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 walked toward Tania’s office, her head held high. Eric had warned her. Without some pressing reason, Sookie was obligated to accept the New England Queen’s offer to rest in her ‘Palace.’ Sookie wanted to stay in a vampire-friendly hotel closer to Rick’s college, but with the title of Queen came another set of rules and obligations.
Tania’s Palace was located in the Beacon Hill area of Boston. From the outside it looked like all the other townhouses around it, although once inside you realized it was several townhouses tied together.
Sookie had to hand it to Tania. Every place you rested your eyes whispered elegance. From the unassuming front door to the understated tones and furnishings, every embellishment was both tasteful and rich. The Palace in New Orleans had its luxuries but compared to this place, it seemed garish. Part of the difference could be blamed on ‘improvements’ made by Felipe de Castro and his succession of Lieutenants. There were rooms in NOLA that made you believe you were in some cheap nightclub. De Castro had favored reds and lots of gold leaf.
The walls in Tania’s Palace were painted or covered in muted colors. The lighting had been placed just so, giving every surface a warm feel. Furniture was a mix of antique and modern, but nothing felt forced. Carpets, couches, pillows, throws, all combined to create perfect settings, and those settings were meant to showcase one jewel: Queen Tania.
As Sookie approached the door, a vampire stepped out from around the corner. He was a guard, but he looked more like a servant. He wore a suit and every effort was made to make him look more accidental instead of what he was, a tough lurking just out of eyesight. “I trust you rested well,” he greeted as he bowed.
“I did,” Sookie replied. “I was hoping to see the Queen before I go out this evening. Is this a convenient time?”
“She is expecting you,” the guard answered.
‘I bet she is,’ Sookie thought. Eric told her that even though she was a guest she would be monitored. Sookie couldn’t help it. She’d taken her time that first night trying to figure out where the spying devices were hidden. She hadn’t found them, but she wasn’t fooled. Tania didn’t try to hide it either. There were things the Queen asked or observations she made that let Sookie know how closely she was watched.
The door opened and Sookie stepped into another beautiful room. Tania was seated at a desk with gracefully curved legs and she rose when Sookie entered, heading for a pair of armchairs. “Please,” she said, gesturing toward the chair nearest her. “How was your rest?”
“I thank you again for your hospitality,” and Sookie bowed her head. “My room is just beautiful.”
“And the donors?” Tania asked. “Are they not to your liking?”
Unlike New Orleans, donors here were sent to your room. Sookie’s preference had been asked before she arrived, and each evening a woman matching Sookie’s preferred blood type knocked at her door. “You have done everything to make me feel welcome. I am grateful. I hope Eric and I have the opportunity to return the favor soon. New Orleans is a lovely city and I think you would find it as welcoming as Boston.”
“You are sure about the donors?” Tania pressed. “I can have them changed if you truly prefer another type.”
Sookie smiled as naturally as she could. It was obvious the donors expected sex. Sookie rose later than most, but it hadn’t taken long to figure out the reason donors came to individual chambers was because this was part of the plan. By choosing women, the temptation was lessened, but Sookie still fed quickly and then sent the women away so she could relieve her tension herself. “I guess I’m old-fashioned,” and Sookie looked directly at Tania. “I have only one true type and he’s not here.”
“I heard that about you,” Tania answered, staring back in an equally direct way. It was hard not to be intimidated by the New England Queen. She was pure elegance. Her cheekbones were high and her ice-blue eyes tilted slightly. She wore her white-blond hair in an elegant French twist and her suits would have made Pam swoon. Sookie was pretty sure the Queen’s back never hit the back of a chair, sitting so high she looked every inch royalty. “So rare, the combination of duty and love. How… romantic.”
Sookie smiled a little wider. “I think so.” When Sookie was younger, Gran gave her etiquette lessons. Girls in Bon Temps held cotillions and tea parties, so knowing how to present oneself was crucial. Of course, no one invited Crazy Sookie, but now, all these years later, Sookie found herself dusting off those lessons. Sookie sat forward in her chair, ankles crossed and hands discretely folded. She knew the woman across from her would see nothing to criticize.
Tania’s eyes narrowed, “And how is your progeny? Has he settled in for the coming semester?”
Rick’s room at Harvard flicked through Sookie’s thoughts. It was different than she’d imagined, but not unpleasant. The other students on his hallway made of point of presenting themselves. Rick introduced her, but she could tell he’d wanted to bustle her as quickly as possible. In fact, he’d been so brusque she’d asked him if anything was wrong. “He’s happy to be back,” Sookie said smoothly. “Of course, I’ll be seeing him again tonight. We’re visiting my friend, Fran Miller.”
“The witch,” Tania nodded. “Of course. Thank you for letting me know.”
Tania smiled placidly and Sookie felt her teeth grind. It was all so polite. Informing was precisely why Sookie was sitting across from her fellow Queen. They might pretend it was friendly, but it wasn’t. Sookie was on a tight leash. Tania would supply the car that would take Sookie to Fran’s tonight, and the car that would return her to the Palace later. It was possible Tania would place a watcher on Fran’s sidewalk, just to make sure Sookie stayed where she’d been put. Sookie knew Eric made payments to this Queen, assuring their son’s security, and Sookie knew the payments weren’t just money.
“Fran is getting older,” Sookie answered, “but anyone who underestimates her would be sorry. She’s sharp as a tack.”
“There was a time when vampires from all over the world petitioned for her services. Of course, I was honored she chose to live in my kingdom. I would never call Fran Miller my vassal. She was, and remains, my most favored guest. Still…” and Tania picked at a nonexistent piece of lint. Sookie stayed silent, sitting primly. She knew Tania was waiting for her to ask, but when she didn’t, the New England Queen sighed, “Still, her magic is not what is was. The wards around her house are weaker. You should let her know. She may still have enemies in this world.”
