Chapter 48 – Breath Held

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.

Eric’s struggle with bonding sickness intensified. Some nights Eric rose in the way he remembered, but most nights, the slow drifting before awareness was a morass of half-remembered dreams and night terrors. When Eric’s eyes opened, he was disoriented and the lack of stimulation in his prison room made it worse.

Occasionally, Eric was given fresh blood, the young men barely hiding their unwillingness, but most nights Eric awoke to bottles of TruBlood left on the table beside him. Even though he sensed his bond to Sookie losing its hold, Eric found it difficult to separate the images his mind projected from the reality of his sterile surroundings. He found himself holding conversations with people who weren’t there or reliving sequences from his life, only to blink and have the people and events disappear.

It was near the end of his second month in exile when the crisis occurred. It had been a bad week and Eric felt haunted by the ghosts crowding him, sure he was losing his mind. Appius came and, although he knew all too well his Maker’s contempt for weakness, Eric begged Appius to end him. “Please,” he pleaded. “Please, don’t allow me to unravel. I do now wish to become a further burden to you. I do not wish to continue if I am no longer me.”

As Eric could have predicted, Appius reacted badly. He kicked Eric, taunting him, then left without allowing his progeny any of his blood. Eric knew the small infusions Appius gave him were all that was holding him together and the prospect of another night, maybe several nights, slipping further and further into the hell his mind was creating would be unendurable. ‘I am broken,’ he cried. ‘There is truly nothing left.’

Then, he felt her. Somehow, against all odds, despite the barrier his Maker’s presence created, Eric felt Sookie. It wasn’t a dream. This was altogether different. Eric felt the truth of it through the bond that was killing him. ‘Spring!’ he thought, and he breathed her in. Every part of him felt warmed. She was in his mind, telling him he was worthy, loving him with all her soul. ‘I love you,’ she called to him, and her hands were on him and he was over her, staring into her eyes as she gave herself to him. ‘Mine!’ she claimed.

“Yours,” he whispered, and he found the strength he needed. Somewhere, she was waiting for him, whether in this world or the next. She loved him despite everything and Eric thought, ‘It is enough.’ For the first time since he’d boarded the plane to this place, Eric Northman found hope.

The next evening, Eric felt his sentience rushing toward him and he welcomed it. His eyes opened, and he smiled, the expression surprising him. He turned his head to find Appius sitting in the chair next to his bed. “Good evening,” his Maker greeted.

“Master,” Eric replied, then climbed off the bed and assumed the proper position.

Appius waited for Eric to offer his arm before saying, “I wish there was more I could do to prevent your suffering. Now you know why bonding is something that should never be entered into lightly.” He placed his hand on Eric’s cheek, indicating Eric should raise his head. Eric expected a slap, but, instead, Appius smiled and ran his thumb along Eric’s cheek. “I can tell you are suffering mightily and I believe what you are feeling is beyond what should be expected. Perhaps it is worse because you are bonded to a Seelie.” He made a sympathetic sound as he continued to stroke Eric’s face. “She is mostly Seelie, isn’t she?” he asked.

“She is more Seelie than most hybrids,” Eric answered.

Appius didn’t press Eric for more. Instead, he fed briefly from him and then waved his hand, indicating that Eric should go to the chair on the other side of the room. “I have decided to call a doctor to look at you,” Appius told him. “I have also decided to give you more of my blood until we devise a better method to heal you.”

Eric couldn’t help it. In spite of everything, Eric found himself saying, “You are a great vampire!”

“It warms me to hear you acknowledge it,” Appius replied, almost as though Eric was forgiven again.

On the chair were two books, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. “I recall those being favorites of yours,” Appius said. Eric knew his Maker could feel his growing happiness through their bond. “Now, come here and feed,” Appius directed, “The doctor will examine you tomorrow while you rest and soon we will know what more may be done to restore you.”

It was a turning point. The books were joined by more books and then, once Eric started to feel more balanced, he was granted the freedom to walk outside his room. If the doctor came and an examination was conducted, Eric was not told the outcome, though he knew better than to endanger his new privileges by asking.

A new routine was formed. Most evenings, Eric rose, showered, and waited for the knock on his door. Sven, the house butler, would be standing in the hallway accompanied by a young man, different every night so Eric couldn’t form too close a relationship. There was no more bottled blood. Eric was given fresh blood and once a week, Appius fed him as well.

