. What’s more, the noises in the basement had become more regular. Moira, the merrow, had told her the noises were only Fae who needed a place to hide; that they didn’t mean her harm, but as each day and night passed, her tenants became bolder. In a way, during the day, it was almost comforting, the bumping and rustling reminding Sookie she wasn’t alone, but at night it made finding sleep harder. ‘If Eric were here, I’d ignore Moira and have him chase them out!” Sookie growled, but Eric wasn’t here.
The weather had turned, and it was almost summer. It still rained, but for hours, the sun would light up the hills surrounding town, dazzling the eye with green. Around her, people lifted their faces to the sky and stripped down to play in the waves, pale white skins transforming to bright red within hours. For Sookie, though, it was as if she couldn’t see the light. Every day seemed gray, regardless of how bright.
She began to truly worry. Chow hadn’t heard anything. Sookie considered reaching out to Queen Sophie-Ann. She didn’t exactly have a number, but she figured Mick, the vampire bartender, would. Even Octavia had abandoned her, telling Sookie there was an emergency back home with her family. Sookie racked her brain, but couldn’t recall the witch ever mentioning she had children and they’d talked of many things. “It’s as if I didn’t really know any of them!” she exclaimed to Maryann, before realizing she’d spent the past hour bending her friend’s ear about her own troubles without considering that Maryann had troubles of her own.
Sookie finally texted Claudine and when she didn’t hear back, her Grandfather. When she didn’t hear back, she considered making the message more dramatic, as Pam taught her, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. ‘It isn’t that bad!’ she told herself. But there was more to it. In spite of seeing her Fae face and all she’d experienced, these past days were as though Sookie had stepped through some looking glass, and the world where supernaturals were an everyday occurrence had magically transformed back to the world she’d known as a girl, where magic was something hidden and rare. Around her, the town continued as it always had, people nodding and children calling her name, but for Sookie, it lost its charm. As days became weeks, Sookie started heading to bed earlier and earlier. Facing nights without Eric was unbearable, so she sought the oblivion of sleep to quiet the gaping hole where her heart once lived.
On the fourth week of Eric’s absence, Sookie ran into Claude. She was on her way home from the grocery store and she’d become so used to not seeing anyone supernatural in daylight that she almost missed him. He was sitting at one of the tables set on the sidewalk in front of The Grand. His long legs were stretched out before him and he’d raised his handsome face to the sun. There was a pint of beer in front of him and he looked for all the world like every other tourist in town. “Join me, Sookie” he called.
“I don’t know,” Sookie stammered. Claude had never meant anything other than mischief and her first instinct was to bustle past. “I’m busy,” Sookie added, and held up her tote bag with its greens and pasta poking out.
“Nonsense! Surely, you can spare a fellow business owner a few minutes of your precious time,” Claude persisted, pulling out a chair and raising his finger to a nearby waiter.
Sookie felt speculative eyes turn her way. It was a small town, and even those from other places found a woman turning down an invitation from someone who looked like Claude curious. Not wanting to attract more attention, Sookie plastered her best smile in place. “Sure, I guess I have an extra minute or two,” and with exaggerated enthusiasm, she set her overfull bag on the chair beside her, hooking the straps around the arm to keep it from spilling over. When a gin and tonic was set in front of her, Sookie huffed, “Little early in the day for this! Beer would have done!”
“It’s five o’clock somewhere,” Claude laughed behind his glass. “Besides, you look terrible. I think you could use a drink…maybe a couple.”
“I’m not sleeping,” Sookie admitted.
“That would be a good thing for some people, but I take it there’s trouble in paradise?” and Claude made a choking sound Sookie interpreted as trying not to laugh.
“What do you know about it?” Sookie demanded. Setting down her drink she leaned forward. “Do you know where Eric is? Is he all right?”
“Who?” Claude drawled. “Oh, you mean your husband?” He pitched his voice to be heard.
“You bastard!” Sookie hissed. “Fine! I don’t want to know your secrets, anyway. You probably don’t know anything, you just figured you’d poke at me.” She started to stand, but Claude patted her hand, indicating she should sit again.
“Don’t get your panties in a twist! I admit,” and his lips curled, “I was having a little fun, but I don’t really feel up to pulling your wings off at the moment. Besides, you make it too easy. It’s more fun to needle someone who’s strong enough to fight back. It makes the pain you inflict more meaningful. You?” and the Fae’s smile twisted into something closer to pity, “It’s like kicking a puppy. Hardly worth it at all.”
