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 caught her reflection in the window. It was her Fae face that looked back. Her hair floated around her, as she’d seen Niall’s hair float when he was at his most magical. ‘Where did the Sookie I know go?’ she wondered. The ethereal woman who watched her from the window’s reflection, the one with the hard eyes, was a stranger to her. To prove it was really her, Sookie looked down. The shirt she was wearing matched the one she saw in the window, right down to the dark stains.
‘My neck doesn’t hurt so much,’ she registered. It still hurt, but the ripping and burning were gone. She watched the Fae woman in the reflection reach up to touch the side of her neck where Appius had ripped at it. It felt odd, this sensation of watching herself as if from some faraway place, but when she touched her flesh, it felt solid. Sookie looked at her fingers. They were covered with blood and Sookie felt her stomach flip over. ‘Real,’ she thought. ‘It was real, but now, the damage is healed. You’re healed.’
That’s when she looked at the far side of the table. “Eric?” she called. Her feet moved, and she was getting closer. “Eric, we’re free!”
“You killed him,” Eric gasped.
Sookie touched his shoulder, but he flinched. Everywhere she looked, there was blood. “What can I do? How can I help?”
“You killed him,” he said again.
That’s when Sookie noticed it. She couldn’t feel Eric, not even a little bit. She tried again, but there were none of the emotions and feelings she’d come to take for granted. Living with the bond was like living in Eric’s pocket and she’d come to love it. Having the bond blocked these past months had fueled her loneliness and she’d assumed when this moment came, and they were together again with all the impediments removed, it would be restored. “The bond…” she stammered.
“You destroyed it.” Eric didn’t meet her eyes. He was moving to his knees, looking around, but he made no move to touch her.
“Eric,” Sookie tried again, reaching out to touch his cheek, but this time, there was no mistaking. Eric batted her hand away.
“Don’t!” he hissed. Sookie could hear there was something wrong with Eric’s speech. It was in the odd whistle that ended his words. Sookie swallowed, not sure what to make of Eric’s reaction.
“I came,” she started over. “I found you. I never lost hope. I knew I’d find you. He’s gone. We can be together.”
But what Eric did wasn’t what Sookie expected. He just stared at the floor and when she leaned forward, trying again to touch, to connect, he stood up so suddenly she fell back. He didn’t look at her. Instead, he looked across from her to the place where she’d battled the Monster. “Eric?” Sookie called, but Eric’s only answer was to throw his head back and roar. It was a gut-wrenching sound that both frightened and horrified Sookie.
It reminded her of the screaming Appius had done when she’d enveloped him. Eric’s roar seemed to go on and on. He didn’t need to breathe, but he stopped periodically, only to start again. She couldn’t feel him, but she didn’t need to. His anguish was written in every line of his body. Glass shook and things toppled. Sookie waited, but then she scrabbled backward and stood, backing away from her husband who now felt like a stranger.
In a moment, Sookie’s confusion turned to anger. How dare he? How dare… “How dare you!” she snarled. Her chin lifted and her shoulders squared. Eric stopped making his noise and his head lowered. “How dare you!” Sookie challenged again. She stalked forward, her hands fisted and when Eric only stared, her hand seemed to fly up of its own volition, slapping him hard.
“What is wrong with you?” she hissed.
“You!” he snarled back. That’s when she saw it. He was missing a fang and she remembered his telling her a vampire having his fangs removed was terrible.
“What did he do to you?” and Sookie reached to touch Eric’s mouth, but it wasn’t her Eric who stood before her tonight.
“Appius will never walk again,” Eric spit out, slapping at her hand. “He was my Maker! He was…”
“Don’t you tell me he was a great vampire!” Sookie flared. “Don’t you dare! He was going to kill me!”
“You shouldn’t have come here!” Eric growled.
“What?” His words knocked Sookie breath away. Eric wasn’t sympathetic. Instead he spat out words as if they were accusations. Sookie’s mouth fell open and she felt the fight drain from her. “You didn’t want me here? You didn’t want me?”
Eric’s jaw was tight and the tendons of his neck strained. Sookie thought he looked as though he wanted to strike her and it was taking every bit of his strength to hold himself back. “I knew what my life was about,” he said after a minute. “Appius was hard…”
“He was a killer!” and Sookie’s temper found her again. This was unbelievable. She saved this man, killed the Monster, and this was her reward?
