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Sookie worried that the chill of her hand reminded Sarah of death. Her friend hadn’t said much since they’d boarded the plane. The younger people had taken over the table and chairs in the back. Diana was sleeping in her car carrier and Rick was talking softly with George Hermosa and his sister, Maddie. Rubio and his wife, Lily were in the seats directly across from Sookie and Sarah. Lily was still human, something that surprised Sookie, although right now she was grateful. When dawn came it would mean Diana wouldn’t be left alone with a novice father and his college-age friends.
Frank, the Hermosa’s youngest, wasn’t traveling to Chester for the funeral. He grew up knowing Peter and the Chandlers, but unlike George and Maddie, he’d maintained his distance. When Frank graduated from boarding school last year, he announced he was taking early admission and left for college almost immediately. Unlike his siblings, Frank elected a school far away on the west coast. Sookie knew the plans to turn Lily were delayed when Rubio was suspected of being a spy, but that had cleared up. She wondered if Frank was the reason the turning still wasn’t scheduled.
Behind her the sound of talking grew louder. Sookie glanced over her shoulder. In their school days, Rick and George had been best friends, but college and Brigid had driven a wedge between them. It looked as though that distance lingered. It was in the way they shrugged and fiddled with their hands. Maddie seemed to be carrying much of the conversation and Sookie was relieved to see a swift smile ghost across her son’s face in reaction to something Maddie Hermosa said.
She couldn’t help seeing it, that door that led into the back of the plane just beyond where Rick was sitting. Somewhere back there in the cargo hold Peter Chandler was lying in a coffin. They were taking him back to the town where he’d grown up, and Sookie’s throat clenched, imagining if had been Rick in that coffin instead of Peter.
Sookie was startled out of her own thoughts when beside her Sarah said, “They’re arranging a dance in his honor.” Her friend was looking out the window into the darkness.
Sookie squeezed Sarah’s hand. “Peter would have liked that.” If Sarah heard her, she gave no sign.
Peter’s fiddle lay on the seats behind them. Sarah’s son hadn’t owned much, but he’d loved his instruments.. His guitar would follow with the rest of his belongings already packed in boxes and being shipped north to his Mother’s house. Sookie had felt odd, packing things without Karin’s being there. She’d never understood the relationship between Eric’s progeny and Peter Chandler, but she knew it was real.
“Do you think she’ll come?” Sarah asked, as though reading Sookie’s mind.
Neither of them needed to ask who ‘she’ was. “I don’t know,” Sookie replied. “You saw her. She’s not in a good place.”
Sarah’s quick intake of breath spoke volumes. She wiped at her eyes before squaring her shoulders. “He loved her,” she whispered.
Sookie knew if she said anything, she’d be unable to stop her grief from overwhelming her, so instead she squeezed Sarah’s hand again, closed her eyes and sat back.
It didn’t help much. Sookie could clearly see Karin as she’d appeared at Amy Ludwig’s hospital. Karin wasn’t fussy about her appearance, not like Pam, but she did have a certain style. You wouldn’t have known it, though, seeing how she walked in. Karin’s clothes were torn and her hair stuck out in snarls. She was covered in dirt and leaves and her eyes were wild. When Eric stepped out of the room to meet her, Karin roared her frustration. It was a chilling sound, one Sookie wished she could forget. It carried everything Karin was feeling: her anger, her loss, her desperation. Sookie recognized some part of it. She’d had times after her turning she’d wanted to end herself, but she realized now she wouldn’t have gone through with it. There had been many nights she’d battled with depression, but she’d never lost sight of Rick and Eric, both of whom needed her. Knowing how her final death would affect them, Sookie kept moving forward.
Karin didn’t have that. Karin had a Maker’s command literally forcing her not to meet the sun. She was powerless to end her suffering. She was powerless to retreat from Shreveport. Eric had imposed his will, and Sookie wondered if Karin would ever forgive him.
Eric wondered too. He’d told Sookie before she left that holding his child in this way was the hardest thing he’d ever done as a Maker. “I feel like Appius,” he confessed. Sookie knew what that meant. As much as Eric held back from criticizing his Maker, she knew on some level, Eric’s becoming a decent person was in reaction to, and not because of Appius Livius Ocella. Eric and Thalia remained behind in Shreveport with Karin. They told her it was to kickstart the investigation, but Sookie knew it was also about trying to save Karin from herself.