In addition to providing blood, the men were also required to service him. At first, Eric resisted the suggestion. It was foolish, but his memories of Sookie crowded him.

Appius noticed. Whether his Maker was told or he simply knew through his monitoring of their bond, Appius confronted Eric, lecturing him about taking responsibility for his own recovery by satisfying the needs of his body. “If you would be more comfortable, I will invite you to join me,” he offered. Eric watched Appius spend hours each night indulging his sexual appetites, surrounded by his ‘butterflies,’ as Eric thought of the young men who lived there. They vied for Appius’ attention, competing to be the one Appius chose as his special bedfellow for the evening.

“You are kind,” Eric replied, “but I do not wish to distract any more attention than necessary from the serenity of this place.”

It was the right answer. Even imprisoned, Eric could see that the world Appius had built there served one Master. Competing with Appius in any way might change its delicate balance, something Eric had no desire to do.

After Eric finished, he would clean up and take a walk with Sven. Sven was Other, like a Shifter, but different. He radiated power and Eric was certain if it came to a fight, Sven could hold his own. It was in the way he measured Eric with his eyes when he thought the vampire wasn’t aware. It had taken some time, but now, Sven engaged in conversation. Eric knew Sven spoke Russian and English. He tricked an acknowledgement of German from him and got him to admit to knowing several other languages as well, although Eric hadn’t discovered which. Sven didn’t say, but Eric was certain the butler used his linguistic capabilities to monitor the men who flitted around them.

“Butterflies,” Eric thought again, as he watched three of them glide past clad in swimsuits with bright towels around their shoulders.

The dacha was filled with flocks of them. They fluttered and played in and around the house. They shared stories with each other, giggling and congratulating themselves on their good fortune. They rarely spoke directly to Eric, and the Viking was surprised at how their indifference cut him. ‘The Giant,’ they called him when he wasn’t supposed to be listening.

He knew at least a few of them found him attractive. It was something they couldn’t hide once he’d fed from them, but they surrendered any individual opinion they held to the hive thinking of the place.

“He’s so huge!” one would snark.

“Like some great beast!” another would agree.

“Have you seen him walk through doors? He has to duck his head!” another giggled.

“Like Gigantor or Godzilla!” and there would be laughter.

Eric was tolerated by the butterflies because his Maker made clear Eric’s status as his Child commanded respect, still, it was also clear in a thousand, small ways that those around him found Eric lacking. It was wearing. In every other world he had inhabited, Eric was admired. Women made efforts to gain his attention and men asked his opinion, but, here, in Appius’ circle, Eric was mocked. He was the ‘almost’ success of Appius’ grand experiment, a lesson in what might have been.

One night as he wandered the edges of the gardens, Eric overheard one of the butterflies pleading with Appius, “Please, won’t you turn me? I would make a wonderful vampire!”

“Haven’t you seen Eric?” Appius replied. “That’s what can happen. No, I won’t try it again. Oh, my Child is presentable enough, but I would rather be free, like you, than tied to another child like him!”

It destroyed any doubt Eric had that Appius had truly forgiven him. As much as it hurt, in a strange way his Maker’s sharp words also gave him hope. ‘He doesn’t wish the distraction I present,’ Eric told himself. ‘He will send me home as soon as Sophie-Ann is satisfied of my innocence.’ He didn’t think her name, but, somehow, the smell of Sookie trembled just out of reach.

Yet, word didn’t come. Another month passed, and Eric was granted more freedom. He was allowed free reign of the house and could walk the greater grounds, including the woods, with Gregor, the Shifter in charge of security. The butterflies stopped noticing him. Eric felt as if he moved through their world now; a ghost whom aside from being required to feed him was no more noticeable than a sharp breeze.

It gave Eric a new vantage, allowing him to more effortlessly to eavesdrop on conversations. He overhead those who had been there longer tell newcomers about how their hard times were behind them. He could see the effects when the staff took special efforts to cater to each of Appius’ toys. The boys would do anything to earn their preferred foods, their delight genuine when a special occasion was arranged. Birthdays were celebrated and holidays involved decorating the whole house and grounds, each small gesture tying them more closely to Appius. ‘We are the chosen,’ was the attitude of every young boy, and Eric felt jealous until he reminded himself he was beyond such things. Each of these boys had some story of grinding poverty or persecution, but, here, they were free to express themselves and be rewarded. ‘Until he’s done with you,’ Eric thought.