“So am I,” Eric snarled. “So are all my race.”
“So, what did you expect me to do?” Sookie asked. “Let him kill me? Were you even going to try to help me?”
“I did,” Eric replied. The fight drained from him for a moment as well, but what was left stared at Sookie through cold, empty eyes. “I felt you coming. Appius did, too. I begged him to leave. Begged…for you,” and Eric turned, staring out the window. “This thing between us? Appius called it a sickness. I think he was right.”
“What is between us is not a sickness,” Sookie growled, and then, her voice trembling, she told him her truth. “I love you, Eric Northman.”
“And look where we are,” he hissed. Eric raised his hand to cover where his heart should beat. “I feel nothing now. For over a thousand years I have known who I was, what I was. I didn’t always like it, but I knew. Now? Now, everything is gone.”
“You mean the bond? The bond is gone,” Sookie clarified. She wet her lips and took a breath to steady herself, “but we can fix that. We can bond again.”
Eric’s eyes flared and his lip curled. He looked unbalanced with his one fang and the dried blood that covered his jaw. “Why would I do that?” he snorted. “As if that will fix what has happened? Appius is gone!”
Sookie remembered her Grandfather telling her even if she managed to kill Appius, Eric wouldn’t thank her. The Seelie King told her there was a strong magic that existed in the bond between a vampire and his Maker. ‘Have I really lost him?’ The thought had been flitting in and around her mind and now it coalesced into a cold, solid thing.
Eric walked away from her, and stood where she had battled Appius. He stared at the floor. “No dust. Not even his fangs,” he said out loud, but Sookie knew the words weren’t meant for her. She didn’t know what to say, half afraid if she started talking, her frustration and fear would have her saying things that would only make this worse. When he did turn back to her, she could see he was angry again. “You couldn’t have left me even the smallest reminder?”
Sookie’s chin lifted and her eyes flared. “Reminder?” She stared down at her shirt and then pulled it over her head, throwing it at him. “Here! Here’s a reminder of your precious Maker! My blood, Eric! He was going to kill me. He ripped open my neck! He was kicking you! He…”
“I couldn’t see what you were,” he hissed, cutting her off.
“Oh? And what is that?” and Sookie’s lip curled. Her pride kicked in and she grit her teeth before making sure her Fae face was on full display and her magic was crackling around her. “And what do you think I am? I thought I was the woman who loved you, but I’m getting the feeling you think I’m something else.”
“Death,” he snarled.
“Fine!” Sookie snapped. “Death? Like you? Or…” and suddenly it didn’t matter. She looked around, snatching the blanket from the back the of chair, the same blanket she’d bought to give the room a little color and wrapped it around her shoulders. “I don’t understand you,” she hissed. “I came here to rescue you. I came here to claim what was mine. ‘Älskade?’ Remember that?” Suddenly, there were tears pricking her eyes, which only made her angrier. “No, apparently not. I guess all that talk about love was because of the bond. If only you hadn’t been tied to me.”
“You brought trouble,” Eric accused.
It felt like a slap and Sookie’s lip jutted, “You used to like that about me!”
She was hurting. It wasn’t her body. It seemed her light had taken care of the physical punishment she’d taken. No, what hurt was something deeper and harder to diagnose. Pulling the blanket around her a little tighter, she walked over to where Eric was standing, still staring at the spot where Appius fell.
Sookie waited, willing Eric to look at her and when he did, she stomped her foot on the floor, moving her toe back and forth over the spot where Appius had burned. She scraped her foot as if she was squashing a bug. “I’m glad I killed him!” she hissed, “And I’d do it again. I’d do it a million times! If I saw him burning in the street, I wouldn’t pee on him to put it out! I’ve done you a favor, Eric Northman, and you’re an idiot not to see it!”
Sookie gathered her dignity and squaring her shoulders, headed for the front door. She fumbled with the locks, her fingers refusing to work properly. “Shit!” she swore, kicking the door in her frustration, and he was behind her. She refused to look at him as he worked the locks, but when the door was open, she hissed, “I was the best thing that ever happened to you.”
“You were a mistake,” he replied.
