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 appreciate everything you’re doing,” Rubio told her. “I don’t want you to blame yourself if things don’t turn out.”
“Don’t talk like that!” Sookie scolded. “It’s been two weeks and look at all the progress we’ve made! We know most of the humans involved in these attacks were glamoured. That’s something.”
Rubio shrugged. He’d started avoiding eye contact. Sookie had seen that look before. It was when Victor Madden came to her house, the night of the Louisiana take-over by Felipe de Castro. Eric had come earlier, then retreated to her bedroom. She knew now he’d been there with the sole aim of bargaining for her life. He hadn’t believed he’d be successful and was sure she would join him in meeting his final death. It was in his eyes and it was the same lost look Sookie now saw on Rubio’s face.
“Everything I’ve seen suggests I have an enemy,” he told her. “So do many vampires in my position. The difference is they handle their detractors better. They don’t get their vassals killed.” When Sookie opened her mouth to protest, he held up his hand. “There’s no evidence this is part of a larger plot to discredit the kingdom. If there was, my failures might be forgiven, but even I am beginning to doubt.”
Sookie made a dismissive gesture, letting Rubio know how she felt. “Rasul will be here shortly. He and Pam have been pressing everyone. Even Mustapha is pulling out all the stops. There’s smoke, Rubio, we just need to find the fire.” Sookie leaned over, laying her hand on her friend’s knee. “If Eric didn’t think there was something to this, you’d already be…” and then she stopped talking as she realized what she’d been about to say.
“Finally dead?” Rubio supplied. His look was so knowing it made Sookie’s heart hurt. “I know the rules, my Queen, and to all appearances, I’ve failed myself and my King. Were I sitting in Assizes on myself, I’d order the final death.”
“That’s not fair! You’re being targeted!” Sookie hissed in return. “We’ll get to the bottom of this! I believe that! You have to believe it, too.”
“Rubio?” and Lily Hermosa, Rubio’s human wife was at the door. “I’m sorry to interrupt. We have a visitor.”
“That’ll be Rasul,” and Sookie nodded as she rose. “You can’t let this get you down. Let’s see what he has to say.”
But Sookie didn’t stick around to hear Rasul’s report. She’d already heard it and it offered nothing new that could give them hope. Instead, she accepted Rasul’s bow and continued down the hallway to the kitchen where Lily was emptying the dishwasher. “How are you doing?” she asked the woman.
“How do you think?” Lily snapped, keeping her voice low. Her eyes wandered to the hallway that led to her husband. “This was the year, you know,” she said. “Rubio was going to turn me. Frank’s finishing high school. I couldn’t wait…” and Lily turned away, bringing her hand to her mouth. “Why is this happening to us?”
Sookie laid her hand on the woman’s arm, offering what support she could. “You’ve got to stay strong, Lily. We’re going to figure this out. I know we will!”
“And if you don’t?” Lily’s shoulders squared as she stared out the window over the sink. “Look, Sookie, even if you do prove this was aimed at Eric and you, vampires will expect someone to be punished.” Lily’s stare was level, “You folks believe in an eye for an eye. No one’s going to rest easy until someone takes the fall for this.”
“Not all vampires are like that!” Sookie protested, but she knew most were and she knew Lily knew it, too.
Not bothering to hide her bitterness, Lily said, “Oh? Is that why the King hasn’t come to visit?” and then she sighed, “I’m sorry, Sookie. I know you mean well, but maybe it would be better if you didn’t come any more. You know that’s why Eric isn’t coming. He knows better than to send mixed messages, and if we don’t find a villain to blame, we both know he’ll be showing up here with a sword.”
Sookie couldn’t say anything. She knew Lily Hermosa was right. “How are the kids?” she asked instead.
Lily took a deep breath before turning back to her chores. “George has finals. He’s coming home as soon as he’s done. Frank… well, Frank is spending plenty of time out with his friends. He’s not taking this well. Rubio’s the only…” and Lily swallowed hard. “Only father he’s ever known,” she finished. “Maddie’s doing well, now. She wasn’t. She wanted to drop out of school, take a year off when all this started, but Rubio talked her into going back. He keeps telling her it’s all going to turn out okay.”