“I don’t know whether to be flattered or repulsed that you think I need kindness from you!” Sookie snapped, and then flushed with embarrassment as tears ran down her face. “Good grief!” she exclaimed, reaching for the napkin and swiping at her face. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“Bonding sickness,” Claude sniffed. “I can smell it on you,” and he reached over, grabbing her wrist in an iron grip, but then he relaxed a little, stroking the soft underside of her arm with his thumb. It was an uncomfortably intimate gesture, but Sookie couldn’t help sighing at the relief she felt. Unfortunately, a friend of Kathleen, Brian’s wife, chose that moment to walk by and Sookie didn’t have to be a mind reader to know what this looked like. Blushing, she snatched her hand back.
“Don’t do that!” she hissed.
“You need it,” Claude said in his most matter of fact tone, but he released her anyway and sat back, shaking his hair into place. “Bonding sickness this serious requires an intervention. If you’d like, I can pass this information along to Grandfather. Have you tried him, yet?”
“Yes,” Sookie admitted. “He didn’t…”
“Niall is picky about who gets any help he offers, but he does listen to me. You’ll owe me, of course,” and Claude looked too pleased with himself as he texted. He finished by slapping his phone face down on the table. “We’ll call this a favor between us, little Sookie, and believe me when I tell you, I’ll make it good!”
“Why are you doing something nice for me?” Sookie stammered.
“I’m doing something nice for a price,” Claude pointed out. He raised his face back to the sun. “You’d better run along now, Sookie. You don’t want any more of your little friends to get the wrong idea about you sitting with me.”
“You’re sure you don’t know where Eric is?” Sookie asked one last time.
“I wouldn’t tell you if I did,” Claude sneered, “but no. I don’t waste my time stalking vampires and if you were smart, you wouldn’t either.”
“Husband?” Claude interrupted. “Yes, I get it. We all get it. You should hurry, Sookie. You wouldn’t want to keep Grandfather waiting.”
It wasn’t until Sookie stood in front of her own blue door that she realized in her haste, she’d forgotten her groceries back at The Grand. Stepping inside, she closed her eyes, thought of the bag sitting in the sun, and summoned it to her hand. “Delightful!” her Grandfather’s voice exclaimed, making Sookie jump. He stepped forward, smiling his approval, “You have become so much more!”
“Thanks,” Sookie stammered, and then, “Thanks for coming…”
Claudine stepped in from the kitchen, “Didn’t Claude tell you we’d be here?”
Sookie looked from one to the other, “Claude… He told me…” and taking a deep breath, Sookie pasted on her company smile. “Claude gave me the impression he called you for me.”
“He most certainly did not!” Claudine sniffed.
“Figures,” and lifting her grocery bag, Sookie headed back toward the kitchen. “Please, make yourselves at home. It will just take me a minute to put these away.” As she stuffed carrots into the refrigerator, she called out, “Would you like honey with your tea?” Sookie knew it was always best to feed Fae something sweet before starting any kind of conversation.
“That would be most kind of you,” Niall informed her from the doorway. His head was cocked to the side and Sookie could tell he was thinking she looked terrible, too.
Assembling the tea tray just took a couple minutes and Grandfather took the plate of cookies from her hand, following her into the parlor before taking the best chair. “Just what did Claude tell you?” Claudine asked when they were all settled.
“He said I have bonding sickness,” and Sookie began to pour out. “He told me you,” and she glanced at Niall, “might decide it was serious enough to deserve your attention.” Handing Claudine her cup, Sookie added, “And he solicited a favor from me in return for calling you.”
Claudine made a disgusted sound, but Niall laughed. “He is so very Seelie! Always remembering the niceties. Of course, since you willingly agreed, you still owe him something, but not a full wish,” and Niall chuckled, seeming to think this was fun.
“You smell off,” and Claudine leaned forward, as if she was sniffing at Sookie. “I think it’s more than bonding sickness. And for the record, we have been here for some time, waiting for you.”
“I became worried when I heard Northman had been gone so long,” and Niall Brigant’s look became more serious. He took a sip of tea, making sure Sookie was watching him, and then set down his cup. “Since Northman will continue to be on his extended business…”
“What?” Sookie almost choked. “What extended business? You know something…”
Niall held up his hand, “I know that his…assignment will take some time.” He looked at her owlishly, “Surely, he told you where he was going.”