“Thank you,” Sookie answered sincerely. “It was kind of you to let me know. I will pass it along.”
Sookie watched the Queen’s eyes narrow even as her lips tilted upward, “So, I may consider it a favor between us?” Sookie found it hard not to growl in frustration. Eric warned her, then she’d stepped right into the trap anyway. All she’d had to do was remain silent, but instead she’d acknowledged the information by thanking the Queen, so now an obligation existed.
“Yes,” Sookie answered, her chest clenching as she wondered what boon the Queen would request.
Tania relaxed a fraction before purring, “Well, since you owe me a courtesy, perhaps you would satisfy a small curiosity I’ve been carrying.”
Sookie’s mind raced through the lessons she’d received since demanding her place as Queen. Eric was her primary teacher, but Thalia and Pam talked tactics as well. ‘Patience,’ she decided. She could almost hear Eric’s voice as he lectured her. ‘Never speak first. The one who talks first reveals their purpose. Wait, and when they speak you will know what it is they wish, and you may frame your answer,’ and so, Sookie waited. The silence stretched and finally Tania sighed, a sign Sookie took as the Queen’s acknowledging defeat. “What do you know of my background?” she asked.
“You mean your time before becoming vampire?” Sookie clarified, and when the Queen nodded, Sookie answered, “Not much. I understand how deeply personal the story of one’s turning may be. It isn’t the type of tale I enjoy sharing.” Sookie mentally kicked herself. She’d shared another personal fact, which meant in the game of vampire secrets, she wasn’t doing well. Fortunately, Tania didn’t seem interested in pressing her advantage.
“My tale is similar,” Tania nodded. “One’s turning is rarely a joyous event. No, I was thinking of who I was, or more specifically, what I was before I was turned.” To Sookie it looked as though her hostess was reaching back through time and Sookie heard a slight accent creep into the Queen’s speech. “I grew up in Russia, what is now Crimea. My family wasn’t royalty, but we were related through marriage and alliance to the Imperial house.”
Sookie felt a cold finger creep down her back, but she held herself still as she asked, “What is it you think I could tell you?”
“I want you to tell me of the Tsarevich,” Tania replied. “Your Mate’s Sire turned him. I’m told Appius brought Alexei here to America, or more specifically, to see you and the Viking in Louisiana.” Tania’s eyes glittered, and Sookie felt danger crowding all around her when the Queen said, “And it is said you killed him, Sookie Stackhouse. How did that come to be?”
“It wasn’t me,” Sookie replied. For an instant, Sookie could see it all over again, that terrible night. She remembered the blood splatter on the walls in Eric’s house and the bodies. She remembered the sick feeling in her stomach as she felt Eric’s despair and pain. The Russian Prince wasn’t there at the time, but every bit of the nightmare Sookie found had been Alexei’s work.
“If it wasn’t you, I would consider your favor repaid if you told me who did,” and Tania leaned forward ever so slightly.
Telling the truth, that Eric had killed Alexei, wasn’t an option, so Sookie started talking, hoping she could weave an alternate truth that would satisfy the Queen. She started with how she first met Alexei. She described his appearance with Appius, and his haunted look. “He told me his story,” she told Tania. “It just about broke my heart, but I could tell it had done something terrible to him. Or maybe, it was how Alexei was turned, but by the time I saw him, he just wasn’t right. It’s why Appius brought him to us. He hoped being near Eric would help… settle him.”
“Settle him?” Tania asked.
“Alexei called it doing ‘regrettable’ things, but it really came down to killing. He liked killing. He was unstable, troubled. He couldn’t be trusted to be left alone. Even Appius was afraid of him.”
“He was royalty,” Tania sniffed. “Someone like Appius couldn’t hope to contain his spirit! No wonder he acted out!”
“Appius told me he had bonded with Alexei before his turning,” Sookie recounted. “It’s how Appius tracked him, how he found him before he was fully dead.”
That surprised Tania. “How was that possible? The family never would have allowed a creature like Appius Livius Ocella to get close.”
“It was his blood,” Sookie explained. “The monk, Rasputin, was using vampire blood to treat Alexei’s hemophilia. Maybe Appius used glamour to get closer but he told me the tie was already there.” Sookie shrugged, “He said he hated the Bolsheviks because they were hunting vampires. I think he wanted to use Alexei as a weapon against them.”
“As if anyone would accept a vampire as ruler of humans!” Tania scoffed. Her eyes glittered again, “And as interesting as this tale is, you seem reluctant to tell how the Prince fell.”
Sookie nodded, arranging her thoughts. It had been Eric who staked his brother that night, but Sookie could see telling that truth might prove fatal. Steadying herself, she launched into a slightly different version. “Appius and Alexei had been staying with Eric at his house. I knew Eric didn’t trust Alexei either, so he asked me to stay at my house, but that last night I knew something was wrong. I drove to Eric’s. I could feel his despair through our bond,” Sookie recounted. “The doors to his house were open, so I knew something was wrong. There was blood everywhere. Pam, Eric’s progeny, she was hurt badly. Eric was, too. I was helping him push his ribs back in place when I got a phone call. I hadn’t realized Appius and Alexei were missing until I spoke with my sister-in-law, Michele. Alexei was at her house. He couldn’t get in. She knew enough not to invite him in, but he was circling, waiting for a chance to kill her and my brother, too.”
“Why would he want to do that?” Tania asked.
“Because he hated me,” Sookie said the truth she believed. “He said feeling Eric’s love for me made him feel better, but I don’t think so. I think it reminded him of everything he’d lost and it made him worse.”
Sookie could see Felicia and Bobby Burnham’s broken bodies as they laid on Eric’s floor. “Alexei had already killed Eric’s Dayman and another vampire that night, but he still wasn’t satisfied, he wanted more. I had Michele tell Alexei I was at my house. I figured I was his real target, anyway. He wanted to hurt Eric, and the best way to do it was by killing me.”