“I heard she’d studying hotel and restaurant management,” Sookie said.
“Hospitality service. Yes, Maddie’s always had a flare for decorating. I thought she’d lean toward culinary, but she likes the idea of traveling to work in foreign hotels.” Lily sniffed, pulling herself together more tightly with each passing minute. “I like the idea of at least one of my children seeing the world. Maddie’s so outgoing…”
“She terrified Rick when they were in Chester together,” Sookie laughed. “She was always so certain about things.”
“She has never been shy about what she wants,” and Lily managed a wan smile before asking, “Have you heard anything from Rick?”
“No,” and Sookie picked up a towel. “Let me help you with those,” and she dried the glasses, handing them back to Lily to place in the cupboard. “No, as far as we know, the boat’s still headed toward Liverpool. I talked with Professor West again and he told me it’s not unusual for the reverse passage to take up to a month longer. Winds, cross-currents… with all our technology it would seem the sea hasn’t caught up. There’s a transponder, so we know it’s still out there and close… just not there yet.”
“George wasn’t surprised to hear Rick and Brigid had run,” Lily shared. “He knew she was upset about her family and he told me it was serious, what was between them.” When Sookie nodded, Lily asked, “What do you think about her?”
“Are you asking if I think she’s daughter-in-law material?” Lily gave a weak smile, and Sookie sighed, “I don’t think it’ll matter what I think. It won’t change anything. I’ve extended my protection to her, so whether she and Rick end up together or not, I’ve made her my responsibility.”
Lily stared at her rather directly before looking away, “I didn’t think you were that keen about her.”
“You are being all kinds of polite,” Sookie grinned. “I’m still not keen, but I opened my big mouth to her nasty family and now she’s mine as far as vampires are concerned.”
“So, you put yourself out for Brigid, like you did for Rubio,” and Lily’s eyes warmed. “You lead with your heart, Sookie. That kind of thing gets vampires in trouble.”
“Well, don’t you worry about me and my big, old non-beating heart,” and Sookie laughed a little. “Please don’t worry, Lily. My instincts are pretty good about most things. Eric respects them. I may not be a telepath any more, but I can still read people and I know what I know. Rubio’s been set up and it was about getting back at Eric and me. We’re going to find the spy who’s done this.”
“Who said anything about a spy?” Lily asked.
It caught her. Until that moment, no one had mentioned the possibility of this being tied to a spy, but the minute she said it, Sookie knew it was so. “It’s the only thing that makes sense,” Sookie told Rubio’s wife. “It had to be someone close, someone in the Area. There aren’t enough outsiders. Sure, we have folks coming through and some of them have caused trouble, but what’s going on is more than that. The attack on Doug needed inside information. It needed someone who knew where he was going and when.” Sookie nodded, “I know I’m right!” and she walked back down the hall to share her epiphany with Rubio and Rasul.
“Is it England?” Eric asked Thalia.
“What do you mean?” Thalia asked back.
“Is it being back in England that makes you so foolish?” Eric was struggling to hold back his laughter. “What did Charles say when you presented him with the fairy?”
Thalia didn’t bother hiding her satisfaction. “He considered it payment for any favor I might owe him. He told me the man’s blood wasn’t pure Fae, but the sweetness was still there. The Cranes will need to pony up a small fortune to get Charles’ fangs out of their spy.”
Eric couldn’t help remembering how something like it might have caused a war once upon a time, but that was when they were dealing with true Fae, not these posturing hybrids. “What I want to know is how you ended up owing Charles a favor in the first place?” Eric asked. “He wouldn’t have the balls to deny you permission to enter his kingdom, after all, who could refuse you? What I don’t understand is how you, knowing how he is, would allow him to get close enough to demand a favor. Did you kill Edward Madden?” The stories about Thalia tweaking the English King were many and to Charles’ discomfort, he rarely emerged the winner in them.
