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.
It was like sitting in a dream where you dreaded what was around the next corner, but you were more afraid to wake up. One minute he was sitting in his Uncle Jason’s truck, a rainbow playing across his hand, and the next he was sitting in a warehouse building in an area set up to look like a hospital. It reminded him of an improvised movie set. Amy Ludwig was there and they fought when she tried to take the baby (Mine!) from him. There’d been a sharp jab and he’d gone from sitting to falling.
When he opened his eyes again, he was lying on a bed like the one he’d seen. He was still wearing the jeans and t-shirt he’d worn when life made sense. Somewhere nearby a baby was crying. There were other voices, too. They were talking and talking. He heard ‘Sookie’ and ‘Delay.’ “Brigid,” he whispered, but he knew she was gone. Tears started to form and a feeling started in his chest. It grew and grew until he could barely breathe, like a great wave that threatened to sweep him under. He battled it back, closing his eyes. He was pretty sure he was whimpering, but then Amy Ludwig was there again and he welcomed the sharp taste of metal in his mouth that let him know she’d injected something into his pic line.
“You’re all assholes!” It was Pam’s voice. She was shoving him hard enough that the needle in his arm hurt. “Wake up! Come on, Rick!” He opened his eyes even though his eyelids fought him. “How much of that shit did you give him?” Pam was shrieking in his ear.
I’m tired,” Rick tried to tell Pam. “Just let me…”
“Your daughter needs you!” Pam wasn’t going away. She was pushing him to sit up. She yanked the line out of his arm and growled, literally, growled at Amy Ludwig. Rick wanted to laugh, but then he wanted to cry.
“Where’s Mama?” he asked, using the name he’d called his Mother when he was a small boy.
“She’s coming,” and Pam sat on the edge of the bed. She laid her hand on his hair. “She’ll be here soon.”
Seeing Pam looking kind almost broke him. “Don’t!” he moaned. “Just let me sleep.”
“Don’t you dare close your eyes!” and mean Pam was back. She stomped off, her heels clacking against the tile floor. He knew better than to disobey her, but it was easier to focus on the dust motes dancing in the light next to his bed. It seemed a long time before she was back, and he was pretty sure he’d closed his eyes anyway.
“Come on, Rick.” Her voice was gentler and he looked at her. She was holding the baby as she sat down beside him. “Come on, let’s get that shirt off you. She needs skin contact with her Father.”
Rick tried to pull his shirt off, but his hands wouldn’t do what he wanted. “Some help over here!” Pam snarled, and the baby in her arms started to cry. A Were in scrubs came around the curtain. He ignored Pam and roughly pulled Rick forward, scraping the shirt from him so fast Rick bit his tongue when the collar caught his jaw.
“Good!” and Pam jerked her head, ordering the Were away. “Now, here we go.” Rick was shivering in the chill air, but the minute the baby’s head made contact with his chest he felt as if a great weight was lifted from him. “Now, hold her against you and I’ll wrap you both up,” Pam said, and Rick felt the baby slipping as his sister simply let go.
It was instinct. His arms tightened and suddenly, the baby was against him, safe and secure. “Look at you!” Pam purred. “You’re a natural!”
Rick looked down. His daughter wasn’t covered in blood this time. She was soft and pink. Her head was covered with blond hair. Her eyes were closed, framed by perfect, tiny eyelashes and her perfect mouth was puckered. Her fingers flexed open, then closed, moving against his chest. Rick drew a shuddering breath. “Well, say something!” Pam scolded.
“She’s okay?” Rick asked. His throat was dry so his words came out cracked and broken.
“She’s perfect,” Pam told him. She finished pulling the blanket so it overlapped in the front. The baby was loosely wrapped in a pink blanket so Rick didn’t think she was cold. Pam laid her hand on the baby’s back as she said, “She’s got everything she should. Ten fingers and ten toes. Amy says she’s healthy as a horse.”
The baby’s head started moving and she started to cry. It was a shrill, thin sound. “What’s wrong?” Rick asked.
“I think she’s hungry,” and Pam stood up. “I’ll be right back.”
Rick rubbed his daughter’s back, not sure if he was helping. It didn’t stop her crying. “Here,” and Pam held a small bottle in front of him. “Try this.”