Sookie felt the fight drain from her again, leaving only great sadness. Her fingers clasped and she remembered the ruby ring, the one he’d given her. It was hard to wrestle it from her knuckle. It seemed her fingers had swollen a bit, but finally it yielded and she held it up. “Fine. Take it back!” Her hand was lifted between them, but his hand didn’t lift to meet hers. When it was obvious he didn’t intend to cooperate, Sookie opened her hand, letting the ring fall. Her eyes were filling and she couldn’t think of anything worse than letting Eric Northman see her cry. “It’s on you!” she managed to say. Sookie walked to her car, her stride stiff as she made an extra effort to keep her back straight. ‘I won’t let you see me cry,’ she vowed. ‘You don’t deserve to have any part of me ever again!’
Sookie pulled her car into the road and started driving, but when she got to the turn that would take her to her new home, she turned left instead. What did danger matter?
Her mind went numb, fighting her need to relive Ballytyne over and over. She had to keep wrestling her attention back to the road, finding the car drifting first one way and then another as the movie in her head fought to reassert itself. Each kilometer to pass without an accident became a victory, each road sign, a small win. Sookie gripped the wheel as her shock started to close in. “Through the nose, out through the mouth,” she chanted, forcing her panic to take a backseat to her need to reach her destination. At the halfway point, she tried to sing a nonsense song, but within a few words, her throat was closing and her grief was making her eyes water too much to see.
“You’re okay!” she lectured herself. “You have this! You can make it!” With each passing landmark, Sookie congratulated herself, talking to her reflection in the mirror as she would a child. “Just don’t think about it for a little while. Just hold it together until the next turn,” and then, when the next turn came, she’d tell the woman in the mirror, “See? That wasn’t so hard. Just hold it together for another five miles.”
Town by town, she coached and cajoled until she pulled into the driveway at Seacoast Shores. The little light was on above the back door. The lights were on in the apartment above the garage, reminding Sookie of simpler times. For a minute, Sookie was overcome, too upset to turn off the car. She leaned her head against the wheel, alternating between sobbing and then, pulling back, trying to get a handle on her jagged emotions.
“Sookie?” The voice was followed by someone trying to open her door, who then rapped the window when she found the door locked. “Sookie? Shut off the car and open your door!”
It was Pam. Sookie wasn’t sure what she could say to her vampire friend. What if Pam rejected her like Eric had? “Open the door now, Sookie, or I’ll break your window,” Pam said, followed by, “You know I can!”
Sookie half-lifted her hand, showing she heard. With a deep, shuddering breath, she turned the key in the ignition, and then, even more slowly, she pulled the door handle. As soon as she turned to get out, Pam exclaimed, “Fuck a zombie! What happened to you? Where’s your shirt?”
“I threw it at Eric,” Sookie choked. She stood, but in the next minute, her knees gave way. She’d always been a little formal with Pam. She knew vampires were careful about who touched them, but tonight, Sookie just didn’t care. She threw her arms around her friend and held on as if her life depended on it.
She knew Pam was carrying her and in no time, Sookie was inside the B&B, laying on the big bed while Maryann and Pam stripped off her clothes and ran a bath. “You’re sure I shouldn’t call a doctor?” Maryann was asking.
“It’s shock,” Pam answered. “We need to get her into a warm bath.”
“Warm milk,” Maryann said before hustling out of the room.
Pam leaned over, chafing Sookie’s hands before lifting her up, carrying her into the bathroom, and lowering her into the water. Pam got up and closed the door, then returned, sitting on the edge of the tub. “You are practically glowing,” she said, her voice low. “What the hell happened? Where did you see Eric?”
“I killed his Maker,” Sookie blurted out. “I killed him.” She couldn’t meet Pam’s eyes. Instead, she stared at the water’s surface, seeing the replay of the white fire, it’s flames eerily silent as it consumed the old vampire.
“Fuck a zombie!” Pam exhaled. She grabbed a washcloth, spilling warm water over Sookie’s back. “Where was this?”
“Bally… Ballytyne,” Sookie hiccupped.
There was a knock at the door and Pam rose to open it. Maryann came in with a steaming mug. “Stay with her,” Pam whispered.
