Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Sookie was starting to understand the songs and legends. There was a timelessness to her days spent inside the fairy forts. From the outside, the forts looked like everyday structures. Some were mansions with circular driveways, but others were cottages tucked in the hills. She even visited one whose entrance went through a shed. Sookie could tell there was a powerful illusion surrounding these places. “Only someone supernatural can see the structure,” Claudine informed her when Sookie asked how the houses managed to evade detection.
Sookie had wondered how ordinary people didn’t come to question these places. “What about the post?” she’d asked. “Doesn’t the mailman ever say anything?”
“Use your eyes!” Claudine laughed. “Think of the fort as if it were your own face. It shows one thing to the humans and another to those who truly see.”
It took some practice, but soon enough, Sookie was able to see the Fae face of the place slip away, leaving her staring at a slight mound surrounded by trees. “I don’t understand,” she stammered.
“It’s our way,” Claudine shrugged. “What’s more, these places are protected by human law. No one is allowed to disturb a fairy fort. It’s an accommodation that’s allowed us to co-habit with humans all these years. They don’t bother us and as long as they leave our ancestral homes alone, we don’t bother them.”
From the outside the place looked normal, whether you saw wild ground or manicured homes, inside was another matter. Rooms rambled on, branching one from the other. Sookie wondered if there was any rhyme or reason to the architecture. Most rooms had two or more doors, it was easy to become turned around. One stepped out of one room never knowing if that entry would lead to still other rooms or down a corridor that branched out under the hills.
Even though she knew she was underground, there was rarely a sense of dark or damp. Everywhere Sookie looked, the walls were covered with tapestries and carvings. The floors might be stone or wood, but their surfaces were softened by carpets of dazzling color. The light wasn’t electric, but it wasn’t candle light either, although if there was one thing you could say about the Seelie, it was that they loved candlelight. There was something about fire that attracted these Fae. ‘Moths to flame,’ was a phrase that came readily to mind.
While Sookie was welcome, even encouraged to spend time in the forts, she understood her place was in Carreigh. “You would find it disorienting if you tried to live here,” Claudine explained. “We are timeless, you are not.”
At first, Sookie thought her cousin was referring to her immortality, but Claudine explained. “You have a natural clock, your circadian rhythm. The Seelie don’t rest when we’re in our forts. It sounds counterintuitive, but our time spent there serves the same purpose as sleep. If you were to spend too much time, you’d find you’d gone days and nights with no rest. You feel fine because you’re surrounded by us, but when you emerge, it can be terrible.”
So, Sookie spent her nights at the B&B in Carreigh. Joyce moved Sookie from the room she had stayed in prior to an ensuite farther down the corridor. “You won’t be bothered by my other boarders here,” was the explanation. Sookie supposed it made sense, but she also knew this had to be a short-term solution. While she knew Joyce was being paid well for her use of the room, there were aspects of this arrangement that weren’t convenient for either of them.
The beauty of owning a B&B was you only had to worry about guests for a set number of hours every day. They arrived in the afternoon, you directed them to the pub for dinner, you fed them in the morning, and then turned the rooms. The remainder of your morning and most of your evenings were your own. With a semi-permanent boarder, that changed.
It didn’t help that Ian was coming daily with receipts and papers for Sookie. Her customers in Slievemore continued to use her services and the pubs continued to send receipts and bills. It was a great deal of activity up and down her landlady’s stairs, so Sookie realized she needed to make decisions. She understood she was no longer welcome in vampire territory. Niall explained it in clear terms. That included any visiting of the Ghoul’s Kiss pubs. “It’s no longer safe for you,” he told her.
Sookie thought Slievemore wasn’t exactly vampire territory, but when she mentioned returning to her home, Claudine and Niall quickly changed the subject. ‘But this can’t go on,’ Sookie thought as she nodded to Joyce’s husband, heading out into the daylight. ‘I need a place I can call my own, and these kind people need their privacy back.’
Every chance she had, Sookie asked about Eric. Had Niall received any news of him? Had anyone mentioned speaking with him? Had anyone heard from Pam? She asked Claudine when Niall was unavailable and with her access to the forts, she asked the other Seelie as well.
“He is in Moscow with The Roman,” she was told, and “His progeny has left the country.” Beyond that, Sookie was referred to Niall who assured her he would tell her anything new, but day followed week with no progress. Sookie spoke with Maryann every day. The women drew closer, bonded through their shared loneliness and fears.
“What if she never returns?” Maryann sniffed over the phone one night, and Sookie heard the same questions echo in her own head about Eric.