The baby was starting to move around and Rick panicked. “I can’t!” he said.
“Oh, fuck a zombie!” Pam swore. “Watch me! You need to learn how to do this!” and she expertly lifted the baby from him, turned her, and inserted the nipple into the open mouth. The child didn’t seem to know what to make of it but, after a few more protests, her mouth closed around the nipple and she started pulling with purpose.
“See?” Pam asked him. “All you have to do is get the leaking end near her and she’ll do the rest. She’s a smart little thing!”
Rick felt calmer watching his daughter in Pam’s arms. “What happened?” he asked.
Pam’s eyes met his and Rick was sorry he’d asked. He felt his breath catch again. “I think we should wait until Sookie and Eric get here,” Pam told him. “We have more immediate concerns, like making sure this little one is off to a good start.” She shifted. “Put your arms out. Your turn!”
For the first time in a long time, facing a new thing made him nervous, but soon enough, Rick felt confident holding his baby. When she finished the bottle, Pam pulled it from her greedy mouth, warning Rick about allowing the baby to suck down air. She helped him hold the baby to his shoulder, rubbing her back until she burped, and then ran for a towel to wipe up what the baby spat back.
“Now, put her against your chest again,” Pam instructed. “She’ll feel safer hearing your heartbeat.” It was hard, corralling his thoughts away from remembering whose heartbeat his child was missing. Then the baby started moving in his arms again, her mouth working.
“What now?” Rick asked.
“Still hungry,” Pam shrugged and went away again. This time, Rick was ready, moving his child into position and placing the nipple into her mouth, but when she took her first swallow, her blue eyes opened and she cried again.
“Maybe she needs to be changed,” Pam suggested. “We’ll wait until you’re steady on your feet for that one. Hand her over!” and Pam walked away. Rick’s eyes fastened to the edge of the curtain, waiting for Pam to return. From the sounds the baby was making, Pam hadn’t gone far. She returned after a few minutes. “Nope, that’s not it.”
The baby continued to cry fitfully until Amy Ludwig poked her head in. “Got a problem?” she asked.
“We’ve fed her. She’s clean, but she isn’t settling down,” Pam explained.
“Can’t be a nap,” Amy mumbled, taking the baby from Pam’s hands. “Her temperature’s fine. Her eyes are clear.” She placed a finger in the baby’s mouth and the baby started sucking. “She’s hungry!” Amy pronounced.
“She just ate,” Pam explained. “We tried a second bottle,” and Pam held up the milk, “but she didn’t want it.”
Amy took the bottle and in one fluid motion, she had the baby cradled in one arm while inserting the bottle with the other. For one instant, the baby was quiet, but then her face reddened and her eyes crinkled as she shrieked her unhappiness. “Okay,” Amy huffed, “Let’s try something else. Here!” and she held the baby out to Rick. “Hold her like you’re going to feed her.”
Rick’s alarm increased as his daughter’s cries got louder, and then Amy grabbed his hand, pinched his finger, and sliced the end. Before he even knew what to think, Amy stuffed his finger in his daughter’s mouth and she fastened onto it, sucking hard. “Oh,” Amy said. “She’s one of those!”
“Vampire!” and Pam couldn’t have looked happier.
“Not really,” Amy sniffed. “Some dhampirs need blood as well as food.” She looked at Rick. “She won’t need much, but if she rejects the bottle, try feeding her some of your blood. Her body will tell her what she needs.”
Rick waited for Amy to walk away before he asked, “Where’s Brigid?” Holding his daughter, watching her eyes close and her mouth work, trusting her world, gave him the courage he needed to ask the question.
“She’s gone,” Pam told him.
He knew. He knew the minute he heard Mustapha’s voice on the phone. Still, hearing it confirmed took him like a sledgehammer to the heart. As if she understood, his daughter stopped sucking. He looked down at her and she looked back at him, blue eyes round. He started to reach out toward her mind, but then she yawned, wiggled, and latched back onto his finger, the hard ridges of her gums cutting in, sucking hard. She was real. She was normal. She was his anchor and she made it possible for him to go further. “Can I see her?”
Pam sat down beside him. She leaned against him, which was kind of a big deal. Rick knew how much she disliked being touched. Pam reached down, touching his daughter’s cheek. As if by magic, his daughter stopped sucking and fell asleep, her mouth falling open. “Guess she got what she wanted,” Pam crooned.