Maryann sat down on the edge of the tub where Pam had been sitting. “Drink this,” she said, pushing the mug at Sookie.
It was cocoa. It made Sookie think of winter mornings and her Mother. “You have blood in your hair.” Maryann’s voice was strained. “I’m going to get a bowl. Drink your cocoa. I’ll be right back.”
Sookie felt broken. She was sitting in a warm tub, a cup of warmed chocolate in her hand, and all she felt was her hollowness.
Sookie could hear Pam and Maryann talking outside the bathroom. She wondered if they would ask her to leave, but they didn’t. “Pam is going to Ballytyne,” Maryann announced as she came back into the bathroom and sat down in Pam’s place.
“Does she hate me?” Sookie asked. Her voice felt rusty and her feelings felt rustier, jagged pieces that seemed made up of the shards of the world she’d known. It was as though she’d been reborn tonight, but the person had left, and the one sitting in the warm bath was too raw and fragile to survive.
“No!” Maryann exclaimed. “I don’t know what happened tonight, but Pam doesn’t hate you, not at all. She told me to take care of you. She told me you were incredibly brave.” Picking up a bowl, Maryann used it to help wash Sookie hair. “She said you had balls of iron, but she’s worried about Eric. She didn’t say so, of course, she never would, but I know her pretty well. She gets that look and she left in a hurry.”
It was there, the unspoken question. If Sookie found him, why wasn’t she with him? “He’s left me,” Sookie mumbled. Suddenly, the enormity of what happened tonight pressed down on her. ‘I’ve become a killer,’ she told herself. She looked at her hands, the nails broken and still stained around the cuticles with her own blood and Eric’s. ‘I killed a man,’ and Sookie felt as though she couldn’t catch her breath.
“Pam will sort it out,” Maryann soothed her, stroking her head. It sounded good and Sookie grasped on to the idea, even though she was pretty sure there were some things that could never be sorted. Maryann took up a washcloth and humming a tune, started scrubbing Sookie’s back and then, the back of her neck. The water took on a distinct pink tinge as she finished. With one last rinse, Maryann declared, “Better! Now, come on, let’s get you dried off and bundled into bed. Everything will seem better in the morning.”
“I should probably go,” Sookie sighed. She couldn’t stand the idea of being alone now, but she remembered Niall’s warning. She’d just killed a vampire. Based on Eric’s reaction, it wasn’t likely other vampires would be too happy about what she’d done and she didn’t want to reward her friend with… “Trouble. I’m not supposed to be here,” Sookie said out loud. Two large tears just seemed to spring from nowhere. “I’m not supposed to be in Slievemore.”
“Nonsense!” Maryann huffed. “There’s nowhere else you should be. You belong here, with your friends.” She helped Sookie dry off and wrapped her in a bathrobe. “Now, come on, I’ve set up the bedroom right next to mine. You can wear a pair of my pajamas. Let’s get you dressed before you catch a chill.”
Sookie knew she should go, but as she looked at herself in the mirror a new voice within her cried, ‘Let them come! You’ll deal with them the same way you took care of the Monster. There’s a new Sheriff in town and you never need to be afraid again!’ As she sat on the end of the bed, Maryann brushing her hair as her Mother had done, long ago, Sookie had a moment. She knew this new voice was right. With barely a thought, she had taken a life. It had been easy. There’d been no inner struggle and no regret… until now.
She remembered reading crime stories where the serial killer confessed the first time was the hardest. After that, the killing got easier. ‘But my first time wasn’t hard at all,’ she thought, and that realization was the most chilling of all.
It was late when Sookie woke. She cried off and on, not knowing if she would find sleep, but then she did, only to have her nightmares chase her. Now, she was wide awake and a low moon flooded her room. “I think I should move out there for a while.” It was Pam’s voice.
“It’s just, he doesn’t like me,” Maryann said softly.
They were in the hallway, so Sookie got up. She knew they were talking about Eric.
“He doesn’t like anyone right now,” Pam was saying, “most of all himself. I’m worried about him.”
“Eric?” Sookie asked.
The women gave her that guilty look people get when they’ve been caught out. “We didn’t mean to wake you,” Maryann apologized.
“Are you talking about Eric?” Sookie asked again, and then, to Pam, “What did he say?”