“And did you go to your house?” Tania asked.
“I did, me and Eric, but we weren’t the only ones. My cousin, Claude, and another Fairy were there. I think Appius had tried to drag Alexei away, but Alexei wasn’t having it. He’d broken Appius’ back and he was circling the Fae when we arrived.”
“The smell of Fae must have been overpowering,” Tania mused.
“That wasn’t it,” Sookie protested. “The Fae knew about Eric. They’d shielded their scent,” Sookie shrugged. “No, for Alexei, it was just having more creatures to kill. We tried to make him come away, but Alexei wouldn’t listen.”
”Still, there’s something about this I don’t understand,” and Tania’s head cocked to the side. “Why were there Fae at your house? Surely, being bonded to a vampire, their being so close was dangerous for them. Why would they be there without giving you proper warning?”
“They were there to kill me,” Sookie confessed.
“You?” and Tania’s eyes narrowed. “But, you are part Fae. You said one of them, Claude, was your cousin. Surely, you don’t expect me to believe this whole thing was a coincidence! You had a reputation as a vampire killer. Appius was taking away your Mate. Why wouldn’t you lure the Prince to his final death?”
“I wanted them dead,” Sookie confessed, “Both of them, but I didn’t kill them.” Sookie braced herself. She saw it all too clearly, how she’d distracted Alexei so Eric could stake him, but that wasn’t the story she needed to tell. “If you’ve heard about Appius you’ve also heard I was kidnapped by Neave and Lochlan.” Sookie felt a little sick, knowing this was part of what Supernaturals thought of when they heard or thought of her.
“They were legend,” Tania acknowledged.
“Among certain folks, yeah, I guess they were,” Sookie said tightly. “So, you probably also know Eric helped kill them.”
“The Viking was rash. His actions could have resulted in a war,” Tania replied. “It would have been disastrous for all of us. He was foolish.”
“I don’t think so,” Sookie snipped. The Queen opposite her chuckled, and Sookie had to clench her hands to keep from slapping her. “Anyway, one of the Fae who died the night of my rescue was my cousin, Claudine. She was pregnant, and you know how rare that is. Claude was her brother and the other Faery who was at my house that night was Colman. He was Claudine’s husband and he blamed me for her death. I think they both did. They knew I’d been doing work for the Weres and they knew Appius and Alexei were keeping Eric busy. They figured I’d be coming home alone. It really was just dumb luck.”
“So, he walked into a trap,” Tania said softly.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Sookie snorted. “When we got there, Alexei was circling the Fae. They were fighting for their lives. He was so fast!”
“He was trained by the best,” Tania sniffed. Sookie managed to hold her tongue. Alexei was only fourteen and had been sickly before he was turned. The chances he’d received any real military training were slim to none. Based on what Eric told her, it was more likely Appius taught the Tsarevich everything he knew.
“Yeah, he was giving as good as he got,” Sookie said instead.
“So, what were you doing while my Prince fought for his life?” the Queen asked.
“Trying to fight the bond enough to kill Appius,” Sookie answered truthfully.
That seemed to amuse Tania. “You didn’t like your Mate’s Maker?”
“Not one little bit,” Sookie answered tartly.
“Neither did I,” Tania agreed, and then she sat back. “At least he died fighting.” Sookie fought to keep her expression neutral. It seemed the Queen had drawn her own conclusions, saving Sookie from telling a bigger lie. “The hour grows late. I’m sure you wish to be on your way, and I have other matters that demand my attention. If you return too close to dawn, my driver will make sure they unlock the doors for you.”
“Thank you,” Sookie replied, “You are most kind.”
Tania gave her slight head bow. “I will see you tomorrow evening before you return to your kingdom. I hope you will inform your Mate of the courtesies I’ve extended.”
“I will do as you say,” Sookie answered, happy she’d avoided thanking the vampire and giving her another opportunity to claim a favor. Tania’s slight smile let Sookie know she was right and in another instant, the elegant Queen glided across the room and out the door. Sookie couldn’t feel anything but relief.
The black sedan waited on the street to take her to Back Bay. As they drove, Sookie stared at the passing storefronts, her mind replaying that night so long ago. She remembered Alexei dodging and weaving and the flash of long knives. She remembered Appius hissing that she would never have Eric. She hadn’t known what he meant then, but soon enough she would. The contract with Oklahoma would be revealed and the nightmare would begin.
‘Not nightmare,’ she corrected herself. ‘Journey.’ Sookie glanced at the ruby glittering on her finger. ‘Blood red ruby,’ she reflected. When he’d placed it on her finger, Eric said, ‘to remind you we are joined by more than blood.’ Just ahead, Fran’s brownstone came into view. A lifetime ago, Sookie pulled around the back of this house in her beat-up car, pregnant, alone, and frightened. “And look where you are now,” Sookie whispered to herself.
The walk between the houses was the same and the lights in the small garden were the same, too. The glass wall that separated Fran’s kitchen from the garden let Sookie see her friend waiting at the table. She didn’t bother hiding her vamp speed, aching to step into the frail cage of Fran’s arms. “I missed you,” she told the witch.
“I don’t know why they say vampires don’t change. You look younger and prettier. It’s not fair,” Fran carped. “Course, if I was nailing that Viking every night it would put some pep in my step, too.”
Just hearing his name had Sookie reaching through their bond. Eric wasn’t exactly there. They were too far apart, but Sookie swore she sensed his being, and she was pretty sure if something bad happened to him, she’d sense that, too. “Is Rick here yet?” she asked.
“Not yet,” Fran answered. “He stopped by earlier to pay his respects but said he needed to head back out to pick Brigid up at the airport.”