Behind her Diana started to cry. Sookie half-turned, but Lily was already up. “I’ve got it,” Rubio’s wife told her.
Sookie glanced at Sarah. Her friend appeared to be sleeping and Sookie hoped it was so. The purple smudges under Sarah’s eyes looked like twin bruises and her eyes were bloodshot from crying. “How is she?” Rubio asked.
“How would you be?” Sookie asked in return.
Rubio nodded toward the back and Sookie stood, following him to where Lily was standing in the aisle watching Maddie feed Diana. “I never thought we’d be doing this,” he told Sookie. Lily looped her hand through her husband’s arm and leaned against him. Sookie wished, yet again that Eric had come with her instead of staying behind.
Rick shook his head, “I just can’t believe any of this is happening.” Her son had aged again. It was in his eyes. He didn’t look like a twenty-something anymore. He looked older, and Sookie’s heart hurt for him. She knew what Amy Ludwig said, that Rick would live a long life, almost as long as a vampire, but at this moment, Sookie’s heart hurt for him. She wished she could turn back time and make all this go away, but she knew that was impossible.
Only last night they’d stood in the cemetery near the house on Hummingbird Lane, laying Brigid to rest. There’d been no question in her mind. Rick’s mate belonged next to Gran. Jason agreed and it hadn’t taken much to arrange it.
They’d used the cover story Eric came up with, that Brigid died in childbirth. It wasn’t something that happened so often anymore, but with Diana fussing in Sookie’s arms, the story wasn’t questioned. Rick hadn’t been able to speak, but he’d written a eulogy for Hunter to read. In it he praised Brigid’s fearlessness and her quest for adventure. He mentioned her restless spirit and her sense of joy. He spoke of his love for her, and the consolation he found in looking at the daughter they’d created together.
During their time in Bon Temps Rick and Brigid had made friends. Sookie recognized many of the faces that stood around her, holding candles. Jason hadn’t invited the latest Reverend from the Church to officiate. Sookie heard some grumblings, but Brigid hadn’t been a religious person so no one seemed surprised, either. When the ceremony started to break up, Sookie wandered with Eric to the place where Kyle fell, and then to the section of broken fence where they’d found Brigid’s body.
“Do you want to go back to the house?” Eric asked her. Sookie hadn’t been back inside her childhood home since before the incident.
“I’m not sure I can,” she told Eric before reaching out to take his hand.
This place carried all her childhood dreams, but Sookie was starting to feel like this place was cursed as well. Her eyes traveled toward that place where she’d been buried by Bill Compton, and she felt her hand shake. “We can burn it to the ground,” Eric offered. Sookie thought of Bill Compton’s house, or where It once stood. There was no sign of it, now. Even the basement was filled in and the foundation pulled down. Did she really want that for her family home?
“No,” she said after a bit. “As much as it has its ghosts, this place has had its joys, too.” She reached up, bringing Eric’s lips down to meet hers. “We made our son here,” she told him. “Brigid’s end was terrible, but she was happy here. I saw it.” Sookie glanced over to where Rick stood beside the grave, Jason next to him giving comfort. “Someday Rick will remember those times and he’ll want to bring Diana here. You’ll see.”
Eric kissed her. “Ever my hopeful one,” and he smiled that smile that still made her feel warm before saying, “You have a warrior’s heart, Älskade.”
“So does our son,” Sookie told him, although she knew that at this moment it was more wish than reality.
Eric looked toward the grave, and Rick chose that moment to look back at his Father. They were so alike. They’d talked for over an hour before the funeral, just the two of them. Eric hadn’t shared their conversation, but Sookie thought it must have made an impression. Rick hadn’t cried once, and when the ceremony was over, her son took his daughter in his arms and smiled for her.
Diana’s angry squawk ended Sookie’s reveries and once more she found herself in the plane heading toward Chester and another funeral.
“I think she’s done,” Rick was telling Maddie and he held out his arms. He moved Diana swiftly to his shoulder, simultaneously settling her against him while he rubbed her back. He was rewarded by a clear burp, followed by Diana butting her head against him.
“She’s a good eater,” Lily praised.
Rick nodded, “She’s a good baby,” and he looked Sookie’s way. “Was I this good when I was an infant?”