Eric wondered if, on some level, these boys knew that, like butterflies, they were doomed. He hadn’t been asked to end any of these handsome, glittering creatures yet, but he was sure it was only a matter of time. He could have warned them, but he wasn’t sure it was knowledge they would welcome. They were happy there. In the outside world, they were not. ‘Ignorance is bliss,’ Eric told himself, and embraced his place, holding himself apart, refusing to engage with the moving feast and by doing so, earned Appius’ tolerance.

It was on one of these evenings when Appius chose to share information from the outside world. “Is there a reason your Queen would delay resolving her issues with you?” Appius asked.

“I can’t think of any,” Eric replied, “Do you wish me to speak directly with her?”

Appius eyes narrowed and Eric felt his Maker’s sharp spike of suspicion before he covered it. “No, that won’t change your Queen’s suspicions. Even my assurances are unlikely to sway her. No, I think what is called for is a gesture. Something to let Sophie-Ann know you are not building personal alliances.” Eric waited, almost afraid to hope.

“You have talked about freeing your progeny, Pam. Perhaps doing that and directing her to pledge herself to the Queen would present the right message.” Appius was watching Eric through narrowed eyes. Eric knew he hoped this request would disturb him. It would force Eric to take actions he himself had not initiated and Appius knew all too well how the Viking hated being controlled, but, in this case, the Roman was wrong. Eric struggled to appear unhappy. Secretly, he was delighted. He had worried Appius would force him to take actions against Pam, hurting her, or worse.

Appius couldn’t know Eric had already transferred all his wealth to Pam. She would be free and wealthy. It was everything he could have hoped for his child. Eric bowed his head, “It shall be as you say, Master,” he said carefully.

The severing was painful, but his only regret was not being with Pam to be able to tell her how wonderful she was. He imagined how she looked, and even though he knew Appius could feel it, he sent his pride so that it would be last thing they shared.

“You are better without her,” Appius told Eric later.

“She is better on her own,” Eric said, meaning something else entirely.

 

xxxXXXxxx

 

Sookie tucked her phone back in her pocket. ‘I miss you,’ she’d texted. ‘The sun shone through clouds today and for a minute, I thought I saw you.

As time passed, her messages had become more prosaic. Sometimes she felt as though texting Eric was akin to praying. The message always showed as delivered, but no one responded.

Sookie glanced down the street again, looking for Claudine’s car. ‘Patience,’ she warned herself.

Life as one of the Seelie was a constant contradiction. Sookie had never been among people who were at once so kind and pleasant and yet, at the same time, so evasive. It had been over two weeks since her meeting with Mr. Cataliades and she felt no closer to a plan. Niall side-stepped her questions and when that became wearing he avoided her altogether, claiming troubles demanding his attention in the North. Dillon remained frosty and Claudine’s answer to every question was to press Sookie to start a new venture. That was the purpose of today’s outing. They were scheduled to look at another possible site for her B&B.

Only Claude seemed willing to speak in direct ways, but there was something about the advice he gave that just seemed off. He’d even offered to help her track down where Appius might be hiding, but at the last minute, Sookie declined. “Pam’s coming. I’ll wait until I speak with her. I don’t want to screw up anything she has started,” Sookie offered as her excuse.

“Don’t be surprised when she refuses to help,” he’d sneered. “This is a vampire thing. You can’t count on them to help you. You’d be better off figuring this out on your own.”

She could still hear him chuckling, assuring her that next time his help would cost. For some reason, the dark-haired Fae reminded Sookie of a snake and she tried not to think about it, but as each excuse was given and another distraction found, Sookie found herself wondering if she’d need to ignore her instincts and turn to Claude.

Claudine was driving a new Mercedes today. It was in her signature grey. “You do have style,” Sookie complimented her cousin, easing into the leather upholstery.

“Ready?” Claudine asked, and then tutted as Sookie checked her phone again. “You know he’s gone. Why are you torturing yourself?”

“Is he?” and Sookie exhaled quickly. “I’ll tell you what I know! I know he isn’t really gone. He’s just not here. Who knows? Maybe he can’t answer. Ian says it’s likely he doesn’t have his phone. He said when the Sheriffs take someone into custody, taking phones is the first thing they do, but just thinking that maybe Eric does…it gives me hope.”

“You know what Grandfather told you. If anyone is seeing your messages, it’s probably Eric’s Maker. Appius is not a good guy, Sookie. He won’t be passing anything along.” Shaking her head, Claudine grabbed some papers from the backseat and pressed them into Sookie’s hands. “I like this place. The previous owners started the work, but they ran into some bad luck.”