“So,” and Sookie busied herself putting tea water on, “I suppose he’s bringing her?”
“You don’t fool me, Miss Nosey!” Fran laughed. “He hasn’t said much about her, has he?” When Sookie didn’t say anything, Fran laughed again, “You are the worst actor ever! You want me to give you all the gossip about that girl but you’re too proud to ask!”
Sookie sighed, “I do. I’ve asked Rick, but he just dodges me. I keep wondering if it’s because he isn’t serious about her or if it’s me. I can’t think of what I’ve done to make him angry, but he seems hell bent on punishing me these days.”
“I don’t think it has anything to do with punishment,’ Fran tutted. “I think the reason Rick isn’t telling you about her is because he’s afraid you won’t like her. She’s that important to him, Sookie.” Fran answered. “I think our boy has found his one.”
“Well, that’s not likely!” and Sookie brought the teapot to the table. “There’s going to be a lot of ‘ones’ for Rick, but I guess this Brigid is his first one.”
”You’ll see,” Fran answered. “They’re happy, two peas in a pod.” Fran reached for a small bowl, adding dried pot leaves to the steeping tea.
“But, Rick’s too young,” Sookie laughed. “It’s first love, puppy love.”
“Puppy love is for elementary school,” Fran pushed back. “Our Ricky waited, and Brigid? She’s just as smitten as he is.” Fran poured her tea, sniffed and sipped. “They’re both young people who grew up fast because they were on their own so much. I’ll grant you, there’s some ways they play at being adults, but when it comes to their emotions, they seem mostly grown up to me.”
Sookie felt a strange twisting in her chest. “I’m sure you’re wrong.” Sookie sat back, “I’ve asked him about her. I asked about his bringing her to New Orleans, and he doesn’t plan on it!” Sookie picked at the tablecloth, “Does that sound serious? Or is it me? So much has happened. Maybe… maybe Rick has given up on me.”
Fran gave Sookie that arch look she knew so well. It was usually followed by some caustic remark, but then her friend seemed to think better of it. Her face smoothed and she answered, “Now, you know that’s not true. There’s no way Rick would give up on you. You’re his Mother! It’s just his age. They all think they know everything at this age. He’ll grow out of being such a pain in the ass and one day you’ll wake up to find out he thinks you’re smart again.”
“That’s isn’t what you were about to say,” Sookie challenged.
“No, it isn’t, but it’s what I meant.” Fran sipped again. “Besides, you know he loves you. You wouldn’t drive him so crazy if he didn’t.”
“Well, he has a heck of way of letting me know,” Sookie shrugged. She looked around the kitchen. “I remember us having talks in Chester, sitting at that kitchen table, just the two of us. We’d talk and talk, about all kinds of things. Now, I’m lucky to get two words. ‘Fine,’ I hear ‘fine’ a lot.” Sookie stared into the darkened yard again. “He’s thinking about dropping out of school. Did he tell you that? Do you think it’s because of her?”
Fran’s mouth tightened, “Maybe,” she answered, “in a way. I got the impression over Thanksgiving that neither one of them were doing too well academically.”
“Rick told me his grades weren’t good. He told me that’s why he stayed here for Thanksgiving.” Sookie felt foolish. She had so easily fallen for her son’s explanation. She could tell Fran thought she was foolish, too, and it made her words come out a little harsher than she meant. “Do you think they’re just spending all their time…”
“Fucking?” Fran laughed. “Of course! They’re young, healthy people. Lora told me she wiped ass prints off the table in the library upstairs. Course, they think they’re all kinds of slick, but nothing hides that stupid look men get when they’re getting some!”
“I don’t think that’s funny!” Sookie exclaimed, but immediately calmed down, seeing Fran’s expression. “I don’t know why I’m having such a hard time with this,” Sookie huffed. “I just can’t think of my baby…”
“Making babies?” but this time Fran hid her grin behind her teacup when Sookie’s mouth dropped. She waited while Sookie fussed before reaching over to pat Sookie’s hand. “Don’t worry, Sweet Cheeks. I’m sure our boy’s being safe. Lora found condom wrappers.”
Sookie couldn’t help it. “Not helping!” came out more like a long, low growl.
It just made Fran laugh harder. “No help for it, Sookie! Our Ricky’s a grown man in the pecker department. You are going to have to accept that he’s going to make his own sorry mistakes, but I’ll tell you this about Brigid. I don’t think she’s one of them. She’s a bright, capable young woman. Our Rick could have done a lot worse.”
“Easy for you to say!” Sookie fumed. “You’re telling me she’s a good choice, but at the same time you’re telling me she’s one of the reasons he’s flunking out of school,” and Sookie could feel her temper sparking. “He’s only nineteen! He has his whole life ahead of him. There will be plenty of these…”
“Brigid,” Fran added, not bothering to hide her amusement. “And, no, I don’t think there will be plenty of girls like her. I told you. I think she’s it.”
“Well, I’ll just bring him home!” Sookie found herself saying. “He doesn’t have to go to school here! There are plenty of good schools closer to home…”
And Fran began to shake. It started as a trembling that Sookie worried was a seizure, but when she rose to help her friend, the witch held out her hand. Fran’s mouth opened and a hoot escaped. She grabbed her napkin, held it up to her eyes, and gave in. She laughed until she ran out of breath, and then she started to cough. “I don’t think this is funny,” Sookie snarled.
“You wouldn’t,” Fran gasped, wiping her streaming eyes. It took a few more minutes but Fran settled. Sookie couldn’t help it. She was fuming and her friend laughing made it worse. Fran reached over and patted her hand. “Now, now. You have a bright, wonderful son. He has every gift in the world and one big problem.” Sookie was about to snarl, ‘Brigid’, but Fran beat her to it. “He’s exactly like you!”