Pam looked away and, for a moment, Sookie thought she might have lost her friend as well as her husband, but Pam was only thinking. “He didn’t say much.” Turning to Maryann, Pam said, “Would you give us a minute? I think I should talk with Sookie alone.”
Pam led Sookie back to the kitchen and together, they sat. “Is it really over?” Sookie asked, not sure she wanted the answer.
“Eric’s in a dark place,” Pam told her. “I’m not sure how to explain this and dawn’s coming.” Her brow furrowed a little. “You know how it feels to always know you have family? You know no matter how hard things get, there will always be that brother or mother or aunt who will be there for you. You have the confidence there are people in this world who will stand by you.”
“I do,” Sookie answered, thinking of the family she’d gathered around her.
“For a vampire, your Maker is like that. You may be freed, as I was, but there is always, in the background, this humming certainty there is someone in this world who will stand beside you.” Pam sighed, “I’m not really explaining it. It’s more than that. Vampires live with violence. We are…well, we feel we are under almost constant threat. Maybe it’s because our kind has been hunted for so long. Maybe It’s because people really are out to get us,” and she flashed a quick smile before continuing. “At any rate, this feeling, our bond… It gives us confidence, a sure knowledge there is someone who has our back and if needed, who will drop everything to fight for us.”
“And I killed his Maker,” Sookie whispered.
“You killed his Maker and Eric wasn’t freed,” Pam clarified. “When you are under your Maker’s command, his care, the bond is even more. It’s a dependency. Even though you don’t rely on him for life, you still feel a need for his presence. You’ll do anything he asks, find ways to please him. After time, you gain enough confidence to tease and test, which is as it should be.”
“But Eric was freed for a long time,” Sookie pointed out.
“He agreed to reinstate his Maker’s command. It was almost as if he started all over again,” Pam explained.
“How are you?” Sookie asked. “I mean, you’re still connected to him…right?”
Pam smiled briefly, “Thanks for asking. I’m fine. What I’m getting from him is pretty muted. Appius hated my existence, so he made an effort to cut off the bond between any of us.”
“But, when I…” and Sookie trailed off. She had started worrying making her admission was becoming all too easy, as if killing were no big thing.
“I felt his end,” Pam acknowledged, guessing what Sookie was thinking, “but from far away.” When Sookie looked worried, Pam patted her hand. “I know I shouldn’t be telling you this, but aside from how this is affecting Eric, I don’t mind. Eric shielded me from Appius. I never really knew him and I’m glad I didn’t.”
“Will Eric be okay?” Sookie asked.
“Eventually,” Pam answered.
Sookie was pretty sure she knew the answer, but she had to ask, “Do you think it would help if I came along? Talked with him?”
“No,” Pam answered, confirming it. “What Eric needs to heal isn’t on the outside.” She shrugged, “I think you should know, at present, he’s blaming you. He thinks you’re some honeytrap who’s lured him into disaster.”
“That’s so unfair!” Sookie gasped. “I don’t deserve that!”
“No, you don’t,” Pam acknowledged. “I’m pretty sure it’s Appius talking. I didn’t get a lot from him, but is sounds as if my Grand-Sire spent the past few months fucking with Eric’s head.” Pam glanced at the clock, “I have to rest and tomorrow night I leave at first rising. Eric’s smart. He’s overcome a lot. It may take him some time, but I believe in him. He will regain himself and he’ll remember the truth.”
“And what’s that?” Sookie asked.
“That he loves you,” Pam smiled. “It breaks all the vampire rules, Sookie, but I know it’s true.”
Together, they walked back to the bedrooms. “Hope I see you before you go,” Sookie sighed.
“You shouldn’t,” Pam answered. Glancing at the door of the room she shared with Maryann, she added, “Word of Appius’ death will start circulating soon. There will be inquiries. Vampires are curious creatures, and everyone will want to know who killed The Roman. You need to get back into Niall’s territory before someone remembers seeing you.”
“Earlier? I went to the Queen’s palace,” Sookie confessed. “I talked with some guard and Wybert.”
