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.
“I don’t understand why you’re being like this,” Hunter grumbled. “I’m perfectly capable of finding a hotel room.”
“I know you are,” Mustapha grumbled back.
The Packmaster had been sitting in the commuter lot for over an hour waiting for Hunter and Thalia to arrive. He knew Thalia well enough to know the long ride with Hunter wouldn’t make her mood sweeter. He figured he was right when only Hunter exited the car.
Without asking, he’d simply walked to the back of the black sedan, lifted out Hunter’s suitcases, and placed them in his own. When Hunter protested, Mustapha answered by slamming his truck closed, getting behind the wheel, and growling, “Get your ass in!”
Once they were underway, Hunter stared out the window for a long moment before asking “Okay, so where are you taking me?”
“Home,” and Mustapha huffed, “Whether I want to or not.”
“Because of Eric,” and Hunter sighed.
“Shows what you know!” Mustapha just shook his head. ‘Don’t you let him out of your sight until we get there!’ Sookie had nagged the former Dayman earlier. ‘I’m counting on you!’ she’d said.
“So, what am I supposed to do there?” It wasn’t that late. On a normal night, Mustapha would have been out and about, but under the circumstances he’d be staying home.
“Thought we’d watch a movie,” the Packmaster told the telepath.
“What about Warren?” It was in the way Hunter said it that let Mustapha know the little shit sitting next to him was picking his brain.
“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay out of my head, and Warren ain’t going to be around for you to play Pry Pony with. He’s staying with friends.” That settled things. Hunter sat back, his lip stuck out a mile. He looked just like his Aunt Sookie and Mustapha found himself chuckling. “Seen that look at least a hundred times on your Auntie. Each time I’d go out to her house, picking something up or delivering some fool thing, she’d sass me and push out that big lip of hers. Guess it’s a family thing.”
“Did you ever know my Mom?” Hunter didn’t look at the Packmaster when he asked, but Mustapha felt the shift in emotions.
“No,” he answered, and then more warmly, “and I’m sorry about that. She was gone before I knew your people.”
“Oh,” and Hunter shrugged. “I heard she’d visited out here once, her and the Queen at the time.”
“I didn’t hear that story.” Mustapha found himself feeling bad for Hunter. He’d noticed it the last time, the lost quality to the young man. The expression on the younger man’s face told the Packmaster he might have stumbled on to something. “There were plenty of folks around here who were, though,” he offered. He thought about what he did know, “Wouldn’t get up your hopes too much, though. From what I heard, the relationship between your Mom and the Queen was on the down low. If they came out here to visit, they’d probably kept it quiet.”
“Yeah,” and Hunter smiled a little too brightly. “Not that it matters. Just curious. So, what are we watching?”
When they got the to house, Mustapha took the bags to the bedroom directly across from his own. It was the same one he’d put Rick Northman in all those years ago when they were looking for Sookie. “Homey,” Hunter sighed.
Mustapha looked at the bare walls and damp spot on the ceiling. “Yeah, ain’t it?” he chuckled. “Settle in.” The Packmaster looked at the weapons that decorated his walls. He had no worries when it came to the telepath. He didn’t see Hunter as a fighter but, all the same, he was glad none of them were loaded. He pulled a bottle of water from the refrigerator. There wasn’t much. Warren was trying a new diet that included shopping fresh every day and throwing out the leftovers. “Can fend for himself,” Mustapha huffed, not sure if he meant Hunter or himself.
The Packmaster settled back on the sectional and flicked on the television. He was scrolling through, looking for something interesting when Hunter joined him. When the telepath stared at the water bottle, Mustapha gestured toward the kitchen. “Hungry? Help yourself.”
Hunter didn’t hesitate. He swung open the fridge door, groaned, and started opening cabinets. “Really?” he protested. “I haven’t had anything to eat since this morning. Tell me there’s some secret stash somewhere!”
“Heard you used to live slim,” Mustapha chuckled, but then, with a great intake of air, heaved himself up from the couch. “Could probably use some sustenance myself. Grab your jacket.”