“Madden lives,” Thalia sniffed. “No, it was a weak moment.”
“It doesn’t sound to me as if you’re being careful enough, old friend,” and Eric found himself remembering Sookie’s dream.
“You already know I’m not taking proper care,” Thalia growled. “How else would I end up here, chasing your progeny on some babysitting mission? If I weren’t so softheaded, I would have demanded a favor from you for doing this.”
“You know you may ask anything of me,” Eric answered sincerely,
“Which is why I don’t!” and Thalia growled again. “You are so grateful, it takes all the sport out of it.”
“This should all be over soon. The signal from the boat is closer,” Eric told her. They’d been given the call signal by the Chester teacher and it hadn’t taken long to zero in, tracking the Greyhound’s progress on a map each night. “I expect Rick and his woman will make landfall in the next few days.”
“Nigel is tracking the ship from this end as well,” Thalia confirmed. “He told me sailors are in for a few days of calm, so that may slow them. He’s also arranged to have the boat delayed outside the harbor until after nightfall. His agents will send a pilot out to keep them anchored at sea until I’m ready.”
“You intend to wait until they enter the harbor?” Eric was surprised.
“If you’re asking whether I plan to take a boat out to meet them, the answer is no!” Thalia scoffed. “You know I don’t swim if I can help it. I know the dock where they’ll be landing, and I’ll be there waiting. The plane is fueled and ready at the airport. No one is going to head out into the harbor to intercept them without Nigel knowing, and you’re the only vampire I know who can fly.”
“So, you’re sure?” and Eric’s eyes narrowed, doubt nagging at him. Thalia didn’t answer, and he could tell he’d offended her. “Of course, you understand the situation better,” he said by way of apology, but he felt an unexpected frisson of worry and couldn’t help adding, “There’s trouble coming.”
“I know.” He could tell she was getting irritated. It didn’t stop him.
“North Carolina was supposed to visit this week. They’ve canceled,” he told her.
She still sounded dismissive as she hissed, “And this is related… how?”
“Rumors,” he told her. “I’m told it’s Russell Edgington behind the whispering, but if others weren’t ready to believe his lies, these rumors wouldn’t take root.”
“Vampires are jealous,” Thalia said dismissively. “You know this. Why give your worries grounds to grow? So, North Carolina decides to snub you? So what? Will you cry? You know what’s necessary! You send them a gift! You invite someone in their place! You talk publicly of your concern for them, that they are unable to keep their commitments! Don’t let that posturing pustule in Mississippi define you!”
She was working herself into a fine rage and it brought a smile to Eric’s lips. “Are you going to call me Victus?” he asked.
Thalia seemed to catch herself. “What reminded you of that, My King?” she asked.
“Sookie and I were discussing nicknames,” and his smile widened.
Eric heard something that might have been a chuckle. “I don’t need to say it out loud,” she said after a bit, “’My King’ works just as well.”
“I would miss you, Thalia, if you met your final death,” Eric told his friend.
“Don’t be a fool!” she scolded, and then, more gently, “I’ll contact you when I have them,” and Thalia disconnected.
“Are you ready to try again?” Sookie asked her nephew.
“Sure,” and Hunter shrugged, “Fine.”
Sookie sighed, “You’re being too hard on yourself. You found it, after all. You proved they were glamoured.”
“But it took me two times to figure it out!” and Hunter reached for his water. “I mean, I felt it the first time, but it’s like my mind just slid past it!”
“You have to learn to trust your instincts,” and Sookie sat down beside him, laying her hand on his shoulder. “For someone who didn’t know glamour exists, I’d say you’re doing well.”
“How did you know?” Hunter challenged.
“My gift was different,” Sookie shrugged. “Mr. Cataliades thinks you lean more toward your demon side.”