It was hard. They weren’t so far apart in terms of geography, but Sookie couldn’t go to Maryann and Maryann’s business depended on her being there. “I can’t think that way!” Sookie pushed back, as much for her own benefit as for her friend’s. “I have to believe he’s coming back to me, like I know Pam is coming back for you!”
“You will wear yourself out, worrying,” Niall scolded Sookie later that week. Once more, she had made the rounds, asking for any news.
Niall turned her toward the mirror so Sookie could see the hollows under her eyes. “He wouldn’t wish you to go on this way.” Sookie knew she looked exhausted. She lay awake night after night, searching for any sign of Eric through their bond. He seemed gone, but she remembered that one time she’d felt him, and it drove her on.
“Maybe I’m one of those women from the songs,” Sookie replied as she slipped from Niall’s grasp. “The ones who never recover from their time with the Fae,” and then she sniffled, fighting tears. “Like Grandma. Like Mom.”
Niall took her hands, his green eyes flickering, “You are not human, my dear. You are made of sterner stuff. It is not your fate to waste away. You are hurting now, but, like the loss of your Mother, you will wake one day to realize your life will continue.”
“I love him,” she’d said, and the words were a sword through her heart.
Sookie held firm, but as another month slipped past, she felt her resolve falter. Then came the official letter from Mr. Cataliades. She suspected there was a change in the accounts she shared with Eric and Pam, but there was no one to ask. When she called the bank, they were evasive, assuring her she still had full access to the assets, but seeming unable to provide any further information. Now, seeing the familiar name on the bottom of the letter, Sookie felt as if a great shoe had fallen.
Mr. Cataliades wrote that he wished to meet with her to talk through alterations in her shared assets with Eric Northman and Sookie felt her nervousness spike. ‘Eric!’ She’d figured out some time ago that the attorney was more than he appeared, but she hadn’t heard from him since the closing of her Mother’s estate. Now, Mr. Cataliades was back and using her husband’s name.
They met in the pub down the street from the B&B. The sun was shining and it heightened Sookie’s sense of unreality. The attorney was unchanged, looking exactly as he had when Sookie thought him no more than a blessedly convenient neighbor in Massachusetts. Now, sitting across from him, she found she couldn’t speak. She barely slept the night before, wondering what news the attorney might give her, and she fidgeted, her hands moving nervously, touching first the napkin and then the silver.
Finally, she couldn’t stand the silence any longer. She asked, “Do you know where he is? Is he all right?”
“Mr. Northman?” Mr. Cataliades asked, and then before Sookie could answer, he nodded. “He remains in Russia, attending to his Maker.”
“Can you help me contact him?” Sookie asked. Sookie could hear the desperation in her voice, but she’d been met with resistance from everyone else. Maybe this attorney…
“I don’t have a direct way to do that,” he told her. Mr. Cataliades wore the same expression the doctor had used when he told Sookie there were no more treatments available for her Mother. Sookie felt her throat close, her disappointment overwhelming her, but she took a deep breath, lifted her chin and, finally, gave a quick nod.
Mr. Cataliades seemed perfectly comfortable waiting for her to gather herself. He sipped his tea and nibbled on a cookie. A part of Sookie wanted to leave, to retreat back to her upstairs room and cry, but she realized there were other things this person might be able to tell her.
“So, when I met you in America, did you know the whole time what I was?” she asked.
“I knew who you were,” Mr. Cataliades corrected. “I miss your Mother. She was a kind person.”
Sookie no longer felt the need to cry at the mention of her Mother and that made her sad, too. “She sure wouldn’t have guessed this is how I’d end up,” Sookie sighed.
Mr. Cataliades surprised her by saying, “But, I suspect your Father wouldn’t be surprised.”
“Did he know?” Sookie asked. “I mean, really know about all of this?”
“It depends on what you’re asking,” the attorney said in his precise way. “Did he know he was different? Of course. He understood his heritage, his mother saw to that. But, he also feared what would happen if he tried to come here. He couldn’t have foreseen your acceptance, for example. The idea that someone like you…”
“Hybrid,” Sookie offered. “That’s okay, you can say it.”
“He couldn’t have foreseen that someone like you would be taken in by the Fae, but you are special, Sookie. You have always been special,” and the attorney beamed, leaning back, crossing his hands across his wide stomach.
At the moment, Sookie wasn’t feeling special. She was feeling like a bad piece of meat, cut off and abandoned on the side of the plate.