“Our people have anything to do with that?” Sookie asked, thinking she had enough bad luck of her own.

“Not that I’ve heard, but you never know!” and Claudine squinted, making a turn onto a half-dirt road that seemed to go on a long way. There were a couple more turns before Claudine slowed, and then rolled to a stop. “You’ll see from the deed and survey it’s a good-sized plot with some adjoining acreage. The acreage belongs to the house, but it’s currently under lease to a farmer who’s using it for sheep. The house was expanded and the barn started renovation. They may have been thinking of it as a separate residence. There’s a true farmyard with a proper wall around it and the back falls off to the sea.”

From where they were parked, they could only see the tops of the roofs. This area had rolling hills, and so they walked in from the road, hiking up the small rise. As soon as they crested the hill, the ocean lay before them, wide and rolling. The beaches stretched off as far as Sookie could see to the right. The small cluster of houses she knew as Glenglas, the nearest town, was visible, and she used it to orient herself to the map in her hand. “Here,” she pointed, and allowed herself to look forward and down. Tucked into a roll in the land was a proper Irish house. It had two stories and a long extension Sookie supposed were more rooms. The extension trailed forward and ended short of what was left of the barn. The barn walls were solid and there was a roof, but the windows were boarded and the area around the building was littered with trash.

“See the flowers?” Claudine asked, directing Sookie to look left. The hills were dotted with blues, reds, and pinks, waving in the breeze. “See how the hill protects that area? You’d have shelter for roses if you wished or a proper vegetable garden.”

“I could use my own produce for breakfast,” Sookie nodded. She bit her lip. This place was the fifth she’d seen with Claudine.

Her cousin teased her that it was time for Sookie to put down roots. “You hate being a burden and anyone can see you’re chafing at living in a single room. You need your own nest to feather and you have the means to buy it.” Claudine was right, but the idea of putting down roots that didn’t include a light-tight chamber and a man who fought with her just so he could make up wasn’t appealing.

So far, Sookie had managed to find something about each one she didn’t like. The first place was all alone on a hill. “I’d be blown to bits,” she’d declared. The next house was too far from the sea. “I’m on an island. Surely there’s some way I could see the water!” she’d exclaimed.

Now, seeing this place, Sookie suspected she’d be hard-pressed to find anything wrong. As if sensing it, Claudine said, “I think we should go take a closer look at this one!”

“You don’t think it’s too far from the walking trails?” Sookie asked.

Claudine nudged, pointing to the trail marker not twenty feet away, its bright yellow hiking man glowing against a brown background. “Those walkers would have to be blind to miss you!” she joked.

The driveway down to the house was longer than it looked and Sookie noticed the way the wind seemed to stop the minute they walked down into the dip in the land. “It’s peaceful here,” she said aloud.

“Like it was waiting for you,” Claudine added.

“Pushing, pushing…” Sookie cautioned, but she found her lips creeping up in a smile. It really did seem as though the property was welcoming her and, as if to confirm it, a bright stream of sunlight lit up the barnyard as they walked through the gate.

“See how the flowers grow all the way over the door?” Claudine pointed out.

“Plenty of room here for a few cars,” Sookie noted.

“Although a proper truck would be a tight fit,” Claudine added, before producing a key and after some jiggling and shoving, the front door opened. Sookie was no longer surprised to find these places furnished. It wasn’t ever enough furniture, but whatever was here was understood to go with the sale. After giving the front rooms a brief once-over, Claudine said, “Let’s see what’s in the kitchen.” It was the kitchens in these places that always presented the greatest challenge. Most were shells, the appliances removed, but others were appalling firetraps with inadequate counterspace.

“Wow!” It was all Sookie could say as they walked through to the back of the house. The space for the refrigerator was bare, but there was an industrial-sized eight burner gas stove commanding one long wall. The room itself was large, lined with adequate cupboards and at one end, there was an island. It was totally unexpected and Sookie’s mouth fell open.

“Better watch that Maryann doesn’t demand that range as a finder’s fee!” Claudine teased. It was true. The stove was the stuff of a B&B owner’s dreams.

“I can’t believe they left all this behind,” Sookie gasped.

“Estate sale,” Claudine told her. “One or the other of them died. It’s why the place sat so long. There’s some that think it’s haunted.”