“And you asked about Eric,” Pam confirmed. “They will put two and two together. That, combined with the rumors the witches started about you are going to make some people uneasy.” Reaching into her pocket, Pam pulled out her phone. “I’ve had more communication with the Seelie in the past year than I’ve had in the rest of my existence!” she huffed. “There! Niall knows you’re in trouble. When you rise tomorrow, you need to head home. He’ll have someone waiting. If the witches weren’t so worried about you, I’d suggest you have a ward placed.”
Rather unexpectedly, Pam pulled Sookie into a hug. “I won’t say it again, in fact, I’ll probably say the opposite the next time it comes up, but I’m glad you killed him. He was a bastard and as long as he was walking, Eric was never really free. It may be hard for a while, but this really is the best thing for him.”
“Take care of him,” Sookie whispered.
“Of course!” Pam grinned. “Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? When your Father becomes old and feeble, it’s up to his children to take over and boss him around for a change?”
“Eric isn’t feeble,” Sookie giggled, but then she sobered. “I said some pretty harsh things to him. I gave him back his ring.”
Pam kissed Sookie’s forehead, and then lifted her left hand. “But not your pledging ring.”
“No,” and Sookie smiled at the plain red-gold band. “No, the ruby one.”
“It will be all right,” Pam assured her, and Sookie believed her.
As Sookie lay in bed, she could see the faintest line of grey light through the window. Dawn was coming and with it, new hope.
“Probably for the best,” Maryann sighed, giving in to Sookie’s repeated assurances that she was fine to drive home. “Sounds like there’s weather coming in.” The morning radio show was full of predictions about a storm coming in off the ocean. There were high wind advisories and residents were being warned about power outages.
Down the hall, Pam was resting. “So, you’re both good?” Sookie asked.
“Just another day in the life of living vampire,” Maryann joked. Together, they walked out to Sookie’s car.
“Thanks again for the clothes,” and Sookie gestured at the warm shirt and pants she was wearing.
“No worries,” Maryann grinned. “You have more chest than I do. My shirts look better on you!” As Sookie got in the car, Maryann stepped back, “Call me when you get there!”
“I will,” Sookie promised, and she started the long drive back home. It was tempting, being this close to Slievemore. She wanted to drive through town, past Ghoul’s Kiss, and the blue door of Goat House. She felt the need to see them, but her sense of self-preservation won out. The streets in town were narrow. Even though it was day, trouble might still find her, and it would be all too easy to hem her in, so, instead, Sookie turned right and headed down the road that would carry her back to her new home near Glenglas.
The sky hung, iron grey and threatening overhead. The occasional wind gust struck her car, forcing Sookie to compensate, a hint of what was to come. ‘Hope this holds off until I get there,’ Sookie thought. To get her mind off her troubles, Sookie thought about her house instead, running down the list of windows and doors, trying to remember if she’d latched them before she’d left.
The first raindrops hit her windshield as she turned into her driveway. Cresting the hill, Sookie saw Ian’s car parked in the former barnyard. ‘Shit!’ Sookie swore. She’d forgotten to tell the Dayman she’d left, and now he was here.
There was a rumble of thunder overhead and the swift crack of lightning. Ian stepped out from the protection of the overhang that covered the doorway of the main house, and following him was Claude. “Shit!” Sookie swore again, this time out loud.
“Hello, cousin,” Claude greeted, walking past Ian in his slow, graceful walk that reminded Sookie of a snake. “My, don’t you look…” and he gave her a slow, assessing once-over leaving her wanting to hide herself. “Different,” he finished, and Sookie’s hands itched to slap the mocking smile from Claude’s lips.
“I didn’t know you knew this guy.” Ian had walked up behind Claude. There was a hint of jealousy on the Dayman’s face and Sookie cursed internally again. She’d done everything she could think of to discourage Ian’s interest, but she could see it still wasn’t enough.
At that moment, an actual wave of rain washed across the yard and Sookie looked skyward. “This is going to start any minute,” she pointed out, and turned to grab her purse from the car. “I’ll explain inside. I left in a hurry and I’m not sure what windows I left open. Come on!”
It was easier, stepping into action. It kept her mind from insisting on replaying last night’s horror show or worrying about the one facing her here. She refused to make eye contact with either of the men as she unlocked the door. As she started to bound up the stairs she did glance. Claude was slinking through the front room and Ian was following him, practically bristling.