“Yes,” Sookie answered automatically. She tried to remember exactly how Rick looked at this age but as hard as she tried, the memory seemed fuzzy, not like her vampire memories.
When Sookie remained quiet, Lily asked her, “What is it?”
“Nothing,” Sookie assured her, “It’s just I think I’ve just found something that I like more about being vampire than being human.” It startled her, but at the same time, Sookie felt a sense of peace she hadn’t realized she’d been missing.
Sean Bailey was waiting at the airport to meet them. He was driving an over-sized SUV that seemed to have an unlimited number of seats. While Rubio confirmed transportation for luggage and coffins, Sookie took a moment to give her former beau the once-over.
He was still handsome, but his hair had gone gray at his temples. Marriage to Lora seemed to agree with him. His waist was pushing against his waistband more than it had been when she’d known him. Sookie raised her eyes to find Sean watching her. “I could say time’s been kind to you,” he said, his slight Irish accent on display, “But you’d know I wasn’t exactly giving you a compliment.”
“Well, you look good,” Sookie lied. “How’s your wife?”
“Waiting for us at the B&B,” he replied. Once upon a time, Lora had served as Fran’s housekeeper. She’d known Sookie for years and Rick all his life. Sean glanced at Rick and Diana, “Seems like the blink of an eye. Wasn’t it yesterday I was walking you up those stairs in Boston, and the next thing I knew, you were holding that one just the same.”
Sookie took a quick look around to make sure Sarah wasn’t near before she replied. “I can tell you that night didn’t feel like the blink of an eye! Just about the longest night of my life, but it was all worth it.”
“A grand-daughter,” and Sean sighed. “She’s beautiful, just like her grand-mother.”
When Sarah and Lily exited the terminal office it gave Sookie the excuse she needed to walk away from Sean. Remembering those days when she’d been pregnant and alone made her miss Eric. She reached through the bond for her husband but she couldn’t find him, not even a trace and she found herself wondering if he was missing her too.
It took a few extra minutes to figure out how to strap Diana’s car seat into the vehicle, but soon enough they were all headed for Chester. Sookie heard Rick sigh as they pulled up to the B&B. She knew how he felt. For a moment, she was Susan Hale and human, but Sookie knew the nostalgic feeling of coming home couldn’t last long. Soon, luggage would be delivered and Seth Chandler would arrive to take Sarah to her home and this life would move forward, crowding out the shades of what had been.
Sookie made an effort to stay close to Sarah as Lora Bailey hugged and greeted, then ooh-ed and ah-ed over Diana. Once the welcomes were concluded, Sookie suggested, “Why don’t we head to the kitchen? I can make us some tea.”
“I’ve already got the water on,” Lora told them. “Go on. I’ll join you in a minute,” before trailing after Rick and Diana as they headed up the stairs.
Lily, Sookie and Sarah settled around the old table, and once more, Sookie could almost believe things were as they’d once been. Rick and George’s voices carried from above them and there was that underlying buzz you feel when there are people in a house, making it a home.
“Sean and I can take one of the upstairs rooms if you’d like,” Lora announced as she bustled back into the kitchen.
“Don’t be silly,” Sookie shushed. “The housekeeper’s apartment is best for the two of you. I never converted it to light-tight, so no worries about my wanting it.” The house-keeper’s apartment was where Sookie lived during all those years when Rick grew up in this house, and it was hard to give it up. Like other old habits, Sookie couldn’t stop herself from making room assignments, just as she had when she was the one running the business. “Rubio and Lily can take the first light-tight bedroom upstairs and I’ll take the other. Maddie can take the small bedroom down here and Rick and George can share the third floor, just like old times.”
“And, what about Diana?” Lora asked.
“Diana is Rick’s responsibility,” Sookie decided. “Rick and George are perfectly healthy young men. They can keep up with one small baby for a few days.”
Beside her, Sarah stirred. “Can you ask Rick to come down here?” she asked. Sarah had been very quiet since sitting down, barely touching her tea. Peter’s fiddle lay in its case on the table in front of her.
Seth chose that moment to walk in through the back door. He nodded to the women before stepping forward and squatting down next to his mother. “You ready?” he asked.