“I…” and Sookie felt her whole face flush. Kathleen’s angry words came back to her and the sneer in Claude’s words. The only one who seemed surprised by Eric’s absence was her. ‘It’s Breandan all over again. How could you have been so stupid?’ her little voice whispered, soft as a snake. Squaring her shoulders, Sookie made herself smile, while admitting her ignorance. “I really don’t. I expected him back weeks ago.” She looked down to find her hands wringing the napkin she held. “I don’t know what to think,” she concluded.
Claudine laid her hands over Sookie’s and Sookie felt the bright lifting she’d experienced with Claude, as if a weight was being lifted from her shoulder. “We should have found someone else to mate with her,” Claudine said to Niall.
“Nonsense!” Niall replied, but he set down his cup and moved to sit next to Sookie on the couch, wrapping her in his arms. “Now, now. It will be all right!” Immediately, Sookie felt the most wonderful relief, as if a spring wind had found the window, pushing out winter. She couldn’t help moaning and her fingers wrapped themselves into her Grandfather’s shirt.
As he stroked Sookie’s head, Niall told Claudine, “Besides, there was no one else at the time. I blame their Queen. If that bitch hadn’t insisted on this bonding, our Sookie wouldn’t in such distress.” Shifting, Niall nudged Sookie with his shoulder, letting her know he wished to look at her. “I am sorry we didn’t come sooner. Does this make you feel better?” he asked.
Sookie knew she was crying. Until she felt the change her Grandfather’s touch provided, she hadn’t realized how painful Eric’s absence had become. She nodded, and then tucked her head back against her Grandfather’s shoulder, snuggling to make as much contact with him as possible. She could have rested like this forever, soaking in the healing power of the Fae, but a loud noise from below their feet made her jump. It sounded as if someone had dropped a large box. “Damn it!” Sookie hissed.
“What’s going on?” Niall demanded, and he stood, breaking their contact.
Sookie almost groaned as the pain in her chest blossomed back. She leaned forward, holding her head in her hands. “It’s Fae,” Sookie mumbled. “Moira said the tunnel below is a place they need.” In a few words, Sookie told her relatives about the Merrow’s request.
With a snort, Claudine set down her cup, and then she just wasn’t there. Sookie assumed she’d transported herself below. Using her cousin’s absence, Sookie asked her Grandfather the only question that mattered, “Where is he?”
“Moscow,” Niall answered, and settling back, drew her back into the comfort of his embrace. “His Maker has summoned him.”
“I don’t understand,” Sookie stammered, but before her Grandfather could answer her, Claudine was back in her chair.
“Merrows!” she informed them, her lip lifting. “Lots of them!”
“Did you give them permission to nest here?” Niall asked Sookie.
“I didn’t tell Moira they couldn’t,” Sookie replied, trying to recall the exact words she’d given her magic instructor.
“They have made themselves at home,” Claudine sniffed, “and they aren’t exactly sanitary.”
“I don’t suppose their presence would cause problems,” Niall replied. “At least for now,” and he made as if to stand.
Sookie held on, pulling a little. When Niall stared at her, she asked “Why hasn’t he called me?” She could hear how broken her voice sounded, but she was past being embarrassed.
Niall settled back again. He gathered her to him and pressed his lips to her forehead. “My poor child,” he crooned, before telling her, “I believe Appius Livius Ocella has retained some sort of hold on the Northman. I have been told many times that your vampire was freed, but now I wonder. He is not behaving in a predictable way.” It wasn’t exactly true, but Niall felt this reason might be easier for Sookie to accept.
“I don’t believe we were misinformed,” and Claudine sat up. “If he wasn’t free, he wouldn’t have been able to bond. He’d still be paying his Maker some portion of his tithes, he’d need permission for any number of things. He checked out. He’s been freed, at least officially.”
“I wouldn’t put it past the Roman to have retained some part of his hold over the Viking,” Niall snarled. “Appius has no honor!” The Seelie King gave every indication that he was indignant, but, then, seeming to remember himself, he relaxed and smiled at Sookie again. “This joining between you and the vampire was never meant to be permanent, my Sookie. The alliance with Northman was only to shield you until your own people were ready to welcome you.”
“I love him,” and Sookie’s voice wavered. “What are you saying?”