As they were turning off the highway, Hunter’s head swiveled. “Hey, isn’t that Fangtasia?” It was hard to miss the place. The neon sign complete with flashing fangs was purposely placed to be seen. “Bet they’d let us eat in there. Are we close to wherever we’re going? At least if we ate in Fangtasia, the food would still be warm when we ate it.”
Mustapha hadn’t mentioned where they were going, and Hunter hadn’t asked. A few minutes later they were pulling into Raising Cane Chicken and ordering doubles on the fingers and fries. It was high school night and the place was packed with loud teenagers. Taking his plunder home was out of the question. Warren could sniff out junk food faster than any hound and staying here wasn’t attractive. “Fine,” he growled. “Fangtasia it is. They’ll give us a corner booth, but I’m telling you right now, if you start wandering I’ll nail your shoe to the floor.” He glared at Hunter, “I mean it. I have a hammer in the car.”
“You’ve got me all wrong,” and Hunter had the balls to snort, but he didn’t bother hiding how pleased he was to be heading to the bar.
They didn’t use the front door. They didn’t need to. Rubio had someone in the back open for them and despite the place being packed, the corner booth was open. “They threw those people out,” Hunter told him, pointing at a group of humans giving them the stink eye.
The vampire showing them their table overheard. Following Hunter’s gaze, she moved at vamp speed until she was standing too close and dropped fang, hissing. The disgruntled customers looked alarmed, and then delighted as they followed her to a table set up for them nearer the dance floor. “Quite the customer service,” Mustapha told Rubio, who’d appeared during the interlude.
“We don’t usually put ourselves on display,” the Sheriff replied. “It’s part of the mystique. They keep coming back, hoping for a moment like tonight. It satisfies everyone.” Another vampire walked up.
Mustapha had met him before, so he initiated introductions. “Rasul, nice to see you. Let me introduce Hunter Savoy, the King’s new telepath, and my babysitting assignment until the Viking and Sookie arrive.”
Rasul bowed, but at the same time, his head cocked first one way and then the other. “It’s a pleasure,” he told Hunter, then as he straightened, “You have your Mother’s look, if not her coloring.”
It was as if Hunter had been struck by lightning. He sat up straight, saying, “You knew my Mom?”
“I knew her well,” Rasul answered.
When Hunter looked nervous, Mustapha offered, “If you have a few minutes, why don’t you join us? That is, if you don’t mind watching us eat. Hunter was just asking me about Hadley, wondering if anyone here knew her, and here you are.”
Rasul looked toward Rubio before agreeing to slide into the booth. He sat back but kept to the far end of the banquette. “Finish eating,” he told them. “We can talk when you’re done.” He held up a finger and a waitress appeared. “You know what I want. And you?” he looked directly at Hunter.
The Hunter Mustapha knew would have made some flirty comment to the waitress. She was spectacular, but this new Hunter just mumbled, “Beer would be good.”
Mustapha could see the follow-up questions coming. The beer selection at Fangtasia was impressive. “Just bring us a couple Naughty Nurses,” and when Hunter gave him a look, Mustapha explained, “New York beer. You’ll love it.”
Rasul sipped the blood that appeared, his attention on the dance floor while Hunter and Mustapha ate. Twice, Hunter attempted to start a conversation, but Rasul cut him short, staring at the greasy food and then turning away. When Hunter tried to cut his meal short, he earned Mustapha’s growl. “You’re the one who had to eat,” the Packmaster scolded. “You wanted it, you’re going to eat every bite.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Rasul assured them, although he didn’t bother looking their way.
Finally, the food had disappeared, and the waitress returned to clean away the bags and wipe the table clean. “Where did you meet her?” Hunter asked, “My Mom?”
“I was a guard in Sophie-Ann’s Palace,” Rasul answered. “I was there when she first arrived.” His face clouded, “Her death hurt the Queen a great deal. Your Mother was loved.”
“Thanks.” He didn’t elaborate, but Mustapha could tell Rasul’s words were healing some part of the man beside him. “Did she…” and Hunter hesitated.