“Is it?” Sookie glanced around. With the things she’d seen, it wouldn’t have surprised her to see ghostly caretakers hovering about.

“Why are you asking me?” Claudine laughed, “I’m not the one who sees banshees!”

“Fair enough,” and Sookie found herself grinning. In truth, Sookie hadn’t seen the Leann Sidhe since that one time in Killary.

Niall had talked about her resuming magic lessons, but after their last testy conversation, he stopped. It had been like the talk she’d had with Mr. Cataliades. She was pressing Niall, asking for anything he knew about Appius’ location. “I’m not asking you to go,” she’d stammered. “The vampire Queen doesn’t have any alliances with me, I mean, she barely acknowledges I exist! No one is going to be angry if I go find them!”

“You are pledged to one of her vassals,” Niall reminded Sookie. “For as long as that is true, you owe Sophie-Ann your fealty in place of the Northman.”

“I can’t stand it!” Sookie shouted, her frustration getting the better of her, her hands fisted and shaking. She could feel her magic gathering within her, growing with her temper. “He is mine and no one is willing to help me find him!”

“Sookie!” Niall’s eyes had flashed, and Sookie had felt a sudden cold grip her and then rush through her. She wasn’t sure what happened, but she found herself rooted to the spot and Niall unveiled, almost incandescent as he held her in thrall. “Stop!” he ordered, and she felt her fight drain away.

“I’m sorry!” she stammered. “I don’t know what came over me,” but somewhere she knew she was lying. She was changing, and her temper sparked something that coiled and seethed, waiting its chance to fly free.

“You have become something more,” Niall told her. “It is a dangerous time and your unhealthy obsession is making you unstable. It would be best if you practiced those skills you know. Focus on them. Discipline yourself to work within their rules.” Niall left shortly afterward, but Dillon began to take her to hillsides with breathtaking views or glades in remote places. Together, they’d conjure or try to trick each other. Dillon’s magic always seemed teasing and tripping, but Sookie wasn’t fooled. She could sense something stronger and wilder laying just below the surface of what he showed her. For her part, Sookie had to work hard to keep up. She ran through skills, Dillon pressing her to transition quickly from one illusion to another. It was as if she were dancing to some unheard song, the steps ever more complex and sometimes she would lose herself, only to collapse when Dillon let up, finding she was soaked with sweat, but not remembering how she got that way.

There was only one skill that was forbidden. “You are never to use that,” Dillon told her. “Not even when you think you’re alone.”

“I don’t understand,” Sookie had protested. “It’s…it’s just something beautiful my Father showed me…”

“It’s more and you know it!” Dillon sneered, and Sookie knew he was right. She didn’t know how she knew, but she believed. Sookie knew in her heart if the column of white light touched any living thing it would kill them, burning them out in its brilliance.

Sookie checked her phone again. Pam Ravenscroft was back. Pam had texted Sookie last night, telling her she would come to Carriegh to meet with her and Maryann hadn’t called this morning. It had become a ritual between she and Maryann since Pam’s leaving. They spent nine o’clock together on the phone, drinking tea and talking. Sookie wanted to be happy for her friend, but, somehow, her heart twisted just a little bit, jealous her friend regained her joy. When she saw Claudine staring, she turned the phone a little. “Pam,” she shrugged.

“Did she text?” Claudine asked.

“Daytime!” Sookie shrugged. “She will after sundown. She promised she’ll see me tonight,” Sookie answered.

“It won’t change anything,” Claudine insisted, but after Sookie said nothing, she shrugged, “Then, we’d better get moving so you won’t be late.” Together, they walked back through the front rooms. There was a smaller sitting parlor, but it had a lovely fireplace. The larger side was dominated by a farm table and sideboard. There were only a couple odd chairs, but Sookie found herself silently counting, finding space at the table for ten. Upstairs, there were three rooms, each with its own closet of a bathroom. Even though they were small, the bathrooms each hosted a shower in addition to a toilet and sink. The extension ran out from the front parlor, with two more bedrooms and a shared bath. “I suppose I could squeeze another bath here,” Sookie said. “That way each room could be an ensuite. People like that.”

“Rich, spoiled people,” Claudine laughed.

“Rich, spoiled hiking services who direct their clients to the places that get the best reviews,” Sookie corrected her. “There’s something to be said for a soft bed and a private shower after a long day of trudging up and down the hills around here.”