It wasn’t what Sookie expected, and she sat back in her chair. “He’s not!” she protested. “If anything, he’s like Eric, or at least the parts of Eric that drive me crazy. He’s headstrong and high-handed. No one can tell him…”
“Anything,” Fran finished Sookie’s sentence. “Did it ever occur to you the things that drive you craziest about Eric Northman are the same faults you see in yourself?” That brought Sookie up short. Fran nodded, “You know I’m right. And our boy? He has all those traits in spades. He’s independent and headstrong. His pride writes tickets his body has to cash.”
“I was never like this, though. I valued education,” Sookie protested.
“I’m sure you would have if you’d had the chance,” Fran countered, “but it wasn’t some proper Southern Belle who took off from her family, driving over a thousand miles, and ending up on my doorstep.”
Sookie’s mouth fell open. Those days seemed so long away, a lifetime. She suddenly recalled that she’d been only a few years older than Rick was now, and it brought her up short. “Things were different,” she said quietly. “You’re right. I didn’t have all Rick’s advantages. I grew up alone and it made me grow up fast. I had to worry about bills, and my Gran died…”
“And Rick had to learn about living on his own at boarding school, and his Mom died, although she didn’t really go anywhere,” Fran said in her wise way. “Instead, she started a new life that included a vampire Rick didn’t really know in a place far away from where he called home.”
Sookie found herself staring at her hands, “I’m a terrible mother. I never should have…”
“You did exactly what you needed to do,” Fran interrupted. “You did what you thought was best for Rick and I don’t think you’d hear Rick say any different.” Fran tapped the table with her finger until Sookie met her eyes, “Don’t you wish parenting came with a book?”
“More a crystal ball,” Sookie sighed, and then they were smiling together. After a minute, Sookie asked the question that had been rolling around in the back of her head since Rick said it. “Do you think I keep Eric from being Rick’s Father?”
Fran seemed to consider the question before asking, “What makes you say that?”
“Rick thinks it,” Sookie answered. “He says that I…” and Sookie sniffed. “I do contradict some of the things Eric says when it comes to Rick.”
“Why would you do that, Sookie?” Fran asked. “He’s the boy’s Father. He’s shown real interest, which is more than I’d have given him credit for.” When Sookie looked surprised, Fran shrugged, “He’s what? Over a thousand years old? Eric Northman didn’t choose Rick. He chose his other progeny and he hasn’t shown any interest in making more in… What? How old is Pam, anyway?”
“Several hundred years,” Sookie answered, “It’s just that Rick’s different. I mean when Eric had children it was another age.” Fran raised her eyebrows, so Sookie explained, “He was living in some village! We don’t hunt and raid anymore. Eric seems to see himself when he sees Rick.” Fran snorted. She didn’t have to say it. Anyone would see Eric when they looked at Rick. The only part of Rick’s face that was Sookie’s were his eyes. “You know what I mean,” Sookie scolded. “I just think…”
“You think you know best,” Fran said knowingly. “You got used to being the only voice of authority in that boy’s life and you aren’t making room for his Father.” Sookie couldn’t say anything. She could hear the ring of truth in the witch’s words. “You’re not unique,” Fran soothed. “Lots of single moms re-marry and they have to make decisions about how far they’ll let their new husbands into their children’s lives.”
“But Eric isn’t Rick’s step-father, he’s Rick’s real Father,” Sookie pointed out.
“So what?” Fran asked. “You still grew up together, just the two of you. If you really mean to let Rick know what it’s like to have a Father, you’re going to have to let Eric in.” Sookie nodded, but Fran wasn’t finished. “Know this, little girl. The Viking will make mistakes. He doesn’t know any more about parenting than you do, and to hear you tell it, even less. If you step back in after opening that door, it’ll be worse than if you’d never let him try in the first place.”
What Fran said had the ring of truth about it, and Sookie thought she could see how difficult this would be. “What made you so smart?” Sookie asked.
“Life,” Fran answered, and lifting her weed-laced cup added, “and the judicious use of narcotics.”
“So,” Sookie sighed, “What do you really know about this Brigid?” That’s when Sookie heard her son’s voice. She looked through the wall of glass to see Rick step into the garden with a young woman. Their hands were clasped. She was almost as tall as Rick and her hair was pulled back in a braid. She was looking at Fran’s pot plants and then she said something to Rick. They laughed together, then Rick pulled her toward him and kissed her. Sookie felt her chest contract and a low growl rumbled through her.
“Enough of that!” and Fran slapped Sookie’s hand. “Behave yourself or I’ll make you go upstairs!”
Sookie pulled herself together as she rose. Moving around the table, she stood beside Fran. “I’m good,” she whispered. “It’s fine.”
“He’ll always be yours,” Fran whispered, patting her hand.
Sookie noticed that when they stepped in, it was Rick who came first. He had the woman by the hand, but was making sure he was between them. “Mom,” he said in greeting, “This is Brigid.” Sookie couldn’t miss how her son’s face softened when he turned to the woman, saying, “Brigid, this is my Mom.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Northman,” Brigid replied. Her voice was pleasant. Sookie had heard she could sing, not professionally, but well enough for Town dances. Brigid held out her hand, but Sookie found herself bowing instead. She could see Rick’s eyes narrow, but she couldn’t help it. She didn’t want to feel the warmth of this young person or let her feel the coldness of her own flesh.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Brigid,” Sookie said as politely as she could. “Rick tells me you spent Christmas in Italy.” The girl was watching Sookie with eyes that seemed too old for her face. She reminded Sookie of someone, although she couldn’t think whom, and it started to make her nervous. “Why don’t we sit down?” she suggested, but when she waved toward the chairs, her hand moved at vampire speed. The girl’s eyes flared while Sookie did her best to recover. “I was just making tea for Fran. Perhaps you’d like some, too?”
“That would be nice,” Brigid replied, then biting her lip, started to move past Sookie toward the kitchen.