“Perhaps it would be best if I told you what I recall,” Rasul offered. “It may take a while. I saw her often.”
“Did she…” Hunter interrupted, and then hesitated again.
“Ask your question,” and Mustapha nodded.
“Did she ever mention me?” and in that moment, the Packmaster saw the young boy Hunter must have been, wondering why his Mama left him.
“She spoke of you often,” Rasul replied. “She told me she sent money to your Father. She loved my Queen, but she never lost sight of doing what she could to make sure you had a happy life.”
Mustapha watched Hunter absorb it. His mouth smiled, but his eyes remained haunted. “Was she happy?” he asked.
“As happy as any human can be living in a vampire’s world,” and Rasul shifted to more fully face them. “It’s different now,” he went on the explain. “In those days, mainstreaming was still new, and many of us felt it was a mistake. The idea of living openly, letting humans know who and what we were, seemed dangerous. There were those who aligned on both sides, willing to fight for what they felt was right. Your Mother was not one of those.”
“Do you know how they met?” Hunter asked.
“It was a party,” Rasul answered. “Your Mother had worked hard to make her life better. She was careful about alcohol and drugs. She was a beautiful woman and the Queen was drawn to her.”
“Oh,” and Hunter looked away.
“She told me one night that leaving you with your Father was the hardest decision she ever made, but she was not a good Mother. The Queen was taken with her and brought her into the Palace. They were happy, but the Palace was no place for children.” Rasul stared at Hunter. “I think she meant to try. At the end, she had an apartment, a place she could have brought you, but she didn’t have time. Too soon, she was lost.”
“She wanted me.” A smile played across Hunter’s lips, but his eyes were far away.
“Of course,” Rasul shrugged as if there were no question.
“Sorry. Need to hit the head,” Hunter said, ducking his head. Rasul slid out, allowing Hunter to escape the booth.
As he watched the young man walk away, Mustapha said, “I know you’re lying, but I’d rather you didn’t tell me. Better I’m not sure, so if he reads me, he won’t know.”
“There’s no benefit in allowing suffering for something that can’t be changed,” Rasul shrugged. “And, Hunter is an asset for the King. It’s best he be happy in his work.”
“Speaking of work,” and Mustapha checked to make sure no ears were too close. “Prisoners?”
“Downstairs,” Rasul confirmed. “Repeat offenders, and not from here. It’s as if they know who to hit and when. We think whoever is behind this is getting information from someone inside.”
“Were?” Mustapha asked. If the spy was from within his Pack, there would be trouble. The relations between the Two-Natured and vampires were good, but there was always that unspoken tension.
“I don’t think so,” Rasul answered. “Rubio prefers to keep an open mind,” and the vampire grinned. “It’s what makes him a better Sheriff. He doesn’t assume, so he doesn’t miss much.”
“He’s on thin ice from what I hear,” the Packmaster confided.
“He’s too good at what he does,” Rasul countered. “Perception is a heavy burden. I believe he’s being purposely targeted. He’s the least-known of the Viking’s Sheriffs and Maxwell Lee is not a supporter. Of all of us, he’s the most vulnerable and our mutual enemy is working that.”
“You really believe this is being coordinated?” It was a new thought. The attacks and problems seemed so random.
“I don’t believe in coincidences,” Rasul shrugged. He looked around the bar. “Are you planning to stay much longer?
“Tonight?” and Mustapha shrugged. “Warren’s out. I could take the kid home to watch movies, but I can think of more interesting things to do.”
“I know we said we’d wait for the Viking and his Queen, but Heidi is coming tonight. We could start interrogating if you’d trust him with me.” Rasul took another look around. “We could drop Hunter off when we’re done.”
“You’re sure?” and Mustapha knew his decision was already made.
Enough time had lapsed since the telepath left for the restroom. Mustapha decided it was time to go look for his charge and not surprisingly, he found the telepath parked at the bar chatting up patrons. “I’m leaving,” he informed Hunter. “You’ll need to tell your friends good night because either you’re coming home with me or you’re going to work.”