“Which we both know is crap.” Hunter rose and started pacing. “If I were more demon, I’d be reading like Rick…”
“You don’t know that!” Sookie interrupted. “You’re learning a new skill. It’s taking you some time to master, but you know you’re making progress.” Rising, she stood in front of Hunter, forcing him to look at her. “You are getting ahead of this. You can’t quit! This is too important!”
It was there, that quick flash of the young boy he used to be. Sookie pushed his hair back off his forehead as she once had when he was six. “I won’t let you down,” Hunter assured her. He glanced at the door that led to the dungeons where their prisoners waited. “Come on, let’s go.”
The human male was strapped to the chair. He didn’t look like the kind of person who would firebomb someone’s car, yet he had. The video surveillance didn’t lie. Now, he just looked confused and exhausted. “What do you want from me?” he demanded, but the time for asking questions had passed. Hunter stared at him and then closed his eyes, focusing.
“It’s there,” Hunter whispered. “I see it. I’m trying to get behind it.”
“Think of it like prying a lid off a tunnel. Just lift past it, bit by bit,” Sookie counselled.
“He met someone who told him to do it,” Hunter said.
“Who are you?” the man asked, but his gaze was faraway and Sookie knew he was reliving the moment Hunter had awakened in his head.
“He doesn’t recognize him,” Hunter added.
“But who are you?” the man’s voice was listless, lost in memory.
“Can you see him?” Sookie asked Hunter. “Anything? Impressions?”
“Dark hair,” Hunter told her. “Dark eyes. A stranger…” and then something surprising happened. The man they were questioning seemed to awaken.
“Who the hell are you people?” he demanded of Sookie. “My family is going to be looking for me! If I don’t show up, they’ll call the police!”
“It’s gone!” and Hunter frowned. “I was there. I could almost see it, and then… I don’t know. It’s as if something snapped and it’s back, only tougher.”
Sookie growled. It still startled her when she made that sound, but it did have the benefit of shutting up their prisoner. His eyes got wide and his tone less belligerent. “I don’t know anything! I don’t know you people! Just let me go!” and Sookie could smell the sharp scent that signaled tears.
“It’s as if there’s glamour just under the glamour,” she mused. It wasn’t the first time Hunter had run into this phenomenon. They’d encountered it twice now, including this man. “Give it a minute,” she counselled Hunter, “then let’s try again. I’m contacting Eric.”
“Let me go!” the man started to cry in earnest. Sookie could see it bothered Hunter and she recalled a time it would have bothered her, too. “Come with me,” she said to Hunter, figuring leaving him alone with the human wasn’t a good idea.
When they emerged in Rubio’s office, Heidi was sitting on the couch. Hunter didn’t say anything, he just walked into her open arms. Sookie didn’t wait. She’d hear if hugging turned into something else. Instead, she headed toward the back of the club and out the door before placing her call. The guard positioned there followed her, but maintained a discrete distance. With a start, Sookie realized that as Queen, she rarely found herself alone. Once upon a time, it would have grated. Now, she barely noticed it.
He picked up on the second ring. “This is definitely more than simple glamouring,” Sookie told Eric. “It’s layered. You get behind one layer and it triggers a second, sending you back to the beginning. It’s subtle,” and Sookie described tonight’s session in detail.
“This is important,” Eric pressed. “Can Hunter tell if it’s the same technique?”
“I’d say so,” and Sookie went over everything she’d seen and heard one more time. “Yes,” she confirmed. “The same.”
“I’ve never heard of something like this,” and Eric paused. “It could be a gift, but if it isn’t…” and then Eric moved on. “Hunter got enough to know the vampire wasn’t known to the prisoner?”
“This human doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would do this,” Sookie told her mate. “There are local people here who know him. He has a family, a business. I think he got caught up, hijacked.”
“What kind of business does he run?” Eric asked.
“Dry cleaners,” Sookie told him. “Open late.”
“He would have been an easy target.” Eric paused. “Does his business have security footage?”
“I can ask.” Sookie held the phone away as she texted the message to Mustapha. “I’ve texted Mustapha to send someone out there,” she told Eric once she’d finished.