“No, let me!” Sookie said a little more forcefully than she meant.
“It’s okay,” Brigid said with a quick smile, “I know where things are.” She glanced at Rick “Why don’t the two of you visit?” Sookie couldn’t help it. She felt a stab of jealousy.
Sookie felt the words forming that would tell this girl exactly what she thought when Rick laid his hand on her arm. “You look good, Mom. Things aren’t too tough at Vampire Central – Boston Division?”
“Haven’t seen Tania in ages,” Fran added. She glanced over her shoulder to call, “No more for me, Brigid. Just fill up the kettle for the two of you. Oh, and can you pull a bottle of TruBlood from the fridge? I think Sookie could use a little pick-me-up.”
Sookie felt completely managed and it wasn’t making things easier. “Please, Mom,” Rick insisted. He’d moved closer so their arms were touching, and, as always, being in contact with him made her feel better.
Fran winked at Sookie, before she started talking, “Well, Brigid, if you’re not too tired, I’d love to hear what you saw over there. Italy is one of those places I always meant to see, but I just never got around to it. France? England? Sure, but Italy?” She gestured toward her chair, “And now, I don’t think that’s in the cards, so I’ll have to satisfy myself by enjoying the experiences of young people, like you.”
“If you really want to go, I’ll take you,” Rick volunteered. He was leaning against Sookie, making sure they were touching elbow to shoulder.
“I’ve done all the traveling I want to do,” Fran answered. She fastened her dark eyes on Sookie’s, “Nope, my interests these days are more local. It’s personal journeys that interest me. Seeing Rick grow. Visiting with friends. Watching the paths your lives take.”
“You make yourself sound like a bystander,” Brigid said from the stove.
“Do I?” Fran asked. “Well, I’m old. I’ve seen a lot. When you get to where I am, you start to see the past so clearly, and it feels comfortable. Not like the future. The future is tricky, all those unknowns. It makes me tired.”
“Not so tired you don’t interfere whenever you want,” Rick teased.
“Well,” and Fran laughed, “you’re right. There is meddling. Meddling is fun,” and the witch grinned at Sookie, “Right? You still like to meddle, Your Majesty.” Fran glanced back toward Brigid, “You wouldn’t believe it, looking at this elegant woman sitting over here, but once upon a time she looked a lot like you, except less promising. You know, she threw up right in back of my garage! Broad daylight, too. Couldn’t face my neighbors for weeks!”
“You don’t socialize with your neighbors so it wasn’t any hardship,” Sookie teased back. “Besides, I was pregnant.”
“You sure were,” Fran agreed. The witch leaned toward Rick. “Your Mom looked like something the cat dragged in and she smelled like shit, but that didn’t stop her! That Southern pride of hers was like a ramrod up her ass and as desperate as she was, she let me know she wasn’t taking any hand-outs,” and Fran’s smile softened. “I could see right away your Mom was a survivor and a woman of character.”
“Like her son,” Brigid said softly. She set a pot of tea next to Rick before pulling the bottle of TruBlood from the microwave. She capped and shook it as if she’d been doing it all her life, then brought it to the table with a glass. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said to Sookie.
Brigid didn’t hold eye contact long. ‘Good, let her be nervous!’ a small, dark voice whispered in Sookie’s head, but another voice, a stronger one, chided Sookie, reminding her that this tall woman with the slightly crooked teeth was someone Rick cared about. “Thank you,” Sookie managed.
“So, where did you go?” Fran asked Brigid, and Sookie sat back, glass in hand, determined to try and like Brigid Meaney.
The ‘vacation’ Brigid described sounded more like a disaster than Christmas vacation. Brigid confirmed she’d been the only young person there. She didn’t know her traveling companion or the guides who took her through the ruins before she met them at the small pensione where she was staying. When Fran asked how she’d known where to go, Brigid just shrugged. “That’s how these things work. I get the plane ticket and my itinerary and they have a driver with a sign waiting for me at the airport.”
“But, don’t you have someone you normally see? A particular tutor?” Fran asked.
“When I was younger,” Brigid answered. “I was too young to travel on my own, so there was a woman, Anna, who would come to boarding school to collect me.”
“Are you still in touch with her?” Rick asked.
“No,” and Brigid shook her head. “She was pretty old when I met her. She passed a couple years ago.”
“And who was with you this time?” Fran asked.
“Philomena,” Brigid said brightly. “Not much English, but that’s the point. MaMere likes the idea of her family being multi-lingual.”
“Did you speak much Italian before this trip?” Sookie asked. She couldn’t help herself. Every instinct was telling her this woman was infringing on what was hers, but she couldn’t help being drawn in at the same time.
“Not a lot.” Brigid’s smile was almost too bright. “But I’m better now. I like to eat so learning how to ask for things came pretty quick.”
“It would have been better to send you South,” Rick snipped.
“I’ll grant you, the weather could have been better,” and Brigid launched into a story involving wet boots, soggy sweaters, and a room that sounded more like a concrete prison cell than a hotel. “I ended up putting my underwear under my pillow just to warm it up!” she laughed. Sookie had to admit it, Brigid had a deft way with a story. When you peeled back what she was saying, the experience sounded horrific, but somehow Brigid made it sound like some light-hearted romp. By the end of her tale, they were all laughing and Sookie found herself admiring Brigid Meaney just a little.
“So, I’m assuming you stopped by school and dropped your things off first?” Fran asked as they started to clean up.
“We did,” Brigid confirmed. “My dorm won’t open for a couple more days, so we’re staying at Harvard.”
“Brigid’s school is just down the street from here,” Fran explained to Sookie, but Sookie didn’t really hear her. Her mind had stuck on the idea of her son and Brigid living together in Rick’s small dorm room.