Hunter started to protest, but Rasul joined them. “I think you should stay. We can talk some more,” the vampire promised, and within a heartbeat they were all walking down the back hall, Hunter and Rasul headed toward the office that had the stairs to the dungeon, and Mustapha to the door that led to his car.
“Call me before you leave,” Mustapha told Rasul, then turning to Hunter, “Sure you don’t just want to head back with me? We could still watch that movie.”
“I’m okay here,” Hunter told him, but in his heart, Mustapha wasn’t so sure that was true. As he drove toward home, Mustapha found himself thinking about his own Mother and her reaction to his nature. She’d never out-right rejected him, but he’d known it made her unhappy. His joining the Army had effectively ended their relationship. Now, they exchanged Christmas cards. Occasionally, she remembered his birthday. It had been a long time since he’d allowed himself to feel that bone deep ache that came from knowing he never quite measured up in his own Mother’s eyes. He’d liked Rasul from the first time he’d met him. He liked him now more. It occurred to Mustapha that the vampire had purposely gone out of his way to help Hunter, and then it struck him. Other than Rasul, Mustapha couldn’t remember any other vampire who’d shown this kind of empathy, not even the Viking, and the Packmaster felt his instincts tingle. ‘You’re just being paranoid!’ he scolded himself. ‘Northman trusts him, and he’s a good judge of character,’ and settling back, Mustapha pointed the car toward home.
Hunter wasn’t sure what time it was. He knew they’d been at this for hours. None of the vampires looked sluggish so he figured it couldn’t be that late. Hunter had learned to read the signs. The younger ones would start to slur or drop things. As the hour approached, the change in the older ones was more sudden. They’d start to lose their train of thought, almost as though they could hear the sun calling.
“These humans are terrified,” Heidi reported. “Scent doesn’t lie.”
“They are exhausted,” Hunter confirmed. “I’ve picked everything out of their heads that’s there. They just don’t remember the person who sent them.”
“That’s not possible.” Rubio had taken off his suit jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves. It didn’t matter, he still looked crisper than he should have, under the circumstances.
Hunter’s eyes flicked to Rasul. The new Sheriff fit Hunter’s idea of interrogator better. He was rumpled, his shirt dappled with blood. Hunter knew how Aunt Sookie felt about hurting humans, but there were realities to this business he figured his Aunt didn’t need to know. The vampires always healed the damage they’d inflicted before releasing the prisoners and used glamour to cover up the rest. It was naïve to think any interrogation could be pain-free.
Hunter sipped his coffee, setting it down to see Heidi watching him. “What?”
The vampire smiled tightly. “Nothing. I was just thinking about my son,” she said. It was such a random thing to say. For some reason, Hunter looked toward Rasul, but it was Rubio who spoke, briefly touching Heidi’s arm in comfort.
“I can understand that,” he said softly. “He would be about Hunter’s age.”
Heidi looked sad. “I’d like to think he would have turned out half so well,” and then she walked out of the office.
Hunter looked at the men for explanation and when none was offered, asked, “What was that about?”
“She had a son. When she was turned, he was taken from her and used as hostage,” Rasul explained.
“The Viking had him freed,” Rubio added. “She,” and he nodded toward the door Heidi had taken, “She wanted to bring him here, but the King at the time wouldn’t allow it. Her son was raised away from her, and he found trouble.”
“I can see it,” Hunter whispered.
“Drugs, loan-sharks,” Rubio continued. “By the time Heidi was freed, it was too late. Our King, he negotiated to allow her to return to Las Vegas to find her boy, but he’d been killed, beaten to death.”
“Jesus!” Hunter exhaled. He thought about his own life before saying, “If my Dad hadn’t died, I might have ended up like that. As it was, I was too busy just trying to survive.” It was hard not to compare that life with the one he lived now. He had money to buy clothes and food. He didn’t suffer from heat or cold or worry about bills, and likely never would again. “If I’d had more money as a teenager, I probably would have tried the drug trade. Guess it was my luck I never had enough to get started.”
“You are one of the lucky ones,” Rubio agreed.