“Perhaps we should talk about my reason for being here,” the attorney smiled. He reached down beside him and when he straightened, he had a large, manila folder in his hand. He set it on the table between them, saying, “You should take a look at this. There have been changes made to the assets in which you share ownership. Pamela Ravenscroft has exercised her power of attorney and now you and she are the sole co-owners of many of the instrumentalities, but there are others she has marked for sale. As part owner, you will share in those profits. Pam wanted me to take you through the proposals and if you have objections, I am authorized to address them with you directly.
“Where’s Pam?” Sookie stammered. “You know where she is?”
“Minnesota,” Mr. Cataliades replied. Sookie immediately thought of her Aunt and Uncle, but as quickly dismissed it. The last place Pam would be found was on some dairy farm. “Is she returning soon?” Sookie asked.
“I believe she is making arrangements. I expect her to return to Ireland shortly,” the attorney replied. “She told me she will be contacting people here, although you might wish to keep that to yourself for a bit.”
“What’s going on?” Sookie asked. “I don’t understand any of this! I’ve asked Grandfather, but he can’t explain it, at least, not in any way that I can understand! Why is Pam the executor? Why is she selling things?”
“Has your Grandfather explained why you are with him?” Mr. Cataliades asked.
“Yes,” and then Sookie thought about all the things that didn’t add up. “Kind of,” she qualified.
“The vampire Queen, Sophie-Ann, asked him to take you back,” Mr. Cataliades stated. He sat back and Sookie realized he was waiting for her to either confirm or deny that she knew that.
“Yes,” Sookie nodded. “And Eric has been sent to his Maker. I have the impression this has to do with me, but no one has really laid it out. All I do know is I was ordered to leave, and since Eric and I are bonded, being close to my relatives is helping me deal with my bonding sickness.” The bonding symptoms were becoming easier to manage and Sookie knew it was because Eric’s blood was leaving her. Day by day, there was less of what joined them. The day would come when all that remained was magic and Sookie wondered how long that would last. “The rest is pretty muddy,” she concluded.
“Well, the basics are accurate,” Mr. Cataliades nodded, “but there are details that have a bearing on your situation.”
“And you are going to tell me?” Sookie asked.
“Yes,” Mr. Cataliades nodded. “Yes, I believe you have a right to know.” He tapped the folder. “While Ms. Ravenscroft wasn’t specific, one can imply Mr. Northman wished to be removed from his assets.”
Sookie flipped open the folder. The first document she saw removed Eric from their business account. “I’m not sure I follow,” Sookie puzzled. “Eric doesn’t say it outright, but he does like his money…or I guess it’s what his money can buy. He’s proud of his businesses. Why would he give that all up? Does he think he’s going to…” and Sookie couldn’t say it. Her throat closed and she felt a wave of panic.
“There are no plans for Mr. Northman’s execution,” Mr. Cataliades hastened to assure her. “If there were, people would be talking. It does make sense if the rumor that Mr. Northman has been reinstated to his Maker’s keeping is accurate.”
Sookie took a deep breath, drawing the pieces together. “So, Eric is now under this Appius’ command… Like Pam is under Eric’s?”
“Ms Ravenscroft has been freed.” When Sookie said nothing, he nodded, adding, “The formal paperwork is being executed and the Queen has confirmed her willingness to offer Pam a place here. Ms. Ravenscroft no longer needs to obey her Maker. She need only respect him.”
Sookie snorted. Her head was whirling, “So, I guess Pam will start doing that crazy Robo thing Eric does,” and Sookie sat up straight, staring ahead. “My Maker is a great vampire!” she mimicked.
Mr. Cataliades didn’t look amused. “That has nothing to do with vampire and everything to do with the methods of Eric’s Maker.” He leaned back and glanced around, making sure they wouldn’t be overheard. “I don’t think anyone in this century can understand the brutality that was Eric Northman’s age. A woman your age, in his time, would already be a mother many times over. In another few years, your hair would be greying, if disease or childbirth hadn’t killed you. Every year was a struggle to find enough food to last through winter, and then, there were your neighbors who might decide to kill you for your stores. And yet, even in that terrible time, there were monsters. Eric Northman’s Maker was one of those.”
Mr. Cataliades paused and Sookie wondered if he would say more. She was about to prompt him when he leaned forward, “That the Viking survived at all was a miracle. There were times I saw him when he looked little more than an animal. Appius was punishing him for some transgression or another. I suspect Eric’s real crime was not being younger and not being broken. Appius Livius Ocella tried every way he could to get Eric to justify Appius ending him, but the Viking was too clever for the Old Roman. Still…” and the attorney fussed with a non-existent speck on his immaculate white shirt, “Eric didn’t escape entirely unscathed. I, too, have noticed some of the… Well, we’ll call them ticks.”