“In a minute,” Sarah told her son. When Lora returned with Rick in tow, Sarah laid her hand on the case. “Rick, I’ve been thinking about this, and I’d like you to have this.”
“Mom!” Seth exclaimed, but Sarah shushed him.
“You know how Peter loved this. It was funny. Even when he was a little boy, Peter never really talked much. Things would happen and he’d just watch, keeping it all to himself, but then he’d play this fiddle and you’d hear everything that was going on inside him. There were times I thought this fiddle was just as much a part of him as his foot or his hand, and the thought of it sitting silent on some shelf in my house is too much to bear.” She tapped the case, then pushed it until Rick picked it up.
“Good,” Sarah said. “I want you to play it often. You know what Peter said about old instruments. In fact, if you can bear it, I’d like you to play it for his dance tomorrow night. It will be as if he’s still there with us.” Sarah swiped at the tears that were falling, and she allowed Seth to help her stand.
They were almost out the back door when Sarah stopped, turning back to Rick. Her voice choked as she said, “I’m told you’ll live a long time, almost as long as any vampire.” She looked again at the case he was holding against his chest. “I think it was meant to go to you, and it makes me happy to know that as long as you live, and as long as you play Peter’s fiddle, some part of him will live, too.”
Sookie stared at the door after they’d left. Beside her, Lora cried quietly and Lily wiped her face. “I’ll do it,” Rick pledged. “I’ll play it every day. For Peter.”
‘It could have been you,’ Sookie thought as she stared at her son, and she felt at once happy and guilty that her son survived when another’s hadn’t.
They didn’t linger downstairs long. Neither she nor Rubio were tired, but the others were. It took a few trips up the stairs to the third floor to bring all Diana’s things to Rick’s room. Once the luggage was up, there was the mini-fridge in the room to be set up with bottles and the microwave to be washed one more time. Sookie set up a changing station and did the final inspection on the travel crib. Then, there was Diana herself who seemed fascinated by the activity around her. Interest turned to suspicion when George accidentally knocked over a small table. Nothing was broken, but it was loud enough to make Sookie jump, but instead of crying, as any baby would, Diana squawked and then almost immediately settled.
Sookie’s eyes drilled into Rick and her son had the grace to blush. It seemed Eric wasn’t the only one feeding her granddaughter blood and then using that tie to control her. Sookie waited until George ran downstairs for more towels before confronting him. “I don’t know whether to feel angry or left out,” she hissed.
“I’d rather she had my blood than some donors,” Rick shrugged.
“Just be careful,” she warned. “There’s a thin line between influencing and dependency. You’d never forgive yourself if you hurt her.” Sookie could see that idea made an impression. George came back and she easily fell back into mommy mode as she said, “Well, looks like you’re all settled. It will be a long day tomorrow. I’m sorry I’ll miss all the visiting, but pace yourselves. Keep an eye on this little girl,” and she stroked Diana’s smooth cheek. “Don’t forget, she’s your first priority.”
“She’s my daughter,” Rick scolded, and Sookie knew her serious, slightly old-fashioned son meant every word.
Sookie met Lily Hermosa in the downstairs hallway just outside the lighttight rooms. “I feel bad about missing Kyle’s funeral,” Lily told her. Of all the vampires, Rubio and Lily had known Kyle best. The Were’s funeral was taking place this evening in the cemetery near Shreveport.
“We’ll be represented,” Sookie assured her. “Eric and the other Sheriffs are attending. Pam, too. Mustapha understands.” ‘And Karin,’ Sookie thought.
Lily startled Sookie out of her dark thoughts by asking, “And what about Brigid’s people? Didn’t you say she had a Grandmother living somewhere around here?”
“Rhode Island,” Sookie answered. She hadn’t called Elizabeth Crane, or any of the Fae contacts she’d gathered. She thought of that one time she and Pam met them and how unpleasant they’d been, and then something occurred to her. “They may already know,” she told Lily. “When a Fae dies, their spirit visits their oldest relative on its way to the Summerlands. I didn’t think Brigid was too Fae until the end, and then you couldn’t miss it.”
“I didn’t see her much,” Lily nodded, “But that was the rumor.” She busied herself folding a sweater, clearly waiting. Lily was a Southern lady, and Sookie was reminded of Gran and her manners. Sookie knew Lily was being too polite to say anything, but Sookie could feel her disapproval just the same. “You’re right,” Sookie sighed after a moment. “It’s not my place to make that assumption, and for all they weren’t talking, the Cranes were her kin.”