“Your Mother would have been proud,” Rasul added, and Hunter hoped that was true.
“It’s getting late,” and Rubio turned back toward the door to the dungeon. “I’ll clean up downstairs. We’ll release them to their authorities tomorrow night.”
“Not that it’ll make much difference,” Rasul growled. “We’d be better to feed them to the alligators. It would make our people rest easier.”
Rubio’s eyes flicked to Hunter. “You know the rules,” he said. Hunter got the feeling that the Sheriff would have said something else if he hadn’t been there.
“I’ll wait outside,” Hunter offered, and without asking permission, he headed down the hall and back into the nightclub.
The human waitstaff had left and the lights were on. Heidi was sitting at one of the tables chatting with the bartender who was finishing up. Hunter grabbed a beer from a refrigerator. “Mind?” he asked, and when she shook her head, he sat down. He slugged down a mouthful before saying, “They told me about your boy. Sorry.”
“You can’t know how hard it is for any Mother to walk away from her child,” Heidi answered.
“It’s what a kid wants to believe,” Hunter replied, and when Heidi’s eyes met his, he told her, “It’s what I wanted to believe.”
“I heard about Hadley,” Heidi told him. “I’ll bet she missed you,” and the vampire suddenly looked away, her eyes rimmed with red.
Hunter reached forward, laying his hand over hers. “If she was anything like you, I do believe that,” he said.
It happened quickly. Before he even registered it, Heidi was around the table and her lips were on his. For all her mouth was cool, her effect on him wasn’t. He pushed back, bringing the vampire more fully into his lap, and she twisted until she was straddling him, her arms holding him while her lips demanded. “Rest with me,” she hissed.
“Rasul is supposed to drop me off at Mustapha’s,” Hunter told her.
“I’ll handle Rasul,” Heidi assured him. “I don’t want to be alone.”
Her fangs were stroking his ear, and her body felt wonderful under his hands. “Let’s go,” he whispered, and his cock twitched in agreement. She was gone and then back almost before he knew. “I hope you don’t think I’m that kind of boy,” he teased.
“Oh,” and Heidi grinned as she started the car, “I really hope you are.”
“How big is Liverpool, anyway?” Sookie asked.
“Thalia will find him,” Eric purred. They were driving north toward Shreveport. In another few miles, he’d take the exit to Bon Temps instead and her questions would begin. He tried to anticipate her expression when they pulled up to her old home. He’d been assured the lights would be on and all was ready.
“It’ll be another few weeks,” and Sookie’s face screwed up in a frown. “What did they say? Thirty days?”
“For a calm passage,” Eric replied, repeating the advice they’d been given. “But they could run into storms, and they are sailing against currents. It could take longer.”
“What kind of boat doesn’t answer radio calls?” Sookie asked.
“The kind that’s cruising under sail to conserve gasoline,” Eric told her. “You know what they said. Most of these professional boat people turn the radio on for weather reports once or twice a day. Recharging batteries requires running their engines for an hour, and they need those batteries to power their running lights at night. They won’t waste battery power on calls home.”
“Or cell phones,” Sookie huffed.
“Cell phones?” and Eric laughed. “Using what towers? Lover! They’re in the middle of the ocean!”
“Oh, all right!” and Sookie slumped against her backrest. “Go ahead and use logic on me!” but she laughed, too. He felt her settling again and it made him content as well. “Are you sure Thalia’s the right choice?” she asked. “Arseling! I can’t imagine Rick reacts well to that!”
“Thalia has a rare skill with nicknames,” Eric replied.
He felt Sookie’s quick interest. “You’ve known her a long time, haven’t you?” she asked, and when he nodded, she asked, “So, what’s her nickname for you?”
It brought back memories. “Victus,” he told her.
“Victus? Wow! Sounds like she liked you,” Sookie sighed. “Course, I’m not surprised. Bet you were always the big, bad vampire in town!”
Eric couldn’t help himself. He laughed. Only this woman could make him laugh this way, and the carefree feeling brought him contentment. “It’s Latin,” he told her. “As you know, my Maker was a Centurion, so Latin suited.”