“You’re saying he was traumatized?” Sookie whispered.
“Anyone would be,” the attorney answered, as though it was of no consequence. “Eric Northman is one of the most charming vampires I’ve ever met. He has a sense of humor, which is rare among them. He survived, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t carry scars.”
“And now, he’s back with the monster?” and Sookie found it hard to breathe. “How…what can I do?”
“Nothing,” the attorney told her.
“That’s not acceptable!” and Sookie’s chin lifted. “I’m his wife! I can’t just sit around here any longer not doing anything! There has to be something! Grandfather… The Queen… Someone has to have a way to get Eric away from that guy!”
“Having the Maker’s bond reinstated means the Viking agreed,” Mr. Cataliades informed her, “and consent is a strong magic. As long as the Northman consents, he can’t walk away from The Roman and now that the bond is reinstated, Northman would only be able to change his mind if The Roman agreed to free him.”
“Why would he do that?” Sookie grated. “Why would Eric agree to return to someone like that?”
“Why else?” and the attorney’s eyes suddenly reminded her of Grandfather’s. “To save you!”
“You do know something!” Sookie accused. “Maybe you don’t have… What did you call it, ‘direct’ knowledge? But you do know something, and I want you to tell it to me!” Sookie could feel magic gathering in her. She felt it in her chest and her hands. She lifted her chin higher and let her Fae face begin to peek out.
“As long as you understand it’s mostly rumors,” and the attorney held up his hands as if to ward her off.
“Then, let’s have it!” Sookie demanded.
“Witches,” Mr. Cataliades hissed. “It started with them!”
“Is that why Octavia left?” Sookie asked, and then, “I can’t believe it! We were friends!”
“Octavia Fant was threatened,” Mr. Cataliades leaned forward, and a small smile formed on his face. “Now, what I’m telling you isn’t as a lawyer. This is purely gossip and hearsay. It might not even be true, but I suspect if you confront your Seelie relatives, they will confirm it. Just ask yes/no questions. They won’t be able to lie to you.” He placed his hand over hers and Sookie felt a slight electric current. It wasn’t exactly uncomfortable and some part of her worried about what it meant, but she didn’t withdraw, afraid the attorney would stop talking.
“She ran for her life,” he nodded. “There was some vampire, a past lover, who passed along a warning through the Queen’s Court…”
“Chow,” Sookie guessed.
“The witches had her under a death warrant for teaching you magic,” and the buzzing in Sookie’s hand seemed to increase. Sookie tried to pull away, but he held her tighter, “The rumor is you can kill with a glance.”
“Well, that’s just crazy!” Sookie exclaimed, and tugged at her hand again. “Let me go!”
“I’m a demon,” the attorney told her. He smiled, revealing a mouthful of sharp teeth. “By touching you, I can cancel any magic. If you wish me to tell you more, you are going to have to go along with this,” and he squeezed her hand for emphasis.
“I can’t kill anyone!” Sookie protested.
“I can see you believe that,” the demon sniffed. He didn’t release her hand, but the buzzing sensation lessened. “Of course, rumors like that were bound to make their way around the Court. Nothing like the Fae for gossip! The Queen called your Grandfather, accusing him of staging a takeover, and Northman was sent to his Maker to guarantee his good behavior.”
“So, this really was about me,” Sookie sighed, but then she thought. “But, the story isn’t true, so now what? I mean, you can’t disrupt everything because someone tells a lie!”
“That’s true and there is an investigation of sorts underway to determine the truth. Andre has told the Queen that once the story is put to rest, Northman will be returned to finish his stint as the Queen’s Sheriff. There is a contract, you see, and vampires are strict about their contracts.”
“So, how do we prove it?” Sookie asked.
“Well, that’s where things get sticky,” and the attorney released her hand. “You see, the Queen has decided she’s in no hurry to get Northman back. While she enjoys the money she’s making as a partner with the Seelie, this business about having one in her Court bonded to her Sheriff, has become inconvenient.”
“What does that mean?” Sookie asked.
“The Queen is not actively investigating. I believe it is her intent to simply wait until you die before she reinstates the Sheriff,” and the attorney picked up his napkin, laying it just so beside his utensils.
“What?” and Sookie sat back. “But…that… It’s not fair!” Mr. Cataliades helped himself to the bread on the table, watching while Sookie wrestled with what he’d said. Finally, she asked, “What about Grandfather? He’s told me he’s trying. Is he lying to me?”