“Nothing!” Niall hastened to head off more tears. “There is no reason to believe your vampire won’t return to you. Against all odds, he loves you, too. He told me.” Just hearing her Grandfather say the words made Sookie feel better. She was sure Eric wouldn’t have made that kind of admission to Niall Brigant if he didn’t mean it. “But, I can see that bonding sickness is not your only worry. Things here are not as they should be,” and Niall shifted back. “Why didn’t you tell me your ill wish has returned…”
Sookie gasped, “Good grief! Are you sure?” Until he said it, the thought hadn’t occurred to her, but now she heard it, her clumsiness made sense. “I’ve been so worried about Eric, I didn’t put two and two together. I just thought I was distracted.”
“How long has your bad luck been troubling you?” Niall quizzed. Like the time before, he stood her up, took her in his arms, and his glow strengthened, filling the room with bright light. Sookie watched as a gray film lifted from her skin and then fell away to dust.
She searched back, but everything seemed so fuzzy. “A couple weeks?” she guessed.
“About the same time Moira asked to have her relatives move into your house?” Claudine asked.
Sookie gasped, “Maybe? I don’t think so! I mean, Moira told me she owed me a favor for letting them use the space again. She wouldn’t have done that if she wanted to hurt me… Would she?”
“It seems unlikely,” Niall agreed. “I don’t wish to jump to conclusions. Moira and the merrows have been most accommodating.”
“But it is out of character for them to be so considerate,” Claudine interjected. “They are typical solitaries, selfish and self-serving.” Sookie thought her cousin’s description suited most of the Fae she knew, including the two standing in her parlor right now.
“It’s possible it predates the merrows,” Niall sniffed. “This business with Northman? It could be related. Regardless, Sookie, you can’t stay here alone any longer.”
“What!” Sookie squawked. “Now look here…!”
“Grandfather is quite right,” Claudine headed Sookie off. “I feel as if you’ve put us on speed dial. Every time I pick up my phone there’s another text from you begging for help with one emergency or another.”
“Your bonding sickness is no small matter,” Niall added. “If you remain with us, we will be able to help you control the symptoms until your body adjusts.”
“Not to mention, making sure you don’t end up attracting another ill wish!” Claudine scolded.
“Maybe it’s not another ill wish,” Sookie snapped. “Maybe it’s the first one coming back.”
“If the person who placed it is very strong I suppose that’s possible,” Niall agreed, not looking the least put out, “But all the more reason we should keep you with us until we can figure out who’s behind it…”
“And help you get a handle on your vampire problem,” Claudine chimed in. “You really do look like shit!”
“We wish to take you with us to the fort near Carreigh,” Niall mused.
Claudine cocked her head, adding, “Father is still uncertain. He is the ruler now. It may not be permanent, but Father will support you staying with us for now.”
“Of course, he will,” Niall grinned. “You remember when I brought Dillon here for dinner before Beltane? You were the perfect hostess and he was charmed. He tasted everything placed before him and when we left, he told me he found you much improved.”
“You really did make a favorable impression,” Claudine beamed. “That he agrees to any part of this is a sort of miracle.”.
“Still, Dillon’s support will not speak for everyone. We’ll invoke her status as a mated vampire,” Niall shrugged, “but it will be obvious to everyone how much she’s become like us. Why,” and he beamed at Sookie, “she even shines!” The way he said it had Sookie staring at her arm, although she didn’t see anything different. “With Dillon’s acceptance, if not approval, others will fall in line.”
“We will use the B&B in Carreigh as your base,” Claudine informed Sookie. “That can be your human place; your address. The landlady, Joyce, knows you. She’ll find you a room.”
“Of course, she will,” Niall grinned. “I pay her well to accommodate my special guests!”
“I’ll go upstairs and pack what she’ll need,” and Claudine stood up, heading toward the stairs.
“What?” Sookie squawked. “Wait just a minute!” Things were moving too quickly and Sookie felt as though she’d lost all control of her life. “I can’t go right now. I have customers…work!”
Niall shrugged, “Aside from volunteering to serve stale beer in that pub you own, it seems to me you can handle all your other duties from anywhere. You’ve done that before, yes? You don’t need to be here, in this exact place.”
“I had receipts dropped off and my laptop with me before,” Sookie stumbled, thinking of the time she and Eric spent in Ballytyne, “but that means I need someone to pick up and drop off paperwork. I don’t have anyone to do that kind of running for me. I can’t ask Pam…”
“No, Miss Ravenscroft is busy,” Niall said shortly. “Perhaps the Northman’s former Dayman? I understand he’s between assignments.”