“Is she here?” Rick asked.
Pam stilled. “I think it would be better if we waited for Sookie and Eric to get here.”
“I want to see her!” and Rick felt the empty hole inside him opening again, threatening to consume him.
“We have to wait,” Pam pressed. “There are things that still need to be done.” Rick was trembling, but he picked up his daughter and held her against him. “Listen to me, Rick,” and Pam switched to her ‘all business’ mode. “It’s a crime scene. If we’re going to figure out what happened and who did this, we need to finish examining all the clues.”
“What does that have to do with Brigid?” Rick moaned.
“She’s evidence,” Pam told him. “She is covered with scents and signs. We have experts coming. We need to be sure. You understand?”
“She’s mine,” Rick whispered, but he knew he was wrong. Brigid wasn’t anyone’s anymore. She would never smile for him again. He would never again see her puzzle things out, her thumb in her teeth. He would never again hear her laugh. “She’ll never know you,” he told his daughter, and he felt things inside him break and fall.
“What do we know?” That was Eric. The second they walked into Amy’s hospital, he was all business. He was using that stance Sookie associated with his badass self but, living with him, she’d come to realize that the tougher he looked, the more uncertain he felt. Right now, he was looking like someone was getting an ass whooping, which let her know that under the crossed arms and snarling face, he was reeling, just like her.
“They must have had the house under some kind of surveillance,” Pam reported. “Jason and Rick didn’t plan the trip into Shreveport in advance. It was a last-minute decision.”
Rapid as gunfire, Eric started asking his questions, “Who were the people at the store where the playscape was purchased?”
“No one we knew,” Pam told him. “We even checked the part-timers. We couldn’t find any connection between the employees and any Supe.”
“Appearances can be deceiving. Someone made a call. When did Jason and Rick arrange the pick up?”
“Jason says he never made a call,” Pam replied. “They were told the equipment was ready and they could stop by and pick it up any time.”
“Who bought the playscape?” Eric asked.
“I did,” and Pam’s voice dropped along with her head.
They didn’t need to be bonded. Sookie could feel Pam’s guilt. “It wasn’t your fault,” Sookie assured her friend.
Eric didn’t say anything for one long second. “No,” he agreed at last. “Well, at least we know the attack was carried out by humans or Weres. The attack was during broad daylight.”
“We think it was humans,” Pam told him. “Weres leave more scent. Even with all the rain we got we would’ve picked up some trace if it were the two-natured.” She turned to Sookie, “I’ll never forgive myself! We got sloppy. There hadn’t been any sign of trouble, not from anyone. It fooled us.”
Eric didn’t blame, but he didn’t let up either. “I think we need to continue to explore the idea that it’s connected to the playscape. Why this day? It’s too much of a coincidence. Someone knew. It’s the first time there were so few people on the property.”
A single tear slipped down her cheek as Pam confirmed, “You’re right. It was just Brigid and Peter in the house.”
“And the Were,” Eric reminded her.
This time Pam shook her head. “Kyle wasn’t in the house. He was patrolling the grounds. It was just dumb luck he was near the cemetery when they dragged Brigid out there.”
“You said Brigid was in the house,” Eric pointed out. “Why do you think she was taken? We know she walked a great deal. They could have surprised her while she was walking in the cemetery.”
“Flour,” Pam told him. “It was on her hands and clothes. It was kind of caked on and it matched the mess in the house. There was a lot of water on the floor in the kitchen. Rick said they were defrosting food in pans of water. It was everywhere, and it left some tracks. They came out the back. There was a slight trail and some scuff marks on the porch and down the stairs. They could have carried her, but we don’t think they did. They wanted her scent on everything.”
“So, you couldn’t find any other scent?” Sookie asked.
“We were lucky Mustapha and his Weres covered the bodies when they did. The skies opened and it rained for the next four hours,” Pam told her. “Any trace outside on the ground was lost. Other than entering through the back door, we don’t know how they came on to the property or how they left. If Heidi were here…”
“Well, she isn’t,” Eric growled.