Once she finished the upstairs, she came back down. As she could have predicted, Claude and Ian were just standing there, eyeing each other. “I’m assuming you’ve taken the time to make introductions,” she said by way of breaking the ice.
“I just got here before you pulled in,” Ian pouted. “This guy,” and he pointed at Claude, “was here when I arrived.”
“Claude is my cousin,” Sookie explained.
For a second, Ian looked less fractious, but Claude jumped right in, “Distant cousin. One might even say, kissing cousin.”
“One might,” Sookie snapped back, “If one was a redneck whose grandpa was their own uncle!” and Sookie cuffed Claude’s shoulder as though they were old friends. “Stop making trouble, Cuz. Ian works for me as you doubtless know.”
“Slievemore is a small town,” Claude shrugged, making clear he did know, but was going to make trouble anyway.
“How come you never mentioned you were connected to Claude O’Hara?” Ian asked, using the last name all the Brigants used among humans. Ian’s suspicious look had returned and Sookie sighed, thinking of how she’d explain this. It was inevitable Ian knew the identity of the supervising manager of Slievemore’s largest hotels. It was Ian’s job to know things. What hadn’t occurred to Sookie until this moment was how well her vampire life, which included Ian, had been segregated from her Fae life, which didn’t. Ian had met Claudine and doubtless knew Niall, at least by sight, but he was right. Sookie had not made clear her relationship to any of them.
“The fact I’ve never mentioned him should tell you everything you need to know,” Sookie answered Ian before turning to her cousin. “Why are you here, Claude?”
“Grandfather sent me,” he smiled. The dark-haired Fae had started drifting through the front rooms, touching things. “Nicely done,” he complimented. “Those humans should feel welcome here,” and then turning to Ian, smirked, “You do, don’t you?”
Ian’s eyes narrowed. Sookie felt the blush rush through her. She was pretty sure this was the first time Ian was hearing the rumors about Claude might be true, and she couldn’t think of why the Fae was outing himself like this, but it left her dreadfully afraid Claude would be spilling her secrets next. “Please stop,” Sookie scolded. “There is no need to be troubling any of us with your stories and legends.”
“What? You haven’t been entirely truthful with your Galahad? You haven’t told him what we are?” Claude asked, his voice smooth as silk, but he didn’t bother to hide his amusement at Sookie’s discomfort. Turning to face Ian, he made a show of approaching. He almost glided in that graceful way that only the Fae could really accomplish. He didn’t un-masque his face, but he let enough slip that his ears were revealed and the tilt of his eyes. “Surely, you didn’t think vampires were the only fairytales who walked?”
Ian stood his ground, but when he glanced at her, Sookie could see something had changed. “I figured there might be something to the stories,” the Dayman acknowledged. “Niall O’Hara doesn’t look like anyone I went to Church with and Claudine…” and he flicked his eyes back to Claude.
“My sister,” Claude acknowledged.
“Well, she is kind of a cut above,” Ian nodded, catching up. “I guess I just didn’t think you…” He looked at Sookie, and then his eyes dropped. He looked toward the door, “I should probably go out to the car and get the papers before the rain really gets started.”
Claude barely waited for Ian to duck through the door before he said, “We could share him, Sookie. He has a beautiful ass. I’m sure you noticed. It’s your weakness, isn’t it? A well-formed ass?”
“I’m married,” Sookie said coldly.
“Not in any way that matters,” Claude teased. He ghosted closer to her. “Something’s changed with you. Something profound. What was it, Cousin? Your magic is stamped on you.” Claude picked up a tendril of her hair, twisting it between his fingers. “I find it quite appealing. When Grandfather asked me to step out here and keep an eye on you, I wasn’t keen. I’m sure you can guess why, but now, I can see this assignment might be more pleasurable than I thought.”
“In your dreams!” Sookie hissed. She was saved by Ian’s return. She stepped away from Claude, saying, “I hope you’ll both stay for lunch. I have plenty.” She tossed the barn key to Ian. “Open up for me, would you? You know your way around.”
“I do,” he replied, catching it in mid-air. Yesterday, he would have shot her a jaunty grin, but today even this show of precedence didn’t change the new look of wariness he gave her.
“Shall I stay and help you here?” Claude had used Sookie’s interaction with Ian to move close to her. His intimate whisper in her ear startled her, making Sookie jump.