Sookie felt something cold settle over her. What she wanted to hiss was ‘you seem awfully well informed,’ but what she said instead was, “I heard he might be getting another job.”
“He seems to like you well enough,” Niall pushed on, and when Sookie turned stormy eyes toward him, the King answered Sookie’s unsaid question, continuing his odd habit of almost reading her thoughts. “Surely, you don’t think I wouldn’t check out those who have daily contact with you? You are my Granddaughter! You are most precious to me!”
Sookie felt her rising temper deflate, consoling herself by murmuring, “High handed.”
Niall laughed, his eyes crinkling, “Of course! As is my right as the head of our house!”
Claudine was laughing, too, and Sookie had the sinking feeling they had either taken her scolding as a compliment, or they simply found her comical. “It’s just that it’s a busy time,” Sookie regrouped, trying a different tack. “This is high season and the tourists…”
“Surely, you don’t intend to place your neighbors in danger,” Niall said, changing his tactic as well. He gestured and Claudine started texting on her phone. Sookie mouth dropped open. She didn’t know what to say, but somewhere deep inside, her temper was struggling to regroup.
Niall pulled himself straight, managing to stare down his long nose at her. “An ill wish is nothing to play with, Sookie. As I explained before, its power only grows. If this one is returning, its power is great already. It would be nothing for a bit of bad luck to start a fire while you are in the house. With homes so close together, how could those on either side of you escape? And what of those Fae you lured into using their old sanctuary below? Smoke and fire could suffocate them. Surely, you don’t wish that!”
“But, there’s nothing that says there will be a fire!” Sookie exclaimed. She managed to hold her defiance for a whole minute, but even her inner voice argued that what her Grandfather suggested was possible. Finally, letting out her breath, she bit her lip and muttered, “But, what would I say to people? How would I explain my going away?”
“You’ve talked about buying a B&B,” Claudine shrugged “Tell people that with the walkers, you are taking to the trails to research the best location. People still gossip about your walk last year. No one will question another stunt pulled by the crazy American!”
“Perhaps we can find you a nice property near the ocean,” and Niall’s eyes crinkled, “There are several on the trail that were given up because the owners didn’t have enough money to get things started. You would be close to us but not too close. You’d have visitors most days and your nights would be free. Wouldn’t you like that?”
It was Sookie’s old dream and, for a moment, she could almost see the place, low and white-walled, perched close to a beach. She looked around her house and her eyes landed on a photograph she’d taken of her and Eric laughing together. ‘If he returns and I’m gone, will he think I’ve left him?’ her voice whispered. “You are talking as if this is permanent,” Sookie grated. “It’s not. It’s just until things settle.” Not waiting for her relatives to confirm what she was saying, Sookie asked, “So, how long do you think we would have to be gone?”
Niall lifted the photograph Sookie had been looking at from its shelf and handed it to her, “We will send word to the Vampire Queen letting her know your whereabouts.” Niall patted his Granddaughter’s cheek, “As soon as your vampire is free to return, we will make sure he knows where to find you.”
“If I could just speak with him…” Sookie sighed.
“It wouldn’t be a good idea,” Niall said shortly. “I know Eric’s Maker. You could even say, I know him well. It is best you do not draw attention to yourself, for your sake and your vampire’s. It will only serve to create problems. Appius is a unique creature.” Niall sniffed as if he’d smelled something unpleasant. “Yes, far better to keep yourself occupied…moving forward. Appius will eventually tire of his progeny, he always does, and when than happens, Northman will be free to return to you.”
“Are you saying this Appius is holding Eric prisoner?” Sookie asked, thinking of the dozens of texts she’d already sent.
“Prisoner is over-stating it,” Claudine jumped in. “I think asserting his rights as Northman’s Maker is a better way of describing it.”
“I don’t understand,” Sookie protested.
“Neither do we,” Niall replied in a rare show of honesty. Patting his Granddaughter’s hand, he told her, “Suffice it to say that the best thing you can do is keep busy. In time, this will pass. The worst thing you can do is waste your life waiting.”
‘But I love him,’ her voice protested. “He wouldn’t want me to sit around feeling sorry for myself,” Sookie said, instead.