“What happened to working on your grades?” Sookie hadn’t meant to say it out loud, and really hadn’t meant it to come out the way it did. Fran’s eyes narrowed, and Rick’s met hers before sliding left, a sure sign he wasn’t feeling comfortable.
“Under the circumstances, why don’t you both consider staying here? You’d have the run of the place for a few days and it would be a lot more comfortable, at least until Brigid’s school opens,” Fran said. “Besides, you know how selfish I am. I’d love having the company.” While the words were meant for Rick and Brigid, Fran’s eyes never left Sookie.
“What does your family have to say about all of this?” Sookie asked, stumbling even further into the hole she was digging.
“You mean…” and Brigid glanced toward Rick and then seemed to make up her mind. “If you’re asking about my seeing your son, I wouldn’t know,” and Brigid shrugged. “We don’t really talk. I’m guessing I’ll hear from MaMere soon, though.” She glanced at Rick, “It’s the beginning of another semester. I usually get a message at the start of term; what’s expected of me, familial duty, that kind of thing.”
“Elizabeth Crane was always a tough woman,” Fran volunteered. “She used to scare some of the administrators at Wellesley. She might even be able to give you a run for your money, Sookie,” and Fran nudged Sookie, forcing her to turn her laser gaze away from the young woman sitting the other side of her son.
“From what Brigid says, she sounds like a regular Dragon,” Rick laughed, “but you can’t convince me she’d ever scared you, Aunt Fran. You’re Teflon when it comes to those types!”
“I respect her,” Fran answered. “It would be a fool who didn’t.” Fran patted Brigid’s arm, “Your Grandmother is a force of nature, Brigid. I suspect that’s where you get it.”
“’Force of nature is not what my Da used to call her,” Brigid sassed before glancing in Sookie’s direction. Her face sobered and she said, “But of course, I’m grateful. She’s given me everything I have and that’s been more than most.”
‘Everything except love,’ a voice that sounded a little like Gran whispered inside Sookie’s head. There were other voices, louder and more vampire, but Sookie tried to ignore them. “I hear you play music,” she said instead.
“She’s amazing,” Rick grinned. “She can give Peter a run for his money!”
“I’m not that good,” and Brigid blushed. Sookie had to admit, she looked charming.
“I can’t remember the last time folks in Chester gave anyone a standing ‘O’, but they were on their feet for you!” Rick gushed. His eyes were glowing.
“Us,” Brigid gently corrected. Her eyes were glowing, too. Sookie wondered if this feeling, that she and Fran were just bystanders to something special, was how people felt when they saw her with Eric.
It took her a moment to dial back her possessiveness, but she found the words. “Karin told me about the two of you. Sarah, Peter’s Mom, mentioned it, too.” It was enough to break Brigid and Rick’s focus on each other.
Brigid smiled politely, getting up to take her cup to the sink. That’s when Sookie noticed it. Brigid smelled like her son. Sookie looked more closely and saw the telltale signs. Brigid was a little pale and Rick’s smile was too broad. The warm feelings that had been developing evaporated and Sookie felt her control starting to slip. Sure, she’d done the same thing when she was this age, but this wasn’t her. This was her son, and Sookie took another deep breath, inhaling the scent.
Indignation kicked in. When Sookie was dating, she’d brought boyfriends home to meet her Gran before things went too far. It was the only polite thing to do. Even Bill Compton had met Gran before her relationship progressed beyond hand-holding. ‘It’s because you’re vampire,’ her insecurities purred.
Sookie’s emotions were a snarl. On the one hand, she was happy her son was here, free from the world she was slowly learning, but there were still some things that shouldn’t change, like manners. As soon as he realized this girl was important, Rick should have brought Brigid home to meet his family. That’s when she remembered Rick had brought Brigid here to meet Fran first, and for one terrible moment, Sookie found herself resenting the witch’s role in her son’s life. “I’m surprised this is the first time we’re meeting,” Sookie told Brigid, “It’s not a long flight, Rick. You could have brought her to meet us over any weekend. It’s not like you don’t have the money.”
Rick immediately got defensive. “Brigid coming for Christmas wasn’t really an option, Mom. The Italy thing was planned. Canceling at the last minute would have caused a lot of problems.”
“MaMere doesn’t like having her plans changed,” Brigid added. “I was already on thin ice for backing out of Thanksgiving…”
“So you could both stay here,” Sookie said shortly. “I’m sure your Grandmother missed seeing you, like any parent would.” Sookie stared at Rick, hoping he read her disappointment.
Brigid seemed oblivious. She chuckled before saying, “MaMere wouldn’t invite me to Rhode Island. She feels I need more improvement before I can be trusted to attend family events. No, she decided I’d be better off spending Thanksgiving attending some lecture series in Syracuse.” Brigid glanced at Rick, “I told her I would do better staying here to work on my grades.”
“Well, it seems you can coordinate your stories when you want,” Sookie said tightly.
“Well!” Fran interrupted. “Isn’t this cozy? Nothing like having family together. When you and your Mother lived here we had our share of small dramas, right, Sookie?”
Sookie’s possessiveness coiled, but she tamped it down. “Yeah, sure,” she managed.
Fran nodded before turning back to Rick and Brigid, “I hope you both come to dinner often, even after school starts. It’s not like having your Mom at the table. She’s a great one for conversation, but you aren’t hopeless. Truth is, I could use the excitement. Your Aunt Lora is too settled now. It’s all restaurant talk and how tired I look.”
“Thank you,” Brigid agreed, “As long as you let us cook. It would be fun.”
And there it was again, the sense that Fran was getting what should be hers and so Sookie tried again. “You have several months before Spring Break. Mardi Gras falls just right this year. If you started now, I’m sure you could both arrange to spend your holidays with us. Your Father and I will be hosting the Vampires Ball this year. Your sisters will be coming. Karin is bringing Peter. Why, between the parades and guests, it will be fun.” Sookie turned to Brigid, “Have you ever been to Mardi Gras?”