Without pausing a beat, her husband asked, “Who was the other person Hunter found with this level of glamour?”
“Chase Murphree,” Sookie said just as quickly, and then caught herself. “Shit! I’ll never get over this! It’s like my head is one giant computer with all the answers just… there.”
Eric laughed. “Don’t get carried away. Total recall can also be a burden. You will find there are memories you wish you could forget.” She felt it, that strand of contentment she recognized as him, even so far away. “You complete me.” He just said it and Sookie knew she felt the same way, but he didn’t linger on that thought. Instead, Eric’s sharp mind moved back to the task at hand. “Where is this Chase Murphree from? Is it possible there would be films for him, too?”
“I’m not sure,” Sookie replied. “Rubio would have…”
“Rasul will have access to all Rubio’s records,” Eric cut her off. “Ask him. Let me know if you need help tracking it down.”
“I’m fine!” Sookie snapped. When Eric tried to justify himself, Sookie just said, “It’s all good! I’ll take care of it! Look, I’ve got to go. I’ll call you before I go to my rest.”
“I love you,” Eric told her.
“I know,” she replied, and then, “Me, too.” She knew she wasn’t angry with Eric. She was angry about Rubio and the unfairness of the situation. ‘If you can prove this is coming from outside Louisiana, then Rubio will be safe,’ she comforted herself, then sighing, headed back inside.
It almost seemed inevitable that Chase Murphree came from Bon Temps. “He runs a gas station,” Rasul told her.
The vampire was sitting behind Rubio’s desk, looking too comfortable. “Which one?” Sookie spit out her words a little too sharply.
Rasul was immediately before her, his head bowed. “Have I offended you?”
Sookie had to fight the urge to hit him. She wanted to believe he was being sincere, but he was too perfectly servile, and her instincts told her he was really laughing. “Long night,” she muttered. “Sorry. Which gas station did you say he owned?”
Rubio named one Sookie didn’t remember, but then again, Bon Temps had grown in the years she’d been gone. Some of it was commerce in the town, but most of it was people from other towns moving there for a bit of country at the end of a long day in offices. Rubio gave her the address, and Sookie checked the time. “Guess this will have to wait until tomorrow.”
“Do you wish me to accompany you?” Rasul offered.
“No!” and Sookie checked herself again. “No, I’ll ask Mustapha to take the ride with me and Hunter. He knows the area and folks there know him.”
“You’re sure…” but Rasul stopped. Instead, he gave her a knowing look. “You will remain at Pam’s residence?” he asked instead.
Pam maintained a house in Shreveport from the days when she’d been Sheriff of Area Five; those days following Eric’s departure for Oklahoma. It wasn’t grand, but it was comfortable. Sookie thought about her house in Bon Temps, but the thought of staying there without Eric didn’t appeal. “We’re all set up in Shreveport. No need to fuss with moving, now,” she replied. “Questioning this Murphree person shouldn’t take more than a night and if it does, probably better to bring him back here.”
“Where we have more persuasive means at our disposal,” and Rasul lifted his eyebrows a couple times, looking like a cartoon villain. It was the effect he was shooting for and when Sookie couldn’t help grinning, he joined her. “Will you interrogate the human further tonight?” he asked then.
Sookie thought about it. She hadn’t seen Hunter when she stepped back into Fangtasia. She knew he’d be with Heidi and the hour was late. “No,” she decided. “Let him go. Let’s get the tapes from his business and see if they have anything useful.” Pulling her phone, she texted Hunter. ‘We’re done for tonight. We need to head to Bon Temps to find the other one tomorrow. Should I expect you later?’
She was in the car by the time he responded. ‘Staying at Heidi’s,’ he returned. ‘I’ll be by Pam’s when you rise.’ Sookie wasn’t surprised. She next texted Mustapha, confirming a time they’d meet in a commuter lot near the highway. Driving to Bon Temps wouldn’t take long. Mustapha would have his people locate Mr. Murphree and he’d be secured and ready for them to interview by the time they arrived.