Claudine headed up the stairs, and then called down. Sookie wasn’t surprised to find out there was a barrier spell that prevented any creature from getting into the attic without an invitation. With Eric gone, Sookie had started leaving the door open and the lock unengaged, but with Claudine close, there was a visible barrier, almost like a glowing honeycomb. “Please follow me,” Sookie said aloud and stepped forward, more on faith than trust that her words would be enough.
It must have worked because both Claudine and Niall joined her under the eaves. Claudine moved around, helping Sookie gather together her things, but Niall sat on Eric’s side of the bed. He reminded Sookie of a detective, sizing up the room. When their eyes met, he’d smile as though this was all a lark, but the smile dropped when she wasn’t supposed to see. Sookie came back up the stairs from the bathroom to find Niall on his phone. He was speaking Gaelic. She couldn’t understand it, but she’d heard it spoken enough to recognize the soft gutturals and sliding cadence.
“The car will be here shortly,” Claudine said as she took the toiletries from Sookie’s hands. “We will make arrangements to put your car in storage for now. Don’t forget your keys!”
Niall had finished his call, “You can start texting your contacts on the drive to Carriegh. I have already asked someone to reach out to Ian.”
“Carreigh?” she asked. “You’re sure?”
“The same place we met!” Claudine grinned.
‘The place Eric and I decided to mate,’ Sookie remembered, and another tear slipped over her cheek.
“It’s where I met your Grandmother,” Niall seemed very happy. “It’s fitting you should start there, where this adventure began.”
“I’m coming back!” Sookie protested again. “This is my home now, Slievemore!”
“Soon,” Niall soothed, “but for now, my Sookie, you will learn the ways of the Trooping Fairies and travel the hillsides with your kin.”
Sookie hadn’t texted from the car. Almost as soon as the drive got underway, she fell into a deep sleep, leaning against Niall. The sunlight fell over her face, revealed in all its Fae glory. “Look at how she has matured!” Niall purred.
“Still too hybrid for some,” Claudine cautioned. “Are you sure about this? Our people have long memories. Even Father’s support may not be enough.”
“She can’t stay among the vampires,” Niall sniffed. “I thought Northman would be different, but he can’t escape what he is. Look at her!” and Niall scowled. “She suffers because of them!”
“Bonding sickness, yes,” Claudine nodded, “but the ill wish? Vampires don’t deal in those sorts of spells.”
“It is too much to believe she has insulted more than one of us,” Niall agreed. “I didn’t notice anything particular about the one on her, but if it’s capable of returning, it could be subtler than I thought.” He stared out the window. “That decreases the possibilities.”
“Merrows are capable,” Claudine said quickly, but after Niall shot her a sharp look, she added, “but then, there’s Rogan. He’s certainly capable.”
“As are selkies,” Niall nodded. “In fact, anyone in our family could have crafted something like it.”
“What about that witch?” Claudine asked. “Octavia? She’s disappeared rather quickly.”
“Witches cast curses,” Niall replied. “It wasn’t a curse. I can feel the difference.”
They looked out the windows at the passing landscape. Between them, Sookie made a sound. “Do you really think he’s coming back to her?” Claudine asked.
“Eventually,” Niall nodded. “I don’t think he can avoid it. The question is when. If Appius decides Eric is attached to her, he will make sure it’s long after our Sookie is dust and gone.”
“Why is the Roman still walking?” Claudine asked. “I don’t understand why they tolerate him. I thought the Transylvania business was a turning point for them. They purged so many. How did Appius escape?”
“Who knows?” Niall shrugged. “Blackmail, luck, favors… I think now it’s a misplaced reverence for the oldest among them.”
“We should have found another way,” Claudine sighed, pulling a curl away from Sookie’s face. “She is truly attached to him. It’s not just the bond.”
“I know,” Niall nodded. “But there are creatures much weaker than our Sookie who have survived heartbreak. Sookie will survive, too.”
“Perhaps the ill wish was responsible for Breandan finding her,” Claudine suggested.
“No,” Niall smiled, “because it also allowed her to find us. Not all misfortune is bad luck. Sometimes you need to have disappointment to appreciate the good things in life.” A slight smile passed over Sookie’s face and the sunlight shone on her hair. “Our Sookie is meant for happiness,” Niall predicted. “You will see. This will pass, and she will find her place, growing into her promise.”
“You sound very sure,” Claudine asked, cocking her head.
“I haven’t had any particular vision,” Niall acknowledged, “but, I have a strong feeling.” He took Sookie’s lax hand in his own, “I have faith.”