“Family should be told these things,” Lily nodded, saying aloud that age-old truth.
But Sookie wasn’t in agreement. She’d threatened the Fae, telling them she was the better protector. Now, Brigid was dead. When Sookie settled into her bed she picked up her phone. She glanced at the hour. ‘Too late,’ she decided. ‘Decent people don’t call other people at this hour.’ She opened her text messages, and for a moment considered sending the Cranes a text, but, of course, delivering this kind of news by text didn’t seem polite, either. ‘I know,’ she thought. ‘I’ll do it first thing on my rising tomorrow,’ but somehow, Sookie knew she wouldn’t.
It was like being bound in iron straps. Karin flexed her arms, but the feeling didn’t go away. She shifted so she couldn’t see Master. She wouldn’t think of him as her Maker anymore, or as Eric. No, he was now Master and everything that title embodied. Her teeth ground. In all the nights since her making, Eric Northman had never treated her like this, squashing her, holding her down like a bug, and she felt her rage bloom again, bright and sharp.
She’d begged Thalia to reason with him, but instead of doing as she asked, Thalia lectured her. She’d used words like ‘grateful’ and ‘mourning,’ words that had no place in Karin’s world. Thalia assured her she’d be thankful someday that the Viking did this, but Karin knew she’d never be thankful. One day his grip would loosen and she’d exact her revenge before… and then Karin forced her mind to go blank. She could feel his interest shifting back to her. Best Master didn’t get any hint of what she planned. He’d already threatened to lock her in a silver coffin and Karin believed him.
Karin looked back toward the graveside. The human religion man was mumbling his nonsense words. The dead Were’s mother was crying. Beside her, her human children were watching their brother’s coffin, round-eyed and weak. Karin stood with Eric and the other vampires. They weren’t welcome at the graveside, so they stood apart, gathered on the hill. ‘Like crows!’ Karin mocked.
“Stop it!” Pam hissed.
“I’m not doing anything,” Karin spit out.
“You are!” her sister accused. “You’re doing that laser thing with your eyes. You’re supposed to be offering sympathy, not burning the skin off them.”
“They failed!” Karin snarled. “They should all die!”
“Enough!” Eric hissed behind them and he mentally jabbed Karin hard enough that she flinched. Her lip curled, but in another way, she welcomed the pain. It was better than the other pain she felt. It allowed her to focus and keep moving forward until she could stop.
It had been better before Master forced her to come here… and worse. There was no resting, no end to the anger that washed over her. She’d stayed up past dawn and risen before the sun was truly set. Her existence blended into one, long continuum, moving her toward the light where she was sure he waited. ‘Peter!’ and she felt tears threaten and as quickly she bit the inside of her cheek, grinding her fingernails into the palms of her hands, using the pain to beat back her weakness. At least then, she’d been free to act. Now, her will was tethered, and she walked through these nights like a pet on a chain.
“Mustapha’s coming over,” Pam whispered behind her. The tall Were was headed their way, trailed by several of his Pack.
“Our condolences,” Master said, and Karin caught his bow out of the corner of her eye.
“I won’t say this squares everything,” Mustapha said, “but it helps. Pam,” he acknowledged before turning her way. “Karin?” he asked.
“My daughter is in mourning,” Master said behind her. “She is remaining silent. You understand.” Karin felt his will on her. It was as if he’d wrapped his hand around her throat and was squeezing. Karin lifted her chin, willing Master to feel her defiance. He could choke off her words, but he couldn’t force her to hide the fury she felt as she stared at the Were.
Mustapha stared back and Karin could see they understood each other well enough. “Where’s Hunter?” he asked her Master.
“My nephew is working,” Eric answered. “We have the store employees at the warehouse. There were two who quit or were fired. We’ve tracked them down. It will be a long night, but we all deserve answers.”
“We’ll share everything we learn,” Pam added. “You have the address. You know you’re welcome to send representatives.”
“Of course, we are,” but Mustapha didn’t bother hiding his sarcasm. “That’s why you decided to hold the questioning tonight.”
“You have a problem with finding swift justice?” Indira hissed. She gestured toward the graveside where Kyle’s mother sat surrounded by her surviving children. “We all deserve retribution for our fallen ones.”