Pam looked as if she’d been slapped. Sookie watched her lift her chin, recover, and move on. “Kyle fought them. From the marks Amy found on their bodies, it looks as though they all fought. Amy’s trying to lift evidence from their hands. It’s possible she’ll find something that helps.”
“They fought, but not well enough.” Eric glanced at Sookie. He was trying to master it, but he wasn’t succeeding. Eric Northman was angry. It flickered across their bond, setting off alarms and putting Sookie’s nerves on edge. He’d been like this ever since they’d risen to the news in Denver.
“It’s been over twenty-four hours since the attack,” Eric growled. “They were in the house. I don’t care how much water was spilled, we should be able to pick up something! When’s Mustapha getting here?”
Sookie laid her hand against him, pushing what calm she had left. “He’ll be here soon. His people have been there for the past twenty-four hours ripping the house apart. They’ve combed the grounds, too. They’ve brought in their best, Eric. Amy’s been working nonstop on this, too. They’re doing everything they can. You know that.”
“Sarah Chandler is landing tonight,” Pam informed them. “Hunter’s on his way as well. Lily Hermosa is picking them both up at the airport.”
“Sarah will want to take her son home,” Sookie said as if to herself.
“Make sure Amy goes over him one more time,” Eric growled. “I don’t want her to miss anything!” Sookie closed her eyes, her own sorrow welling up again. “We’ll find the ones who did this, Lover.” Eric wrapped her in his arms, his chest solid against her cheek, and Sookie leaned in.
Mustapha Khan and Jason Stackhouse chose that moment to walk in. “Oh, Sook!” and Sookie exchanged one set of arms for another. “Oh, shit, girl! I’m so sorry!” her brother told her.
“I’m just glad you weren’t there,” Sookie whispered. “I couldn’t stand it if I lost you, too.”
“How’s Rick?” her brother asked.
Sookie glanced in the direction of where her son was resting. His bedside was the first place she’d gone and she’d stood, staring down at him for a while. “Sleeping,” she told her brother. “I didn’t have the heart to wake him.”
“How’s my little niece?” Jason gave a sad smile before turning Sookie toward Mustapha. “We owe a lot to this big guy. If he hadn’t acted like he did, we’d have lost her, too.”
Sookie had already heard the short version from Warren.
Kyle sent the alarm. Mustapha and Warren were in Bon Temps at Merlotte’s. It wasn’t a long drive and they broke speed limits getting there, but it didn’t matter. It was already too late. Kyle’s naked body was stretched out in the cemetery, clearly visible from the road. It prompted Mustapha and Warren to pull over short of the house and, as it turned out, it was lucky they did. Brigid was lying nearby. From the angle of her body, she’d either fallen or been pushed. A piece of broken wrought-iron fence pierced her neck. “If we hadn’t stopped for Kyle, we wouldn’t have found her until it was too late.”
Warren’s voice had choked with emotion as he described how they found her. When they knelt beside her, Brigid was almost gone, her blood soaking the ground. Sookie knew Mustapha cut the baby from her. She only hoped her son’s mate was dead when he did, but she suspected that wasn’t how it happened. “It was the only way,” Warren explained, but he wouldn’t meet her eyes.
They found Peter Chandler in the kitchen of the house. His knuckles were bruised, his hands dusty with flour. Amy said he’d hit someone before he was struck down. Sookie knew there were pictures, but she hadn’t had the heart to look. She’d known this man most of his life and now he was gone.
“Come on,” Jason said softly, pulling her out of her thoughts. He led her to the sofa and insisted she sit down.
“We’ve been over everything. Between the rain and the water in the house, we were screwed. We think when they saw the way the water washed things away in the house, they decided to throw more water down.
The Packmaster nodded, “The floor under Peter was nearly dry. I’ve told my people to be careful, but there’s nothing to be found on the ground outside. It hadn’t rained in a while and the dirt was hard. No scuffing, no track. We can’t even figure out where they were waiting and what trail they took when they left.” Mustapha shook his head. “I think we’ve done all we can. Do we call the local police?”
Sookie already knew Eric’s answer. “No. We have more tools than they do and our justice is swifter!”
“I just can’t understand why we can’t track them,” Sookie sighed. “They were in the house! Even if they didn’t track mud, they had to leave something, some scent, somewhere!”