“No,” and the attorney tucked into a second roll. “As I said, the Seelie are incapable of lying. In fact, Niall has done everything possible to try and resolve this, but he can only push so far. In the end, this is vampire business. The Queen has placed him on formal warning. If he tries to intercede, breaking the laws that govern a Maker and his Child, the vampires will view it as a formal declaration of war…or a feud at best and there will be bloodshed. I’ve heard Niall has even offered to buy the Viking’s freedom, through back channels, of course, but Appius is old. He has more money than he could ever spend, and he hates your Grandfather. I’m sure he suspected Brigant was behind it.”
“And if I’d agreed to be turned?” Sookie asked.
“Well, then you would be vampire,” Mr. Cataliades confirmed. “You are both pledged and bonded. It would give you standing, but…” and he cocked his head to the side. “There is no formal marriage contract between you. Granted, it’s rarely done for non-royalty. I suppose Northman worried it would catch his Maker’s attention. Appius hates women! I suspect that’s why Northman did this,” and Mr. Cataliades tapped the folder again. “He’s freed Pam and made certain you both have money. If he hadn’t done it, Appius might have ordered him to harm you.”
“Eric would never do that!” Sookie protested.
“A Maker’s Command is absolute,” Mr. Cataliades explained. “He might hate himself every moment, but if Appius ordered him to kill you, he would do it. A Child under a Maker’s Command has no choice.”
“If Appius doesn’t free him, how can Eric ever be himself again?” Sookie asked.
“Through death,” the attorney said as though it was the most reasonable thing. “If Eric’s Maker ends, the Command ends with him.”
“Then, I have to find a way to end Eric’s Maker,” Sookie said. The words sounded more confident than she felt. ‘Killing? Really?’ her inner voice jeered.
“Your Eric wouldn’t thank you for it,” Mr. Cataliades apologized. He held her hand again, only this time there was no unpleasantness. It was just one friend comforting another. “If you were successful, as a bound Child, he might feel compelled to end you,” Mr. Cataliades said sadly.
“But, at least he’d be free,” Sookie shrugged. Her head hurt. It was all such a muddle. “At least, I know Grandfather has really been trying,” she said aloud, and then it occurred to her that there was no real reason to trust Mr. Cataliades, either.
It took a minute, but Sookie gathered herself, and forced a small smile to form on her lips. If she’s had a mirror, she would have seen her lower lip jut forward. “I think I’d prefer to wait for Pam,” she said, tapping the folder. “Please arrange a meeting as soon possible. I’d prefer to go through things in person.”
Immediately, it was the polite, professional attorney who sat across from her, “An interesting suggestion, Ms. Stackhouse.”
“Mrs. Northman,” Sookie corrected, her lip jutting further.
“Mrs. Northman, then,” Mr. Cataliades bowed, “There are several items that might be worthy of your attention before that, time sensitive matters, offers for properties…” he pressed.
“Then, I guess we should meet sooner as opposed to later,” Sookie said, making clear her decision was final.
“I will convey your message,” and Mr. Cataliades bowed and began gathering his things. “I will let you know as soon as I have a date from Ms. Ravenscroft. I should know in the next couple of days.”
“That would be fine,” and Sookie held out her hand, like this was any business deal. ‘Pam will know what to do,’ Sookie assured herself, walking back to the B&B. ‘Pam will have a plan.’
Eric could feel himself slipping back into old behaviors. It had taken ages to overcome the sense of never quite measuring up. Now, it was back, fed by every word and glance his Maker gave him. What’s worse, it slipped through the bond. Appius assured him he was proud of Eric, but the bond didn’t lie. ‘If only…’ was what permeated their interactions, never said but always felt.
The drive out to Appius’ dacha took hours. The driver was young and human. He said very little, but his eyes rarely left Eric. It was, in a word, an assessment.
When they arrived, the doors opened and half a dozen young men ran out of the house, laughing and welcoming Appius home. As they walked inside, Eric could see the dacha was filled with handsome young men. They seemed to come and go freely, chattering amongst themselves, openly flirting with his Master. “You’re back!” one petite blond gushed, rushing to throw his arms around Appius’ neck, kissing and stroking.
“I told you I would be,” his Maker purred. Eric’s mouth fell open before he remembered himself. He threw his shoulders back, standing taller. “This is my Child, Eric,” Appius introduced him.
“Oh.” And Eric was judged. It was in the tilt of the head and the angle of the hip. It was the way eyes swept up and then away. It was the small sounds of sympathy, and then, “Well, welcome,” said in that half-hearted way.