“No, thank you!” Sookie snapped. “Why don’t you follow Ian? He’s going to my living quarters. You can make yourself useful by checking my windows over there.”
“Oh? And is that where I’ll find your bedroom? Claude purred. “Why don’t I start there? I’ll bet you have an interesting underwear drawer.” Claude smirked as turned. “I’d hurry if I was you. Wouldn’t want me running my fingers through your panties unsupervised.”
“Why? You planning on stealing a few pair to wear later?” Sookie called after him, wondering what her Grandfather could have been thinking to send Claude, of all people. Finding her purse, she pulled out her phone and texted Claudine.
‘Claude is charged with protecting you until we can put spells in place,’ the answer came back. ‘Don’t’ worry.’ But Sookie did worry. She didn’t trust Claude.
When she finished checking window latches and making sure the heat was turned up enough to keep pipes from freezing, Sookie ran through the now pelting rain to the barn. Ian was getting the peat fire started and Claude was standing behind him, not bothering to hide the tent in his pants.
“Stop molesting Ian,” Sookie scolded. “Did you check the windows, or did you decide ogling my Dayman was enough?”
“I checked some,” Claude pouted.
Sookie walked over to Ian and leaned forward, meaning to place a hand on his shoulder. He must have guessed her intention because he stiffened, causing Sookie to pull back. She glanced at the table where the box of papers sat. “Why don’t we go through those after lunch?” she asked, trying to make polite conversation.
“Or, we could have sex,” Claude offered. Ian did glance up, surprised, and Claude started to lean forward, trying to capture the Dayman’s eyes. Fortunately, Ian recognized the move and looked quickly away. Sookie watched as things seemed to click in place for Ian. He glanced at Claude the same way he glanced at vampires and his expression changed. His attitude toward her seemed restored as well.
“I appreciate the offer, but I’m on duty,” he informed Claude with a brief nod of his head. Looking squarely at Sookie, he asked, “Are you all right?” Sookie knew what he was asking.
“Having Claude here?” Sookie sniffed, jerking her chin toward the Fae. “I can handle him!” She didn’t hide her relief at having things feel more normal with Ian. “Thank you,” she added, meaning for more than one reason.
Standing up a little taller, Sookie managed a small smile. “Well, Claude, I think we’ve had enough harassment lessons for one day. Why don’t I get lunch started? Ian, that fire is a great idea. It’s chilly in here. Oh, and Claude? My windows! Chop, chop!” She clapped her hands for emphasis and for a minute, everything seemed under control.
There was ham in the refrigerator, so Sookie started chopping and mixing, making a ham salad for sandwiches. Outside the kitchen, she could hear the men bickering. Sookie assumed it was mere banter, but then, the voices escalated, and finally she walked back into the living area to see what was going on.
Claude had a fish in his hand and he was shaking it. When Sookie walked into the room, he turned on her. “Tell me! How long has this been going on?”
“Fish?” Sookie smirked. “I don’t know! Since the dawn of time?”
“You bitch!” Claude screamed. He was on her in a minute, his hand closing around her throat. “How long?” he raged.
Ian was behind him, trying to pull his hands from her, but Sookie was sure no human would be able to stop Claude. For the second time in as many days, Sookie found herself facing death and for the second time, she felt her power gathering within her. She didn’t need her Father to tell her what to do. There were bursts of light behind her eyes, the result of air deprivation, but Sookie didn’t feel panic. Instead, she felt a deep, comforting certainty. The light was forming above her. It was almost there.
“Stop this!” Claude’s hands released her.
‘Niall,’ Sookie thought. As if from another world, she heard her Grandfather ordering Claude from his sight. Ian had her hand and he was calling to her. His face was above her, and then Ian was replaced by her Grandfather.
“Come now,” Niall Brigant soothed. “Put away your pretty toys and come sit with me.” He turned, ordering Ian to make tea. After a minute he leaned closer, “I know you don’t want to, but you must order it away.”
Sookie looked past Grandfather. Her pillar of light was rotating slowly up against the ceiling. “Sure,” she stammered, “Of course.”
She let it dissipate, thread by thread, but somewhere deep inside, she didn’t feel relief. Instead, she felt disappointment.