“She will ask us for help in freeing him,” Claudine sighed.
“Yes,” Niall agreed, “but you know we can’t. She will come away from this experience with money, confidence, and a better understanding of our world. That will have to be enough,” and Niall Brigant, King of the Seelie, turned back to the window, watching the landscape slip past.
Sookie awoke in a bed. With a start, she realized she was in the same room she’d been given when she’d taken her walk last Fall. The furniture was the same. Even the bedspread was the same. ‘Eric!’ her heart cried. They had sat on this same bed, talking into the night, negotiating their pledging. ‘You love me,’ she assured herself. ‘I love you.’ Opening her heart, she pushed her need for him as hard as she could. She imagined his face, the way his mouth turned up just before his fangs dropped. She closed her eyes, placing her hand against her cheek, pretending it was his.
She waited, and she pushed again, and then, she felt it. It was just a thread, but she was sure it was him. “Me, too!” she said aloud. “I love you, too!” She rolled to her back, her hands reaching between her legs. She stroked and plucked, opening every part of her feelings, fixing Eric’s face in her mind’s eye. ‘For you!’ she sent, her body responding with frightening speed. As she gasped afterward, her fingers feeling the pulsing of her pussy, she thought as hard as she could, “Come home to me, Eric. Come home, Älskade!”
It was there again, sweet and pure. He loved her. She was cherished. It was enough. “I won’t lose faith,” she whispered. “I won’t stop waiting for you.”
Outside the door, Sookie could hear people moving around. The clock on the wall told her it was the time walkers traditionally arrived. Soon, Joyce, the landlady, would be sending them on their way to the pub down the street for dinner. Almost on cue, Sookie’s stomach growled. She was in the bathroom washing her face when the knock came at the door.
“You look much better!” Joyce told her. Just seeing the landlady’s face brought back so many memories, Sookie’s eyes started to brim with tears. “Now, now!” Joyce tutted, mistaking Sookie’s reaction for grief, “Your Grandfather and Claudine are downstairs waiting for you. I understand they’re taking you someplace special for dinner.”
Sookie glanced down at her blue jeans. “I guess if it’s somewhere special, I should change.”
“I’ll let them know,” Joyce winked. Before she left, the landlady said, “I’m happy to have you back. You always have a place here.”
It was a kind thing to say, so Sookie thanked her, but in her head, she sang, ‘Temporary. Eric is coming back to me and my place is with him!’
Even before they turned into the driveway, Sookie knew they were headed to the same house in the hills where Eric had taken her to meet her Grandfather the first time. It seemed an age ago. Sookie remembered how foolish she felt that night, thinking Eric had misled her, or that she’d misread his intentions. ‘We both tried to hide,’ she thought. She remembered that night in the little park in Slievemore not so long ago. Heading to their new house, he’d pulled her close and told her they were fated for each other. ‘You are coming back for me!’ she repeated, ‘and I will be waiting for you, no matter how long it takes.’
Sookie didn’t understand what hold Eric’s Maker had over him, but she was convinced it was powerful. What’s more, Sookie was sure that Appius Livius Ocella did not mean Eric well. It wasn’t in what people said, it was in what they didn’t say. Opening her eyes, Sookie thought about tonight. She knew there would be more Fae inside. Vampires were close-mouthed about their doings, but Seelie seemed willing to gossip about everyone.
Lifting her chin, Sookie made sure she felt full Fae. It required both willingness and confidence, and for the first time, she saw the glow emanating from her own skin, just as her Grandfather had said.
Tonight, the windows were bright with light and there were men at the doors. ‘Guards,’ Sookie realized.
They bowed to her Grandfather. “Are you ready?” he asked. Tilting her head back a little more, Sookie answered by smiling and slipping her arm through his.
Niall Brigant looked every inch a Seelie King. He wore a modern suit, but on his head was a crown of flowers and willow wands. His white blond hair flowed loose around his shoulders and his green eyes flashed and glowed. “Good Spring!” he greeted the Seelie they passed.
“Blessings!” they called back. Sookie didn’t say anything, but she could feel the speculative stares that followed her. They passed through many rooms and Sookie could feel the enchantment of the place flowing like clean water through her veins. So far, they hadn’t seen many Seelie and she started to wonder if this was all there were. Eric had told her more than once that the Seelie were a failing race.