“Petyr,” Appius signaled one of the thin, blond boys, “Show Eric to a suitable room. Perhaps the one with the view of the woods.”
“Where are your bags?” the nymph-like youth asked, and when Eric shook his head, Petyr managed to convey his disdain with the flip of his head.
They were all human and they were everywhere. There was some mascara, but mostly clean, lithe bodies in tasteful clothing. “How long have you been here?” Eric asked as he followed his guide through wood-paneled corridors.
“I earned my way…well, almost six months ago, thank goodness!” Petyr grinned, opening a dark wood door that led into a wood-paneled room. The furniture here was heavy and masculine, and Petyr’s lip curled as he glanced around. “Yes, I guess it fits,” he said, eyeing Eric again, and then he struck a pose. “And how long do you think you’ll be staying?”
“That is Appius’ decision,” Eric answered.
“Well, I guess we’ll have to figure out some clothing for you, then,” Petyr said before adding, “Not that we’d have anything in the house that would fit you. You are…” and his eyes lifted and then fell, “rather freakishly large.”
“I am a full-grown man,” Eric growled.
“And isn’t that special for you?” Petyr sniffed. “Well, I’ll leave you here to settle in. So nice to have your Maker back!” and Petyr was gone, closing the door behind him.
The room was adequate. The bed was large enough to accommodate Eric’s height. There was a bathroom through one door and a large closet through another. There were no bars on the window, but Eric could see the metal that would drop, making the room light-tight when dawn approached. There were no books, no television, and Eric had handed his phone to his Maker. He sat on the ottoman at the end of his bed, trying to center himself. This was not what he expected, but since he was certain only Appius could provide the answers, he slipped into downtime. ‘Sookie,’ he thought. Her face floating before him, her lips laughing. ‘Lover!’
It was near dawn when Appius came to him. He had two young men in tow. “You should feed before you rest,” his Maker announced, and then directed the young men forward. Neither looked particularly pleased.
“Do you want us on the bed?” one sighed.
“That won’t be necessary,” Eric answered. He lifted his eyes to Appius, “As you will, my Maker,” and waited.
“There is no need to stand on ceremony,” Appius drawled, “and I have no intention of joining. If you want to fuck them, they’ll let you. They understand your place with me.”
‘Mercy fuck.’ The phrase sprang to Eric’s mind. It wasn’t that he wanted to fuck these boys, but it was the way it was offered. It stung his pride as it was meant to do.
“I thank you for the offer, but feeding will be enough,” Eric answered, before asking, “Should I glamour them?”
“No need,” and Appius sat down in the chair, making it clear he would watch.
The boys approached, turning around, tilting their heads and baring their necks. Eric was tempted to bite hard, making them fear him, but he didn’t. Eric didn’t understand what was happening here, but he knew any show of temper or dominance could trigger Appius, so, instead, he licked to numb the area and carefully bit, taking some from one and then more from the other. He pricked his finger, healing their wounds, conscious of his Maker’s unwavering stare.
The boys were watching Appius, too, and when Eric finished, Appius opened his arms, saying, “Well done! You may come here for your kiss.” The boys leaped forward, throwing themselves on the old Roman, wiggling in his lap like puppies. “That’s enough!” Appius said after a bit, and he slapped one on the buttocks as they ran away.
“They aren’t afraid of you,” Eric observed.
“Homosexuality is a crime in this country,” Appius replied. “I give them safe haven and the opportunity to fully explore their natures. In return, they are most grateful.”
“And when they become too old?” Eric asked.
“A ticket to Western Europe and a going away party,” Appius shrugged. Eric didn’t believe him. He thought it more likely his Maker’s toys found a short drive and a shallow grave.
“And what of your darker moments?” Eric asked. It was a risky question, but no one knew as well as Eric of Appius’ occasional need for violence.
“There is a wide world open to a man with means,” and Appius examined his fingers. “When I need that kind of stimulation, it is better to buy it elsewhere. Besides,” and he looked around the room, “one doesn’t shit where one eats.”
Eric remembered any number of times he and Appius had to flee from their situation, hunted when the body count grew too large. While Eric had seen his Maker over the centuries, he hadn’t lived with Appius and it didn’t occur to him that some aspects of his Maker’s lifestyle might have changed.
“You look surprised,” Appius purred, so easily reading Eric’s mind. “You didn’t think your Maker capable of growth?”