“I don’t get it. What’s so funny? Victus sounds good, like some Roman emperor, or…” and Eric interrupted.
“It means ‘loser,’” he laughed. “Thalia told me I was a most unpromising child. She told me Appius would likely end me, so she called me Victus.”
“That’s terrible!” and Sookie shook her head.
“As I said, she has a rare way with nicknames,” and Eric took Sookie’s hand in his as he took the exit that would take them to Hummingbird Lane.
The conversation did its job, and it was many minutes before Sookie noticed where they were headed. “Why Bon Temps?” she asked. “Aren’t we expected in Shreveport?”
“You’ve made me yearn to see the places we explored together,” he said lightly. “You don’t mind a detour?”
“Okay by me,” she told him, but as they pulled through the small town and headed out the road that would take them to her old home, Eric could feel her growing agitation.
“Do you want to stop?” he asked as they passed Merlotte’s. Sookie didn’t answer. She was watching the passing scenery, and he was sure she was remembering. She didn’t say anything when he turned into the driveway, but she squeezed his hand and as they turned the corner and she saw the lights on, she made a sound. “Is it the way you remember?” he asked.
“Oh, Eric!” she sighed, and was out the door almost before the car stopped.
He watched her, a blur against the backdrop. She was on the porch first, and then back in the yard to smell the roses. She moved to the back of the house and then returned to him. He was just out of the car, and she rocked him as she launched herself against him. “You are the most wonderful man!” and she kissed him, her arms wrapped around his neck, her body pressing against his.
“Shall we go inside?” he asked. He couldn’t stop smiling. Every cent was worth the expression on his Sookie’s face. She was almost hopping at his side as they walked up the stairs. There was a new press pad beside the door. “Let me give you the password,” and he leaned close, whispering the sixteen digits into her ear.
“How the hell am I going to remember that?” she huffed, but then pressed the numbers in perfectly.
She was vampire. She would remember those numbers until her final death, but Eric explained anyway. “It will be easy for you, my Sookie. The first six are the date I first saw you in Fangtasia and knew you would be mine.” He kissed her cheek, then whispered, “The next six are the date you bonded with me in Rhodes. You hated it, but it changed me. I knew I’d never be free of you and didn’t wish to be.”
“I love you,” she told him, and he saw the tears swimming in her eyes.
“And the last are the day you rose to me and took my hand. I didn’t know what to expect. I thought you would reject this life and me, and that I’d lose you again, but not my Sookie,” and Eric tucked a curl behind her ear. “You chose me,” and he lifted her hand to kiss the ring he’d placed there. “My Queen, my wife, my love.”
Sookie opened the door. “Mr. Northman, would you come in?” she asked, inviting him as she had in her human days.
“Thank you, Mrs. Northman,” Eric answered, and sweeping her up in his arms, carried her inside this home where so much of their lives had been formed.
It didn’t take long to start the fire. It was warm, so a fire wasn’t necessary, but seemed fitting. Once the blaze was going, Eric turned to find his clever wife had disrobed. When she held out her hand to him, he didn’t hesitate, pulling his clothes off as he approached. “Should I bring a mattress down?” he asked as he glanced at the floor in front of the fireplace.
“You didn’t then,” she reminded him.
“And you had the bruises to prove it,” he laughed.
“Mr. Northman, I think I’m going to need to remember a lot,” and Sookie made him hiss as she took him in her hand.
It was sweet, the remembering. Each place had its story and they retold each one in short phrases and interrupted words. Many hours later, she collapsed against him, her muscles trembling as he emptied himself within her. Eric lifted his feet, allowing the porch swing to move, rocking them both. “I think this is where we made Rick,” he shared. He didn’t know with any certainty, but it was his favorite theory.
“I remember that night,” Sookie sighed against his skin. “We were so desperate. I thought of it as wild monkey sex. We got so busy I was all banged up afterward and you had to get me an ice pack. Remember?”