One of the Weres beside Mustapha bristled and the scent of shifting wafted through the air. If one shifted, the emotionally charged atmosphere would have the rest shifting too. Mustapha drew himself up. “You’re right,” he said a touch too formally. “It’s kind of you to set aside your own mourning to help.”
“Yes,” Pam answered just as formally, “We’re allies, and that’s what we’re doing: helping.”
“My sympathies,” Eric repeated. “We are sending a donation to Kyle’s mother. It should help pay her bills for the next year or so.”
“Pay off,” one of the Weres hissed.
It was enough to make Mustapha’s next words sound more sincere. “You’ve done your best, Viking. You’ve shown respect and you’re going the extra mile. They’re burying your friend tonight, and you could have gone north with him, but you didn’t. There are no problems between us and all demands for vengeance or retribution are satisfied.”
Karin could see that didn’t sit well with the Packmaster’s companions, but her Master bowed slightly, answering, “And for us as well, old friend. What’s important is finding out who was behind this. That’s where vengeance belongs.”
“Agreed,” and Mustapha returned the bow. He started turning around but not before giving Karin a hard look. She glared right back. Someday, Master would free her and when he did, she’d be visiting Mustapha Khan and his Pack.
“You won’t!” Master had waited until the Weres walked away before leaning forward to hiss in her ear. “You will not harm the Packmaster or his Pack. I command it!” and another set of chains settled around Karin. Her mouth opened but before she could wail, he hissed, “and if you make a sound, you’ll be eating silver!”
Karin snapped her mouth shut. She was so angry she was shaking. Pam just rolled her eyes, grabbed her arm and pushed her to follow the rest. “Come on! Time to figure out what happened.”
Karin was bundled into the back of one of the cars. Master wouldn’t ride with her, which was just as well. He might be forcing her, but she could force back, and seeing him reminded her to do it. Even though the car was crowded, Indira made an effort not to touch her. That was good, too. Karin didn’t think she’d ever willingly be touched again.
The trip to the warehouse could be fast, but not tonight. They had to take the highway and somewhere up ahead there’d been an accident. As they crawled along, Karin stared out the window. The clouds that were threatening decided to let loose and Karin allowed her eyes to follow the rain tracking down the windows, ‘like tears,’ and she was back in the room at Amy Ludwig’s hospital, standing at the foot of his bier.
She’d stood, rooted in place for the full hour as Master’s custom demanded. He couldn’t force her to light the candles, he’d done that. He’d stood behind her. He told her he was giving her the opportunity to say goodbye. He told her it was important to remember every moment she’d spent with Peter, He told her this vigil honored the memory of a loved one when they fell. At the end of the hour, he’d asked if she wanted a token.
All through that long hour Karin’s thoughts fought against each other. The body that lay before her wasn’t Peter. The vibrant, talented man who forced her to speak her heart through keeping his own silence was now silent forever. The sparkle was gone from his eyes and his clever fingers would never interpret their emotions again. Somewhere his soul was freed and Karin tried to feel it around her, but she couldn’t. All she could feel was cold emptiness, like the corpse laid out before her. Had he been vampire, she could have taken his fangs. But he wasn’t. ‘He never will be,’ her heart whispered, jabbing her with yet more regret.
“He’s gone,” she told Master. “There’s nothing here worth taking.”
Master seemed to understand. He let her walk away and didn’t question her decision not to attend her lover’s funeral up north. When Sookie pressed, telling Karin she could change her mind, Master cut off his mate, telling her, “Karin has made up her mind, Älskade. Don’t ask her again.”
When Peter’s mother approached her, Pam tried to run interference. It didn’t work. Sarah used words that didn’t matter anymore, words like ‘missing’ and ‘love.’ It was Peter’s eyes in Sarah’s face that kept Karin from killing the woman.
She refused to return to the house she’d shared with him. She refused to sleep under a roof. Her life was back to the beginning, when she rose from the ground each night, hunting and hungry. Karin knew she was waiting for some signal, and she suspected that signal would bring vengeance.
Another raindrop slipped down the car window and Karin tracked it with her finger. When vengeance came it would fill the void within her, or hollow out what was left. In either case, Karin would be free, and that was what mattered.