“It’s not a high holiday,” Niall told her. “There are fewer here than usual. I thought it would be best for your first presentation.” Sookie glanced at her Grandfather. He wasn’t looking at her, but, once again, it was as though he could read her thoughts.
“Can you?” she asked.
“At times,” he said softly. “It is not a common gift,” and he patted her hand. They turned another corner and they found themselves in a large room that might have been the same where she ate dinner with Grandfather and Claudine, but now it was full of light and a throne sat at one end.
More Seelie were gathered here, their clothes a mixture of modern and long, flowing, fairytale dress. There was a harper seated near the throne and he was singing. ‘Where’s the camera?’ Sookie’s inner voice snarked.
Beside her, her Grandfather rumbled, then pressed her hand harder. Claudine stepped from behind them, gliding in her graceful way toward the throne. “Father!” she called.
Sookie recognized Dillon. He wore a crown similar to Niall’s and he unfolded gracefully from the throne, stepping forward to wrap his arms around his daughter. Niall stopped them well forward, and Sookie realized she was holding her breath.
Dillon lifted his head and for an uncomfortable moment, Sookie thought he would order her away, but he seemed to make up his mind. Stepping forward he opened his arms, and Niall dropped Sookie’s arm to do the same. They embraced, kissing each other. Dillion spoke first, “Welcome, King of the North!”
“My greetings and blessing to you, King of the South,” Niall replied. They kept arms looped around each other and Sookie understood why. Holding a Seelie was to feel alive.
Sookie took a ragged breath and, despite her faltering resolve, she continued to hold her head high. Dillon’s eyes returned to hers and he stepped toward her. Sookie wondered if she should open her arms as Claudine and Niall had, but Dillon stopped well short. Holding out his hand, he waited. Stepping forward, Sookie gave him her hand and bowed to him, using the same depth she used for Queen Sophie-Ann. When she straightened, Dillon drew her closer, drawing her arm through his. “Come sit beside me, Cousin,” he said. “I have music this evening. My harper sings of Spring and the joy of new things.”
“I’d be honored,” Sookie stammered. She figured she’d used the right words because no one hissed, but then she wondered if that was a vampire thing and Seelie kept their disapproval to themselves.
Still, no one stared daggers at her. A chair was brought and before she knew it, Sookie had a goblet in her hand. Whatever it was smelled of flowers and tasted of honey. It was also amazingly alcoholic and Sookie realized only two sips had her head buzzing in a most pleasant way.
The music was wonderful. The singing was all in Gaelic, but Sookie was sure she understood the meaning, if not the words, and her thoughts drifted to Eric. She played through her memories of their times together. She thought of his face as he stood before her at their pledging. She thought of his joy as they danced together, his strong arms swinging her easily through the air. She thought of how brave she felt flying with him, never doubting he would keep her safe. As the song ended, Dillon stood. “It’s time to eat,” he announced. He offered his arm to Claudine and Niall stepped forward to escort Sookie.
The food before them looked familiar, but the taste was something more. Sookie ate heartily, but then slowed, something warning her about eating too deeply of the food of the Fae. When dinner ended, they returned to the throne room. Chairs were moved back and more musicians entered. Sookie found herself pulled forward and she danced with the Seelie. They danced in circles and they danced in lines. Their feet moved quickly and it was all she had to keep up with them. After a bit, they moved outside and Sookie found herself dancing around a great fire under the moon. It seemed to go on for hours and hours. Sookie wondered that her feet weren’t aching or her armpits dripping sweat, but she wasn’t. ‘It’s because I’m touching them,’ Sookie realized. She knew her Grandfather could heal her, but any Seelie could make her feel renewed.
“It comes!” one shouted, and Sookie followed the gazes of those around her to the far horizon. “When’s the last time I watched the sunrise?’ she wondered. She’d stayed awake until dawn many times, but her vampire dropped into his day death before the sun rose and she followed him.
It was magical. One minute, all the land around her was pale grey, even the glow of her companions quenched as though in honor of the sun, and then light began to touch the rocks and high points around them. The Seelie closed their eyes and lifted their faces and Sookie watched as a ray of sun captured Niall, and then Dillon. One by one, the sun seemed to single out the Seelie, bathing their faces in bright light, and then, the sun captured her as well. ‘Kissed by sunlight,’ she thought.
“She is one of us,” someone murmured beside her. Sookie glanced in the direction of the voice, but she couldn’t tell who said it. They were all staring at her and Sookie knew this had been a test she passed.