“It was Brigid,” Jason huffed. “That scent! That damned Fae scent, it covered everything! We’ve had Weres crisscrossing the place, but we can’t get anything that’s not all tied to her.”
“Maybe vampires will have more luck. Rubio’s out there?” Eric asked.
“And Indira,” Pam confirmed, “but it’s like Stackhouse says. The place reeks. I doubt they can pick up any more than the Weres.”
“No blood?” Sookie asked. “But you said they fought! Surely they left something! There’s got be to a clue!”
There was a faint buzz and Pam pulled out her phone. She poked in her code before holding it out to Eric. “It’s Karin,” she told him.
Sookie felt Eric’s anxiety spike through their bond as he took the phone. “What is it?” Jason asked. “You jumped!”
“Nothing,” Sookie said sadly, watching her husband walk into the hallway. “Everything.”
Somewhere the thin sound of a baby crying had every head but Warren and Jason’s turning. “Go ahead,” Pam told Sookie. “I’ll share her.”
Her granddaughter was in a makeshift nursery not too far from where her son was resting. Sookie leaned over the small crib, mesmerized again by blond hair and flushed cheeks. “Well,” she said, using that sing-song voice adults immediately adopt when around small children, “Nothing wrong with your lungs!” With the practice of years, Sookie lifted the baby, taking her to the changing station. Once she was clean and swaddled, Sookie lifted the bottle from the warmer, shaking it twice and settling it into her granddaughter’s open mouth.
As if by magic, the crying stopped and those blue eyes opened, watching Sookie warily. “I bet you’re wondering who I am,” Sookie crooned. “Well, I’m your Daddy’s Mama and that makes you mine, little girl.” Sookie glanced at the smaller bottles that held blood, but it seemed milk was what the child wanted now. She pulled on the bottle so hard she made little grunting noises, and Sookie found she was smiling in spite of her sadness. If there was one good thing to come out of this tragedy, it was who now rested in Sookie’s arms and she found herself allowing all the bad to slip away, just being in this moment.
It didn’t take long and Sookie shifted the baby to her shoulder, securing her round bottom with one hand and her head with the other. She’d walked back and forth a couple times when she heard steps coming toward her. “Was I ever that small?” Rick asked.
“No,” Sookie told him. “You were a bruiser, but there’s nothing wrong with this one. She’s solid and healthy.” Rick nodded before collapsing into the chair. “Do you want to hold her?” Sookie asked.
Rick shook his head, “No, it’s okay.”
Sookie watched Rick watch her. “You know, we’re going to find out who did this,” she assured him.
Rick nodded, “Yeah, and then what? Gonna kill them? And then what? They’ll come to kill us? When does it stop, Mom? When do vampires move from eye for an eye to something better?” His voice caught. “I never should have come back here. I should have stayed in Boston. We could have gone to Chester, anywhere…”
“Come on,” and Sookie handed his daughter to him. She grabbed a chair and pulled it over so she could sit next to Rick, touching him so they could feel the faint sense of well-being they shared whenever they were in physical contact. “You know that wouldn’t have helped. Whatever trouble this was, it was coming for you. Still, you’re right about one thing, even if it’s not what you meant. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with it, but there’s only one way to answer something like this in the Supe world and that’s with strength. If we don’t track down whoever’s responsible and exact revenge, it will be a signal to anyone else with a grudge to grind to come after us.”
“There are courts,” Rick huffed. “Even among vampires, there’s a justice system!”
“Sure, there is,” Sookie agreed, “and in Louisiana, that’s me and your Father.”
“So, no police, no investigation, no trial, no jail time.” Rick’s laugh was harsh, causing his daughter to startle, a mewl escaping her.
“No smart attorney getting someone off, no fines instead of real justice,” Sookie countered. She felt her rage burning, but she reined herself in for the sake of the child whose back she was rubbing. “I know you have this idea that good guys always win, Rick, but that’s just not the case, especially for our kind.”
“So, that’s the kind of world I’m giving her?” Rick asked, looking down as his daughter started to doze.
“I’m not going to argue with you right now,” Sookie scolded. “You’re right about her, she deserves better, and once we make sure this danger’s past, we can talk about what that might be. For now, I think you’d better get on board with your family.”