‘Bon Temps,’ Sookie thought. It conjured memories of summers by the pond and bees buzzing over Gran’s rose bushes. All so long ago. Even the house where she’d grown up had changed. She thought of the evenings she’d spent there with Eric not so long ago and although she’d enjoyed it, she couldn’t shake knowing it wasn’t the same. ‘Not home,’ she thought sadly. ‘Not anymore,” but that thought was quickly replaced by a deep yearning. Sookie thought about how being aggressive in her investigation now would mean being back in Eric’s arms sooner and she felt a new fierceness. ‘Not like the old days,’ a small voice scolded her. ‘No, not at all.’
When she rose, it was to find Hunter sitting outside in his car. He was grinning and he’d taken on that slight glow. Even if she couldn’t smell it, she’d recognize the look of someone who was drinking vampire blood. “You look pretty happy,” she said as she slid into the car beside him.
“I really like Heidi,” he replied, slipping the car into gear. “I don’t know. I think she may be the one.”
Sookie busied herself, snapping her seatbelt and putting her handbag in the backseat. “Seems kind of fast,” she said softly. When she looked at her nephew, he was staring at her. “I’m not questioning it, Hunter,” she assured him. “I’m just pointing out that you haven’t known each other a long time. I can see you’re happy with her and believe me, I understand the appeal of vampires. I just worry about you!” and Sookie swept his hair from his forehead. “Now, give your Auntie points for worrying, and let’s get a move on it!”
Mustapha was waiting for them in the lot and they transferred to his larger car. Hunter sat up front, leaving Sookie alone to look out the windows, watching the landscape of her human life slide past. There were changes, new businesses and old ones that were gone. She remembered each one, because as a vampire, she couldn’t do otherwise. “Mind if we stop for something to eat?” Hunter asked as they passed through town.
“That would be fine,” Sookie answered. What she hadn’t anticipated was their choice of venues. “Merlottes?” she asked. “Really?”
“Best chicken fingers I’ve ever had,” Hunter answered.
“Catfish is damn good, too,” Mustapha echoed.
They were barely seated before Sam Merlotte walked over. “Been a long time, cher,” he told her.
Sookie found herself staring at him. He was different, but, at the same time, something in her heart slid into place. She might not love him, but here, in this place where she’d once worked and met her first vampire, Sam felt right. “Looks like you’re doing well,” she answered. “I heard you got married.”
“Twenty years in December,” he nodded.
“I’m happy for you,” Sookie answered automatically, and she realized she really was happy for him. Once she’d thought she’d make her life with this man. It had been a mistake, but that didn’t mean she didn’t still like him and now, all these years later, it seemed they might still be friends.
“How’s your boy?” Sam asked.
“Oh!” It took her by surprise, but then she remembered Sam had met Rick a number of times. “Fine, I think,” and then she explained, “He’s on a bit of an adventure at the moment. He decided to sail across the Atlantic with some friends.”
“Jeez!” and Sam ruffled his hand through his greying auburn hair. “Your family sure has a way of coming and going! Guess that’s not so surprising for Yankees, though. Hard time settling down, at least that’s what I hear about those New York types. Not for me! Happy to have roots!”
“What about you?” Sookie asked. “Children?” Fifteen minutes and countless photos later, Sookie was sorry she asked. Mustapha and Hunter were tucking into their dinners, seeing no need to rescue her from stories about first teeth and soccer games. Still, the pride of fatherhood shone on Sam’s face and Sookie couldn’t discredit that.
“This is the year he won the Regionals!” Sam told her, flipping to a photo showing him with his arms wrapped around a grinning, red-haired boy. The way he looked at his son in the picture and the way the boy stared back reminded Sookie of Eric and Rick’s stilted relationship and she felt her throat tighten. Thankfully, she was rescued by a familiar voice.
“Sookie!” What you doing sitting in here?” Jason Stackhouse strode over, and jerked his thumb at Sam. “Get out of the way, Sam! A man’s got to greet his sister!”