“I do,” Eric nodded, and shifted her so she was sitting in his lap, rather than astride him. He pressed her head to lie on his shoulder. “I couldn’t believe I’d lose you,” he whispered. “I was terrified and so angry, all at the same time. I couldn’t understand why you didn’t use the cluviel d’or and just end it. I’d done everything I could and still you wouldn’t accept me. Yet, for all that, I couldn’t be angry with you. I loved you with all my heart, Sookie.” He lifted her fingertips to his lips. “I still do.”
An owl called from the woods. Sookie glanced toward the path that led to the cemetery. “Walk with me,” Eric teased, pushing her from his lap.
“Like this?” and Sookie gestured at their naked state. “Not on your life! My Gran would beat the tar out of me if she caught me wandering around in my altogether. You may be some vampire King and all, but that doesn’t mean you can terrorize folks!”
“My Southern belle,” he laughed, nipping her ear with his teeth. Sookie tugged his hand and he allowed her to pull him inside. She tossed him his pants, but he drew the line at a shirt. “I have no need for that,” he told her. “There’s no one for miles, Sookie. This land and all the land around is ours.”
“Doesn’t mean folks can’t be walking around anyway,” Sookie huffed, finishing with her bra and then pulling her own shirt over her head. “Weres use this area all the time and the moon is near full.”
She was right. Eric didn’t scent anyone close, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t encounter others. When they stood on the porch again, Eric wrapped her arms around her. “Let’s fly,” and he waggled his eyebrows.
“You sound just like some pirate,” Sookie giggled. “You know, we could play chase.”
“Really?” It was as if everything in his body stood at attention. It was instinct, the need to run prey to ground. They rarely had the space to make the game interesting, but here, with the open woods and moonlight, Eric thought it might take a few minutes longer to catch her.
“But there’s going to be some ground rules,” and Sookie leaned down to re-tie her sneakers. “No flying!” Eric felt his fangs itch. “You have to give me a five-minute head start, and no tracking. Visual only!”
“But what if I hear you stomping around…” and Sookie turned on him.
“I don’t stomp!” she protested, “but if you hear me, that’s fair game.”
“You’re sure?” and Eric shifted, already hard. “Because when I catch you, I’ll have my way with you.”
“Who says I won’t be the one choosing?” Sookie sassed. “Guess you’ll have to catch me first!” and she was gone.
Eric knew Sookie felt herself on home ground, but she’d forgotten the many nights he’d spent watching the family for Niall Brigant. He was intimately familiar with the hidey-holes and blind corners that trees and rocks and ground could provide. Still, after five minutes he still hadn’t found her, he felt a small thrill. The game could range farther, Compton’s old ground now belonging to the place. He broadened his circle, running at full speed, refusing to breath lest he break the rules. He took one sweep and then another. It was on his second round he decided to go through the cemetery. It was the ground that stood between Compton’s and Sookie’s home, and it’s where he found her. She wasn’t trying to hide. Instead, she was standing stock still, fully visible in the moonlight. She was shaking, and, in an instant, Eric knew why.
“Sookie,” he called softly, and then ghosted beside her, gently laying his hand on her arm. “Do you recognize this place?”
“No.” Her voice wavered, and she was shivering under his touch.
“This is where you were made,” he explained. “This is where I found you.” She seemed haunted, but that was normal. A vampire always recognized the place it first rose by the strong emotion the place triggered. Eric had inadvertently stumbled across the place of his first rising earlier in this century. It was covered in pavement now and sat at a crossroads, but it hadn’t mattered. Eric had known it and like Sookie, that place had engendered a feeling of dread. Pam told him she had only the warmest feelings when she visited her site. Eric supposed one’s reaction had to do with the method of one’s turning.
“Pam says Rick needs to live with vampires,” Sookie said aloud.
Eric wasn’t sure what about this place made her think of Rick, but he also knew their son was never far from her thoughts these days. “It would make things easier,” and he waited.
“I never wanted this life,” She said it in a barely whispered hiss.
Eric felt his heart fall. “No,” he confirmed. “You didn’t.”
She turned in his arms, seeking his comfort, and he gave it. “It’s everything I feared it would be. It’s dark and scary. People do terrible things to each other and the politics!”