“I suppose,” Claudine conceded. Together, they walked around the rooms again, checking for electrical outlets and deciding if there was enough room for televisions or other amenities.

“You suppose there’s Internet out this far?” Sookie asked.

“Satellite,” Claudine shrugged, “Or you pay to have a cable run in with the electric. With the wind off the water, it might be worth the investment, if only for your own sanity.”

“I don’t know,” and Sookie shrugged looking around. “Maybe this place isn’t quite right. It seems kind of far…”

“From town? Wasn’t that the problem with the last place? You didn’t like it because it was too close to town. Next, you’ll be telling me having the easement for the trail makes it too close to your customers. Really, Sookie! You are just making excuses!” and Claudine crossed her arms.

“I don’t know if I’m ready,” Sookie side-stepped, trying to stop the argument before it started. “It all seems…”

“He’s not coming back,” Claudine just said it. It wasn’t the first time. “Eric’s path lies elsewhere. He’s vampire. You’re not. You can ask Pam tonight. If he should return, it won’t be for a long time…maybe never.” Sookie shrugged, but she couldn’t stop the quick spill of tears. Angry, she wiped them away, retreating outside and walking toward the barn.

“Be happy for the time you had together,” Claudine persisted. “Love among our kind is fleeting for those like you. Even when we try to remain together, it never ends well. You know the stories better than I do. Wasting away, hoping for something that can never be is not the answer. You must move forward for the sake of all those here who love you.”

It was impossible to miss the way Claudine separated Sookie from the Seelie. Niall might try, but deep down, Sookie knew her place could never be among them. Looking around, she thought, ‘Still, for one moment, I thought my forever might be with a vampire.’ “How can I make a home here without him?” Sookie asked aloud, the words sticking in her throat.

“How could you make a home here without your Mother?” Claudine challenged her right back. “How could you continue without your Father? Your lives are a series of losses. It is both your talent and your strength, that ability to move forward, finding hope in what lies beyond. It is that trait we find most admirable.”

“But Eric isn’t dead,” Sookie replied.

“Of course, he is!” Claudine laughed, then, wiping her cousin’s tears away, said, “but not finally dead, I know.” Pulling Sookie to her, Claudine told her cousin the truth she believed, “But, he is dead to you, Sookie. You must accept that. You must move on.”

“I’m not sure how,” Sookie sighed.

“You do it by taking one step at a time,” Claudine told her. She handed Sookie the key. “You start here and you work. Each day takes you a little closer to having this place up and running, and then getting customers, and then greeting your guests. Before you know it, you’ve lived a good life…”

“A life alone,” Sookie added.

“Only if you choose,” Claudine scolded. Turning her cousin back toward the house, she said, “You know this place is perfect. Should I tell the agent?”

The sun was still high in the sky, playing hide and seek with the passing clouds. The shadows fell across the land, reminding Sookie of dancing figures. “Yes,” she heard herself saying. “Yes, this is it.”

 

xxxXXXxxx

 

“Thanks for meeting me,” Sookie said. She and Pam were sitting in the pub down the street from the B&B where Sookie was still living. ‘This place has become my office,’ Sookie thought wryly, looking around.

Pam looked the same, which shouldn’t have been a surprise, but was. Her white-blond hair lay long and straight over her pink sweater. She was wearing lovely pumps dyed to match. They weren’t the killer stiletto heels Claudine preferred, but still higher than anything Sookie was comfortable wearing. “Mr. Cataliades tells me you stalled signing off on anything until we did.” Pam’s tone matched her face, both being annoyed.

It was awkward. There were things that clearly needed to be said, but there were people sitting at the next table, too close for Sookie to be able to say the things she wished. “Look, I’m going to do something to make it possible for us to talk privately,” Sookie told Pam. “Hold your breath. I don’t think it will leave a trace, but if it does, we can leave.”

“This is a business meeting, Sookie,” Pam shrugged, “Nothing more.” When Sookie’s mouth opened, Pam added, “There really is nothing more I wish to discuss.”

“But, Mr. Cataliades said you were free…” Sookie stammered.

“Fine!” Pam hissed. “If you aren’t going to be polite about this, then do your thing!”

Sookie could feel her lip trembling, but she raised her chin, took a breath, and pulled the scrim around them. Their fellow customers would have a memory of people at their table, but no clear idea as to whom they were. Even those who now knew Sookie well, the bartender and the waitress, would find their memory of her tonight to be foggy. “Do you notice it?” she asked Pam.