Sookie was aware of the uncomfortable stares from some of the diners. She figured since the owner of the place was visiting with her, they’d kept pretty polite, but when Jason announced his intentions, Sookie saw some of those stares become more openly sour. Leave it to Jason. He refused to allow her to stay seated. He pulled her to him and hugged her tightly. It felt wonderful and Sookie closed her eyes, ducking her face into Jason’s shoulder so she could enjoy the moment without seeing the hostility around her. After a minute, Jason sensed the atmosphere and turned to look at the tables nearest them. “What’s wrong with y’all? You know Sookie! Known her all her life!” and he turned back to her. “Looking good, Sis.”
“I should have let you know I was coming in tonight,” Sookie apologized.
“Yeah, you should have!” Jason scolded. “But, don’t matter none. You’re here now and that’s all that matters.” He nodded to Mustapha, “Packmaster,” and then to Hunter, “and how you hanging, Cuz?”
“Would you like to join us?” Hunter invited.
“Nah!” and Jason waved his hand at the table before patting his gut. “Staying away from all that stuff. I figure if I’m going to find myself some female companionship, I’d better get myself back in fighting shape.”
“Running with us tomorrow?” Mustapha asked.
“See you there,” Jason nodded, then turned to Sookie. “Want to sit out back? Nice night.”
Sookie followed Jason outside and together they headed for the bench behind the kitchen door. After all these years, the bench looked a little more worn, but she’d spent so many hours sitting here, watching Arlene smoke or catching some fresh air between shifts. She glanced toward the vacant spot where they’d found Lafayette and a little further back where the Rattrays had caught her and almost beaten her to death. “Penny for your thoughts?” Jason asked.
“Not sure they’d be worth that much,” and Sookie gave her brother a quick grin. She glanced toward the restaurant. “Since when are you running with Mustapha’s pack? I thought you ran with Hot Shot.”
Jason gave her that little smile she knew so well, “You’ve been gone a long time, Sook. Not surprised you haven’t heard. The werepanthers are pretty well gone. They got messed up with meth. It was easy money and there wasn’t anyone there who could turn it down. Course, things ended up going sideways and the place got burnt to the ground. People died…” and a shadow passed over her brother’s face. “Those who were left figured it was time to move on. Most left the state. Weren’t anyone left I’d call a friend. Mustapha…” and Jason nodded toward Merlotte’s, “He reached out. Offered me a place. Wasn’t long after Michele left me.” He grinned again, “He’s a good guy, for all he’s a wolf.”
“I didn’t know what to think the first time I saw him,” Sookie shared. “Dressed up all bad ass and with his being Eric’s Dayman all that, but he grew on me.” Leaning over, she nudged Jason’s shoulder, “You doing okay?”
“I am,” and Jason Stackhouse, charmer, was back. “Got a roof over my head and more work than I can handle. Got my health. All good.”
They stared into the dark a bit before Sookie asked, “You hear from Michele at all? Your boys?”
“Nope,” and Jason pulled from the beer he’d brought outside with him. He offered It to Sookie, then remembering himself, pulled it back with a hitch of his shoulder. “Sorry. No, I haven’t heard from her in a while. I know she’s still around ‘cause she keeps cashing my checks. I deposit them in the account and she cashes away. Corbett would be sixteen now, a man. Earl should be fourteen.” He took another sip before asking, “What about your boy? You know, it’s the funniest thing. I was working, oh, a few months ago, maybe, and all the sudden I remembered going to Boston to see you. All this time, I didn’t remember a thing about it and out of nowhere, there it was, this full memory!” He glanced her way. “I did go to Boston, didn’t I? Saw you. Met Rick?”
“You did,” Sookie said quickly. Sookie knew that the minute Jason remembered was the minute Fran Miller died. The witch’s spells died with her and masking Jason’s memory had been one of those spells.