Eric bowed, “I apologize, App…”
“You have lost your right to use my name!” Appius snarled. He stood, his shoulders tight. “You were supposed to succeed! I never should have made children! To this night, I wonder what possessed me to keep you, but until tonight, I told myself you managed to be moderately successful. There have been times you even inspired me to try again, but each time, they failed to come close to your mediocrity and I destroyed them. Only you,” and Appius stalked until he was standing behind Eric. “Only you were able to achieve some degree of greatness, and now look at you!” The blow was fast, throwing Eric against the solid, wood bedstead, cracking his skull.
“What were you thinking?” Appius hissed, his dark eyes all Eric could see through his dizziness.
Appius retreated, sitting back in the chair. It took a minute for Eric’s head to clear. There was blood on the carpet and Eric knew his Maker had purposely fed him well. He didn’t wish Eric to finally die, he wished Eric to suffer. Eric shook his head, shuddered, and then struggled to his knees. He kept his head bowed, although he couldn’t resist wiping at the blood that ran into his eyes.
“Well?” Appius said after a bit. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I regret…” Eric started
“Spare me!” Appius interrupted. “I’m not interested in your toadying and groveling, Eric. I made you and I released you. Do you remember why I did?”
“Because you knew I was ready to survive,” Eric answered.
“Because I knew you were as good as you were going to get,” Appius hissed in return, “and I was sick of dragging your pathetic carcass around with me!”
Eric felt his Maker’s words, more hurtful than any physical blow. “The last thing I wanted was to find you returned to me, tail between your legs, and yet, here we are.” Eric remained on his knees and the silence ticked between them. Finally, Appius flicked his wrist, “Get up!” he commanded, indicating Eric should take the chair closer to the bed.
When Eric was seated, Appius asked, “Why are you here, Eric? Do you know?”
“I failed to see the danger,” Eric sniffed. “I knew there were problems around me…”
“Problems you created!” Appius scolded. “How many times have I told you to keep to your kind? Would this have happened if you had followed the rules? If you had followed our ways, kept to our codes, would you be here today?”
“No,” Eric answered.
“I can’t hear you,” Appius hissed.
“No!” Eric said more loudly.
“No,” Appius echoed. “No, you would still enjoy your reputation. Who knows? Someone of importance may have been willing to offer for you. As it is, you are now damaged goods. Any vampire worth their weight will question bringing you into their kingdom. You have made trouble for Sophie-Ann LeClerq, and now she has a mess to clean up and anyone can see it is your fault.”
Appius made a disgusted noise and Eric cringed to hear it. He was a grown man, but this was his Maker, a vampire of fearsome reputation, letting Eric know he failed. “I can fix this,” Eric replied. “It is a rumor, a story…”
“Which wouldn’t have fooled anyone had you not decided you were smarter than everyone else!” Appius countered. “Stick to your kind! How many times have I told you? How many? But, you don’t listen! When you restrict your interactions to vampires, you do well. You were the Spanish Queen’s Second. You might have risen with Robert, but it’s never enough for you! There are Seelie or…what was that human woman’s name? The one you had to steal from your Queen?”
“Suzanne,” Eric mumbled.
“A blood bag!” Appius snarled. “A worthless, blood bag, but you had to fight for her. You got the Seelie involved and the whole affair became a clusterfuck…”
“Claude Brigant…” Eric started, wanting to explain, but Appius was having none of it.
“Why do you even know his name?” Eric’s Maker howled. “Why? Why is he close enough to you to be interfering with you?” and Appius sat back, drilling Eric with his stare, “Because you invite him in!” he accused. “You open the door, allowing these creatures to come into your life and fuck with you, just as you have now!”
Appius reached into his pocket, pulling out Eric’s phone, thumbing up the photo Sookie sent of her bare breasts. “A hybrid? You are pledged to Niall Brigant’s hybrid? Could you have found anyone more controversial? You know they fought a war over these creatures! By rights, they should have destroyed her themselves, but what do you do? You bond with her… You take her into your own house!” Appius’ eyes flared.
“Sookie…” Eric stammered.
“I don’t want to hear her name, Eric!” Appius raged. “I don’t want to hear any more of your excuses!”
Appius stood and walked until he stood between Eric’s legs. “Look at me!” he demanded, and Eric did. “You are a disappointment to me, Eric. I am beginning to believe that you will never evolve. Do you think that’s true?”
“No, Master,” Eric whispered.
“No…” and Appius let it float in the air. He stood there for a long minute, allowing Eric to savor his misery. “No, I’m not going to end you,” he said at last. “I have promised your Queen you would be able to return, if she chooses to call for you, but in the meantime, I think you need to savor the fruits of your labors.”