Rick didn’t say anything, but the tear that fell over his cheek spoke volumes. “I can’t think that’s what she would want for our daughter.” Rick sighed. “Who knows? Maybe she’d be fine with all this!”
Sookie was surprised. In spite of his tears, Rick sounded angry. “Are we talking about Brigid?” She asked, and when Rick snapped, ‘Who else?’ Sookie found herself confused. “You knew her so well. Rick, of all people, you would know what she’d want to do.”
“Do I?” he snapped and in Rick’s flashing eyes and angry posture, Sookie suddenly saw his Father so clearly.
At Rick’s sharp words, the baby shifted and kicked, her lips puckering and her face turning red. “Here,” and Sookie swooped in, lifting her granddaughter, shushing her until her small face smoothed and her breathing settled. Crisis averted, Sookie asked, “Why would you think otherwise? You two were as close as any bonded couple. You knew her, Rick, and you are going to be the one to make her memory real for your child.”
“You don’t know!” he protested, and then, it was as if the air went out of him. “You don’t,” he repeated, but instead of being angry he just looked defeated. “We were fighting, Mom. We were fighting a lot. The day it happened? I left because if I stayed in that house one more minute, I was going to say something I knew I’d regret.”
Sookie’s heart hurt. She could see the beginnings of the kind of regret that would haunt Rick for the rest of his life. “Your Father and I fight all the time,” she told him. “Truth is, the more we love each other, the more we fight. Maybe it looks like we’re not getting along, but it’s the exact opposite. We fight because we trust each other enough to be ourselves.” Sookie waited until Rick met her eye. “I’m stubborn,” she told him, earning a quick laugh from her son. Nodding, Sookie continued, “I’m opinionated and quick to judge, and I make up my own mind. Eric admires that. We admire that about each other.” Sookie could see Rick was listening, so she sat back down beside him. “I’ll tell you what I think, I think it was Brigid’s independence that made you love her.”
“I did!” Rick exclaimed. “I did love her!”
Sookie kissed the baby’s sleeping head, pulling back a little so she could check her granddaughter’s reaction to the noise, but there was none. “I know you loved her,” Sookie told her son. “Anyone could see it. The way your eyes followed her? You may not have noticed, but Brigid’s eyes followed you, too. When you two were together, it was clear to anyone that you were a couple. You belonged together, Rick. You fit.”
“How am I going to live without her?” her son asked.
Sookie remembered asking herself the same question as she drove herself to Boston all those years ago. She was pregnant, afraid, and sure she’d never see the love of her life again, so she gave her son the same advice Fran gave her. “You’re going to find the way, Rick, because you’re going to remember that you have someone who’s depending on you, and so you’re going to move forward with your life, one day at a time.”
They sat quietly for a bit, just staring at the sleeping child, but when the baby moved, murmuring in her sleep, Sookie asked, “So, what are we going to call her?” Rick was still looking a little lost, so Sookie pressed, “I can’t just call her ‘baby.’ This little girl needs a name, Rick, and that’s your job.”
When he looked at his daughter, Rick’s eyes softened and his finger traced her soft cheek. “Francis,” he sighed, “like I said before, but not as her first name. She needs to be a fighter, Mom. That means she needs a strong name.”
Sookie nodded, “Well, what did you have in mind?” she asked.
“Brigid and I kicked around the idea of Diana,” he told her. “She’s the goddess of the moon, patron of the hunt. She was the badass of Greek mythology. No one fucked with her.”
“You know your Auntie Fran had the moon tattooed between her shoulder blades?” Sookie asked.
“Of course,” and Rick laughed. “She wasn’t shy about showing it off.”
“She wasn’t shy about much,” and Sookie laughed, too. “I miss her.”
“Who do you think was behind this?” Rick asked.
“I have an idea,” Sookie answered. “I think you do, too.”
“Russell Edgington,” Rick said it, the name they’d all been thinking, “but, why? Why would he want to hurt Brigid?”
“That’s what we need to find out,” Sookie told him. “We know he didn’t use vampires at the house. These people attacked the house in daylight. That means they were humans, maybe Weres. We’re going to track them down, Rick, and when we do you need to be ready. Between you and your cousin, Hunter, you’re going to get us the proof we need.” Sookie waited for her son to meet her eyes, “When we do, we’re going to make Russell Edgington pay.”