“Thought so,” he said, but Sookie heard relief in his voice. “I knew he was Northman’s son,” and he nodded. “You said no, but I knew!”
“You were right,” and Sookie leaned against her big brother. “I didn’t know, not then. I wasn’t lying to you, but you could see what I couldn’t.” In that moment, they were good again. “I don’t know what to do about Rick,” Sookie sighed. “He’s so headstrong… stubborn. And even though we’re together, he and Eric… well, they don’t…” and she stopped, not sure what words to use. Jason just waited, and so, after a bit, she tried again. “I thought once they knew about each other, they’d just fall into being father and son, you know? But it hasn’t happened. Don’t get me wrong. They like each other. They get along, but it’s not the same thing. Rick? He needs a father. He needs someone who can give him advice. Me? He looks to me for comfort and approval, but he needs more, Jason.”
“I’m not sure I’m the one you should ask,” and Jason gave a bitter laugh. “Not exactly father of the year over here.”
“You love your boys!” Sookie protested. “I mean, I missed most of it, but anyone can tell just the way you talk about them.” Jason nodded quickly. “He ran away,” Sookie confessed. “He took his girlfriend and ran away. He didn’t tell us. I didn’t know where he’d gone until I got a letter from him.” Sookie sighed, “He’s in danger, Jason, I just know it and there’s nothing I can do about it. And what’s worse, I just know when we do find him and bring him home, he’ll just find another stupid thing to do and I’ll be right back to where I am now, worried sick and knowing there’s not a damn thing I can do about it!”
Jason took a deep breath followed by a long slug of beer. He leaned back on the bench and stared up at the sky. “I guess the thing that’s surprising me is… well, I just don’t see vampires running around like that. I mean, they have all these rules and they are always answering to someone or other. I mean, look at Rubio. He’s in trouble from what I hear, but he’s not running. He’s under house arrest and he’s sticking there. No one’s got him tied up or guarded, he’s just following the rules. How many times have I seen it around here? Now, don’t get me wrong! I think vampires are all kinds of sneaky, present company excluded,” and he tipped his beer bottle, “but they generally aren’t troublemakers.”
“That’s because they’ve all pledged to someone,” Sookie explained. “Usually their King or Queen.”
“Well, who’s Rick pledged to?” Jason asked.
Sookie laughed, “Well, Rick’s different! He’s not a vassal! He’s my son!”
“Isn’t he a vampire?” Jason asked. That took Sookie a bit to answer, but she ended up nodding. “Don’t know what took you so long to answer that,” and Jason gave her some side-eye. “Could be, that’s the problem, Sook. You need to let him be who he is.” Sookie’s mouth opened, but Jason held up his hand. “I get it! He walks in daylight and feels all warm-blooded, but it doesn’t change what he is. He’s a vamp, Sook, just like his Daddy. He needs to be a vamp, a part of their world. Like I said, they may not be my favorite people, but you have to respect how they take care of their own.”
“Like they’re taking care of Rubio?” She hadn’t meant to say it, but the idea that Rick could find himself facing final death for something that wasn’t truly his doing scared her.
Jason turned a little, fixing her with a knowing stare, “And why are you here?” he asked. Before she could answer, he told her, “You’re here to clear your friend’s name. You’re a vampire, too, Sis, and here you are, taking care of your own, like I said.”
It wasn’t elegant, but Jason Stackhouse spoke a truth Sookie found she needed to hear. “Thank you,” she told him. “You’re right.”
“You turn him over to the vamps when he gets back,” Jason nodded. “You trust them to take him in and if he resists, you remind him who and what he is. He needs family and vampires are it.” Jason sipped again, his lop-sided smile restored, “Well, I bet he even gets closer with King Cold.”
Sookie swatted at her brother’s leg, “Watch it! That’s my husband you’re talking about!”
“So, tell me,” and Jason waggled his eyebrows, “You do all that vamp stuff, too?”
Sookie couldn’t answer. Instead, she leaned in, and Jason wrapped her up, pulling her close and together they watched the stars above.