“It isn’t a problem,” Pam confirmed. “You can’t just blurt things out like that. Our ability to live among these people works because we keep it simple and we watch our words.”

“Then don’t try to dodge things!” Sookie snapped. “I’m in hell! You have to know that. I reach for him every night. I text. No one will tell me anything, except that I need to forget him. How can I do that?” Sookie swiped at the tears that spilled over, grabbing her napkin and glancing around, even though she knew no one would notice. “I love him!”

“But not enough,” Pam snapped in return.

“What does that mean?” Sookie demanded.

Pam sat back, her face stony. For the first time, Sookie could see her friend was angry. “He wanted you to join him, really join him, but you kept finding excuses. You could be vampire right now and it would just be a matter of waiting, but that wasn’t good enough for you. No, you had to hold onto your oh, so precious humanity. Well, you got your way. You’re dancing with the Seelie and staying human. You made your choice.”

“You can’t mean that,” Sookie huffed. “Eric is still in this world. I’m going to find him!”

“And give him the final gift of watching you die?” and Pam sat back. “How selfish can you be? I felt him just before he left. He was heartbroken. He gave up everything, all his money, all his toys, just so you could be comfortable. And me. He took care of me, too.”

“Mr. Cataliades told me he freed you,” Sookie whispered.

“Later,” Pam nodded. “His Maker hated that Eric’s child was female. I’m sure that old shit thought he was hurting Eric by stripping me from him, but we were ready.” Pam glanced around, “I suppose in a backhanded way I owe you one.”

“What do you mean?” Sookie asked.

“Before he left, I asked Eric for permission to pledge to Maryann…”

“That’s great!” Sookie exclaimed.

“He refused,” Pam finished.

It didn’t make sense. “I don’t understand,” Sookie stammered.

“He refused because he didn’t want me to face the same fate you forced on him. He told me until Maryann was turned he wouldn’t agree, and because I was bound to him, I had to bow to his decision. Now, he’s freed me. I can make up my own mind about this.” Pam reached down beside her, bringing up the folder of papers Sookie recognized. “So, if there’s nothing else, I’d like to get through these so I can go home to my fiancée.”

“You’re not going to help me,” Sookie whispered.

“Help you live the rest of your life comfortably? Yes, you’re going to be a wealthy woman with choices. Help you create more problems in my Maker’s life? No, Sookie. Even if I wanted, my hands are tied. I’ve pledged fealty to the Queen for my place here. Sophie-Ann is perfectly content waiting things out. Your Grandfather wants you here. We’re immortal. Do the math!” Pam pulled out two sheets. “This is the deed for the house in Slievemore and another further north. I have no interest in maintaining either. Sign here,” and she pointed to a line. “I have buyers lined up, but I need your signature.”

“The Goat House…” Sookie stammered. “But, our things…”

“I’ve put Eric’s belongings in storage. Your things are packed. Just let me know where you’d like them sent,” and Pam stared until Sookie signed. Sookie felt as though the air had been knocked out of her, but before she could recover, Pam was presenting her with more papers. “Of course, you’re still partner in the pubs. I’ve canceled the plans for the fourth one. I just don’t think I can handle one more until I get someone else trained to back me up. I know, we started the work, but we have plenty of money, we can afford the loss.”

“Maybe I…” Sookie started.

“You can’t set foot in any of them,” Pam reminded Sookie. “Look, I know this is hard. I don’t expect you to be active in the management, but I would like you to continue handling the accounting. It’s a good excuse to keep you on the payroll, better for taxes. Oh, but there is a partnership change I would like to make.”

“What is it?” Sookie asked. She was feeling more and more adrift. She had thought talking with Pam would make her feel closer to Eric, but, with each word, she was feeling as if a door was shutting.

“Chow,” and Pam set another paper in front of Sookie. “I want him out as partner.”

“Why?” Sookie knew Eric relied on the vampire in Carrack. Pam had often said complimentary things about him.

“He’s the reason Eric’s gone,” Pam huffed. “Surely you knew that!”

“I heard some story,” Sookie stammered. “Something about Octavia.”

“He should have called us with his problem. He didn’t. He called some friend at the Palace and now we’re here.” Pam handed the pen to Sookie. “I want him out,” and she pointed at a line on the paper.

Sookie wanted to read what was written. She could see a figure that involved a lot of Euro, but the hard look in Pam’s eyes had her signing. “I trust your judgment on this,” she told the vampire. “But running everything on your own is a lot. You are thinking about taking on another partner?”