“I haven’t,” Brigid replied.
“I don’t really think it’s a good idea, Mom,” Rick interrupted.
“And why not?” It hurt, Rick’s quick rejection.
“Now, just calm down,” Fran cautioned, laying her hand over Sookie’s.
With a start, Sookie realized her fangs had dropped. “I’m sorry,” she stammered. “I’m still young in terms of vampire age,” she explained to Brigid. “I’m sure Rick has explained that being vampire is… volatile. I’m still learning to control some of the side effects.”
“Look, I’ll think about New Orleans, Mom,” Rick offered, which was what he always said when he meant ‘no.’
They sat in silence for another few moments, when Rick said, “Well, one good thing about Spring. I’d like to try hang-gliding again.” He squeezed Brigid’s hand and then they were staring at each other in that way that excluded everyone else again.
She couldn’t help it. Every Mother’s instinct Sookie had roared forward. Rick was ignoring his manners, he was failing school, and now he was back to dangerous activities, and this woman was at the center of all of it. “Bad enough, you rock-climb, Rick. I don’t like the idea of you following this person off some cliff,” and she found herself growling at Brigid.
“I guess Rick knows his own mind,” Brigid snapped, and then she blushed. Maybe she hadn’t meant to challenge Sookie, but maybe she had.
At any rate, Sookie’s eyes narrowed and she hissed, “I think I know what’s best for my own son.”
Brigid’s mouth firmed and her chin lifted just a fraction, “I think he’s proven he can take care of himself.”
If Sookie had looked in the mirror, she would have seen her eyes go flat. “Mom!” Rick exclaimed.
“Sookie!” Fran’s voice was sharp as a whip. It made Sookie jump. “I need to go upstairs and I want you to take me right now.”
“But…” Sookie growled.
“Now!” Fran ordered.
Sookie stood stiffly. She knew her fangs had descended again. She stared at Rick and hoped he was reading her mind. She remembered afternoons spent with Rick sitting in time out for saying words like Brigid had, and she wondered when things became so complicated.
“Who does she think she is?” Sookie muttered as she wheeled Fran into the elevator.
“Your son’s Lover,” Fran told her.
“And what about that?” Sookie growled. “Well, apparently she’s not good enough for him to bring home, but she’s good enough to bring here! She strolls in, smelling like him…”
“Only you can smell that,” Fran tutted. “And most polite folk wouldn’t mention it.”
“I’m most polite folk,” Sookie protested.
“Usually, but between you and me, you could do better,” Fran scolded. “You need to get over this and be nice to that girl. Should Rick have told you more? Yes. Should he have brought her home to meet you? Yes, but you’re meeting her now. It’s up to you whether you make her welcome, or if you’re going to let their bad manners turn you into another Elizabeth Crane.”
“Is that why you brought me up here, to give me a talking to?” Sookie growled.
“Of course,” Fran laughed, “and to make you help me go to the bathroom. You’re as strong as a bull these days, and I can use the help. All that yelling makes me want to pee.”
Sookie half-expected Rick and Brigid to be gone when they returned downstairs, but they weren’t. Instead, they were scrambling eggs on the stove. “Want some, Aunt Fran?” Rick asked.
“You know how I like them,” Fran answered before telling Sookie, “Seems like scrambled eggs are the only thing that sits easy with me anymore.”
“I’m sorry.” Brigid stepped forward, wiping her hands on a towel. She sketched a bit of a bow. “I shouldn’t have pushed the way I did. It’s just, I love Rick.” Brigid glanced at Rick again, and Sookie realized her son loved this girl, too. “I spoke without thinking. I didn’t mean to cause trouble.”
Sookie could see Rick watching her. “You didn’t,” Sookie assured the young woman, and then made an effort to hold out her hand. She watched Brigid’s eyes widen as she felt the coolness of Sookie’s flesh. “I can see you mean a great deal to Rick. That means you mean a great deal to me, too.” Brigid looked surprised and Sookie smelled the tart scent of tears. It almost prompted Sookie to pull Brigid into a hug but she held back. She did squeeze Brigid’s hand before saying, “Which is why I hope you’ll listen when I say I don’t want either one of you running off perfectly good cliffs.”
Brigid laughed, and then Sookie did, too. There were still a couple moments when Sookie found herself taking deep breaths and counting to ten, but the rest of the visit went well.
It was very late when Sookie sent for the Palace driver. Rick walked her out. As they stood on the front curb he asked, “What do you think of her?”
“Does it matter?” Sookie asked, but she could see from his reaction what his Mother thought still meant something to her hard-headed son. “She’s special, Rick” Sookie conceded. “The two of you look very good together.”
“I think she’s special, too,” Rick grinned before saying, “I’m sorry about earlier. You can count on us for Mardi Gras, if that would be okay.”
She nodded, then cupped her son’s face with her hand. “I’m sorry I won’t see the two of you playing this trip. You know how I love to hear you play.” She looked at her son’s long-fingered hand. “You know, your Father believes your music came from my Fae side.” Sookie glanced at the house. “Her Mother’s last name is Crane. Did you know that’s the name my Fae cousins used? Rick, do you think Brigid might be Fae?”
Rick laughed. “Mom, you think everyone’s Supernatural! Brigid’s just Brigid!”
“But, how would you know?” Sookie pressed. “It’s not as if you’ve ever encountered a Fae. Not really.”
Rick just shook his head, hugging her before Sookie folded into the sedan. As she watched him waving, Sookie started to sift through the evening. It was as Rick said. There was nothing about Brigid Meaney that seemed Fae except coincidence. ‘Coincidence,’ Sookie thought, ‘Or luck,’ and in that moment she felt closer to her Great-Grandfather than she had in years.