“There are beautiful moments as well,” Eric reminded her.
“Yes,” she whispered into his chest, and then she looked up at him. “Yes, there are moments I’m so happy it makes me wonder whether I’m truly dead at all. If it were just you and me, I think I’d want this life more than the other one.” She looked away then, into the woods. “The trees, just being outside. I’ve never felt so much a part of everything! I see the sky differently. I never thought I’d say this, but I don’t think about day much anymore.”
“The worst of your adjustment is behind you,” he told her. “You have grown into your instincts. You are learning to recognize those emotions that cause you to lose control, even your strength. You haven’t broken anything in weeks.”
“I do feel more comfortable in my skin,” she acknowledged. “Still, this isn’t anything I want for Rick, either.”
“Yet, for Rick there is no choice,” and Eric turned her away from the place of her making and walked her toward where he knew her Grandmother lay. “He was born to this life,” he told her. “He will never have a place in Earth where he rose. He was made differently, but he is vampire. In some ways, this life is most truly his. He has all the benefits our kind can give and almost none of the restrictions. He walks in sun. He can suffer silver. He is growing into his strength and other gifts. My Lover, Rick needs to be among his kind, and you must help him embrace it.”
“Do you remember when that TV show had your pictures on? Both you and Rick?” Eric did remember and told her so. “I have never been so afraid! I wanted to find a way to glamour the whole world so no one would recognize either one of you!”
“It is in our nature to be cautious,” Eric told her.
“It wouldn’t matter if I was vampire or not!” Sookie protested. “If people recognize him, they can hunt him…”
“Which could happen whether he was vampire or not,” Eric countered. “You might consider that as vampire, we prepare for such possibilities. We train ourselves. We’re good at keeping our own safe, and it is training that has allowed us to mainstream. We found a balance that allows us to be different and yet live in this world where so many are not our kind. Where better then among vampires for our son to live his life?”
They’d reached Adele Stackhouse’s grave. It was a little overgrown and Sookie kneeled to pick weeds. “I hear what you’re saying,” she said. For a few minutes she busied herself, making things tidy. She picked a few wildflowers and laid them before the stone, then laid her hand on the stone as well. “You’re right,” she said then. “My Gran knew I was different, but she wouldn’t let me hide away. She made me believe I was as good as anyone.”
“She accepted people for who they were,” and Eric found a smile creeping over his face. “I never formally met her, but I saw her often as you grew up. She was a strong woman who never saw anything wrong with vampires.” Sookie was nodding, so Eric added, “Of course, she did have terrible judgment when it came to them.”
“My Gran was a wonderful judge of character!” and Sookie rose, swatting him.
“Then, how do you explain Bill Compton?” he teased, capturing her hand and kissing it.
“Oh!” and Sookie gave him a sly look, “She got fooled, like I got fooled. I think she was so happy that I’d found someone, it let her overlook a whole lot.”
“She did love you a great deal,” he conceded, and together, hand in hand, they headed back toward the house.
“Do you think he’s okay?” Sookie asked. “I’ve tried reaching out. I feel as if I can feel him somewhere far away. I think I’d know if something happened to him, don’t you?”
“I do,” he told her. “It isn’t your vampire instincts that tell you, my wife. It is your Mother’s heart.” They’d reached the house and together they raced up the stairs to the old bedroom where they’d made love so many times. “My mother said she’d always know,” he told her. He hoped it was so. It still hurt, thinking of how she must have worried all those years, never knowing what happened to him.
That night as Sookie rested, she dreamed. She dreamed of a boat at sea. Her son and Brigid were sitting together under a vast expanse of stars. Behind the boat, a trail of phosphorescence shone briefly in the dark waves, like an arrow pointing to the sailboat’s progress. Brigid’s head was on Rick’s shoulder and they were singing a lullaby that Sookie taught Rick when he was a child. As she watched, Brigid took Rick’s hand and laid it over her abdomen and then they kissed. ‘Safe!’ Sookie thought, and although it was a dream, Sookie knew in her heart she was seeing truth.