“Eventually,” Pam shrugged. “I’ll talk with you before I do. In the meantime, we have to focus on getting the pubs running well. Now that Eric isn’t Sheriff anymore, we owe the Queen full tithes, so you’ll need to be adding that line item to the ledger.”

“I’m sorry,” Sookie stammered. It didn’t change anything, but she felt the need to say it.

Pam looked away and when she looked back, she didn’t seem as angry. “Maryann told me what you did while I was away. You were a good friend to her…to me. I know this isn’t your fault, not really, but I’m not going to be part of you hurting him anymore.”

“You could turn me!” It slipped out before Sookie even knew what she was saying.

“But I won’t,” Pam told her. “And neither should anyone else. Do you have any idea what you’d be getting yourself into? You’d be some vampire’s child, theirs to command. What? You think that would get you any closer to Eric? I can’t think of anything you could do that would separate you further!” Pam shrugged, “You need to move on, Sookie. You are part of our world now, but that doesn’t make you one of us. Learn the rules and respect our ways and you’ll be happy.”

Pam leaned over, setting her hands on Sookie’s, “In the end, that’s what he wanted for you. Maybe you should try to do that. For him.”

“Will I see you again?” Sookie asked.

“Maryann says you’re going to be our Maid of Honor,” Pam sighed, “so, I guess the answer is yes.”

“I am happy for you,” Sookie smiled.

“In time, it won’t be so hard,” Pam assured her. “Maybe you should get that B&B. Maryann can’t wait to have you as a full member of their Association and frankly, with the money we owe the Queen, we need all the income we can get.”

“I think I found it,” Sookie replied. Taking a deep breath, she steadied herself enough to put her own troubles behind her and together, she and Pam spent the next hours rebuilding the bridges of their friendship.

 

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17 thoughts on “Chapter 48 – Breath Held

  1. I am reminded of a quote: “it’s always darkest just before the dawn”…Eric and Sookie are both suffering..she just needs to hold on to her faith & love for him.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I’m really confused. Why is Pam mad at Sookie? Why isn’t anyone telling her what’s really going on? Will Claude the only one that’s telling her? What’s in it for him? Sookie is going to ask him isn’t she? What’s it gonna cost?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Pam tells you. This is vampire business, and bad business that was triggered by Sookie’s nature. If Sookie has agreed to be turned, then following a normal vampire timeline (there is no forever for them), wouldn’t be an issue, and the other by-product was Eric’s refusing Pam permission to pledge. Like any good parent, Eric didn’t want his child to face the hard reality he had apparently resigned himself to facing by choosing Sookie. All good reasons to make someone angry- not with Sookie, but about the reality that Sookie represents. Now, Pam’s being freed means she can pledge, and she lets Sookie know, in the end, that she may be upset about the circumstances, but she likes Sookie, enough to keep her in their pledging.
      Oh- and don’t look for Sookie to fall for Claude’s crap!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Even if Eric had turned Sookie, Appius would never have accepted her. He might even have ordered Eric to kill her. Does he know that Sophie Anne ordered the bonding in a fit of pique? It’s a shame that two people, more than two, can have there lives turned upside down by others who can’t let them be happy. Namely Appius and Sophie Anne. Chow needs a butt kicking. I am glad Pam is putting him out. I am happy for Pam and Maryann, too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. All true. Sometimes life just isn’t fair. It kicks you in the butt and pushes stuff your way for no good reason. People do stupid things that create an avalanche of troubles for good people. The question is, “Is it worth it? What would you give for love?” Would you let your friends think you foolish? Wasting your life? Where is the tipping point?

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh how they underestimate Sookie! She will never give up on Eric and her life with him. This may be Vampire business but I have a feeling she will take Claude up on his offer. I’m sure his hope is for Sookie to meet her end but love always conquers! Thanks for another bleak but wonderful chapter.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. LOL! And from great struggle comes rewards. They are suffering, each in their own way, but as with all of my stories, there’s a happy ending. This one is fashioned on a good old-fashioned fairy tale. The prince has fallen under a dark spell.

      Like

  4. I’m counting on Sookie to not lose faith even though it seems hopeless. I agree she needs the distraction and income from the B&B but I don’t see her giving up on Eric just yet. Claude is a tool and will never really wish her well and I think deep down she realizes it, so hopefully she won’t fall victim to any of his schemes.

    Like

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