With a swift kick, Appius snapped Eric’s lower leg, and then he waited until he felt the pain blossom in his Child. “You will remain here, in this room, Eric. I will send you enough blood to allow you to heal, slowly. I think the time alone with your thoughts will be well spent. Perhaps it will allow you to find the wisdom to understand why wasting your time with those less worthy than you is a bad idea.”
Eric held his silence, refusing to make a sound while Appius drank from him. He held his silence when the door closed and for the full count of ten before he permitted the groan. He ran his hands over his shattered bone, the noises coming from him a shadow of the screaming he felt inside. Fortunately, his Maker had him sit in a chair near the bed before he punished him, so slowly, painfully, Eric Northman managed to stand, then roll, then drag himself on to the mattress, before seeking the oblivion of downtime.
The healing began almost immediately. Eric knew it was his Maker’s purpose in providing fresh blood before the punishment. Appius could calculate, almost to the second, the amount of time broken bones would take to set and so did Eric.
What Eric hadn’t counted on was bonding sickness.
Eric rose each evening to a tray of blood bottles beside him. That first night was manageable. He did little more than drink and roll over, cushioning the ache and trying to ignore the itching, but it was hard. There was not one thing in the room to divert him. There was a bookcase, but no books. The window showed little but flat darkness and distant stars. At one point, Eric took the cases from the pillows, thinking to read the tags, only to find they were removed. Instead, he fell into downtime, his mind drifting.
Inevitably, his thoughts turned to Sookie. He imagined her dance-stepping around his pub, balancing her tray full of drinks. He imagined her face when he took her that first time, afraid and yet, so hopeful. He imagined the flush of her face as she came beneath him, her mouth chanting his name, letting him know she was his. “Min hustru,” he murmured, “My wife.”
Frustrated, Eric growled, forcing the thoughts from his mind. Somewhere, surrounded by his harem, he knew Appius was monitoring him. He needed to hide these memories, tuck them deep where even he couldn’t find them. If Appius knew, he would kill her. Eric had no doubt. No one could stand higher in Eric’s estimation than Appius. It was a lesson his Maker had taught many times.
And it worked…until it didn’t.
By the end of the first week, Eric was spending almost every waking moment in downtime. There was nothing else to do. Appius came to check on him once, taking more blood, keeping the line that exposed Eric’s emotions through the bond free and open. His Maker didn’t speak. Instead, he checked Eric’s leg and left. There had been a moment Eric thought if Appius would re-break it, but he hadn’t.
Mid-way through the second week, Eric realized he could no longer hide his need for his mate. It snuck up on him. He would think of her, remembering an event or expression, and then realized his lapse. Hissing, he would tuck it away, but as the nights passed, his ability to repress lessened and then, finally, evaporated altogether. Some part of him knew this was bonding sickness. His desire for his bonded was asserting itself, clamoring for her blood, pining for her presence. For a while he was able to wake, drink the blood left for him, and fight to regain control, but as each night passed, he felt his yearning turn to need, and then, his need to despair.
Eric stopped drifting before nightfall. He stopped rising at the appointed time. Dreams tangled and he felt his mind failing, unable to detect where hallucination ended and reality picked up. He struggled to open his eyes. He sat up, his leg aching, but able to support his weight. He looked around the room, determining what he could use to end himself. ‘If this is how it is,’ he thought, ‘let it be by my own hand, and not some sickness that robs me of my mind.’
The door opened, and he raised his head. His sight was blurry, but she was there. “Sookie!” he gasped.
“I’m here,” she said, even though it wasn’t her.
“Bring him to the bed,” he heard his Maker say. Appius placed his cool hand on Eric’s forehead. He kissed him. “Am I forgiven, Master?” Eric asked.
“You will not end yourself,” Appius said, and the weight of his command fell on Eric.
“No!” and Eric despaired. He could feel his tears falling past his ears.
“I will help,” Sookie, who wasn’t Sookie, whispered, and his pants were open, his cock in her warm mouth.
“Open your mouth,” Appius was whispering, and Eric did. Drops fell on his tongue, and he felt the power of his Master’s blood. “There, there,” his Master soothed, “now give yourself over to your body’s need,” and Eric did.
“Sookie!” he cried out, and then she was gone.
It was better. Eric fell into downtime and she didn’t torment him, running before him, her Fae face turned, always just out of reach. Eric found his rest and when it was the appointed time, Eric found himself drifting, rising as he had for over a thousand years, his eyes opening to embrace the night.