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.
“Are you really going to throw me in the dungeon?” Karin asked.
“I can’t believe you!” Pam hissed. “You heard him! He promised Mustapha his man wouldn’t be harassed, but you just couldn’t leave it alone!”
“What proof does he have?” Rasul asked.
“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay out of this!” Pam told the Sheriff, but then understanding dawned. “Of course, you helped! She couldn’t. Eric commanded her, but you could! Fuck a zombie! What were you thinking?”
“What if it was Miriam?” Karin asked, naming Pam’s former Lover. “If it had been her instead of Peter, would you have hesitated?”
Pam looked from Karin to Rasul before answering, “No. Not now.” They both knew the story, but Pam said it aloud for Rasul’s benefit. “I did, then. I waited for permission.”
“Like Master asked,” Karin added.
“Yes,” Pam nodded. “I followed the rules and I lost her.”
“Who will we lose next?” Karin asked. “Rick? Sookie?”
It was Rasul who added the obvious name. “Diana?” and he stared at Pam for a long moment before saying, “You know she was probably the target all along.”
“You still think it was Russell,” Pam sighed.
Karin huffed, “Of course! Who else? He hates our Maker! He’s told anyone and everyone that dhampirs are an abomination and he’s trying to say it’s all witchcraft. Now, there’s another child in the mix? He’s crazy! He’ll do anything to discredit us. I don’t even think he wants a takeover. I just think he wants us gone!”
“We’re everything he fears,” Rasul added. “We don’t abide by traditions and we don’t live in the old ways. Eric and Sookie are openly negotiating with humans, treating them as equals. They are friends with Weres and they make biological children. Russell is still telling people the Revelation was a mistake! He’s never been one for sitting on his hands. That was part of my assignment in Michigan, to make sure that vampires weren’t forgetting their roots! ‘Not losing the way’ he called it.”
“When it comes to vampire traditions, we’re way off the reservation,” Karin added. “You’ve heard the terrible things he says about us! He’s not even discrete!”
“Still, it’s a big step between bad-mouthing and murder,” Pam pointed out.
Karin laughed. “For Russell? What is the vampire way, Pam? Sit back and let your enemies tear apart everything you hold dear? Fight actions with words? I don’t understand why everyone’s having such a hard time accepting the obvious! This is Russell Edgington we’re talking about! He still hunts and takes what he wants. He lives by the edge of his sword, striking from darkness. He was the first vampire named King by the Pythoness because he understood and honored our ways! Of course, he did what a vampire would! He reached out and struck down the thing that was making a mockery of vampires! He took my lover and he killed Rick’s mate. He probably thought he’d killed the baby, too. If Rick had been there, he would be dead, and then everything would have been back to the way Russell thinks it should be!”
“You’re making some pretty big assumptions,” Pam cautioned.
“And you’re avoiding the obvious!” Karin retorted.
Pam took a deep breath and there was a long minute before she asked, “What do you need me to do?”
“One night’s head start,” Rasul answered.
Karin nodded, “Say you looked for us. Say you thought you knew where we were, but we gave you the slip. Just don’t set off the alarm until dawn.”
“I’m heading over to see Diana,” Pam told them. “I sent a nanny over to get things sorted out. I could say I got my priorities switched. Eric won’t like it, but I can sell it. He knows how crazy I am about that little girl.”
“Nanny?” Rasul asked.
“Of course!” and Pam shrugged. “What do we really know about babies? I had a Nanny and Sookie agreed. Miss Joy comes with the highest recommendations.”
“Of course, you asked our brother’s permission before hiring this person,” Karin said.
“Baby Fang?” and Pam grinned. “Please! He’s lucky he can keep out of his own way any day of the week. From what I hear, he was having a hard time just doing his job in Area Five. I mean, it was terrible what happened to Brigid…and Peter, but Rick’s a guy. I’m sure he has things he needs to sort out.”
Of the two of them, it was Karin who had spent the most time with Rick and Brigid in Bon Temps. What’s more, she’d heard stories from Peter. Pam’s idea of men and children seemed to have been formed during her own childhood hundreds of years ago. She seemed blind to the idea that any man would willingly serve as primary caregiver to an infant, but Karin knew better. “Thank you for this,” Karin told her sister. “I won’t forget it.”
“I know you mean it,” Pam teased, “but, if you are caught, I’d prefer you did.” Pam stepped forward to hug her sister. “I don’t know where you’re heading or what you’re planning to do, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
“We need to get going,” Rasul said as soon as Pam left. “Hunter will be waiting for us.”
“We have hours,” Karin told him.
That caught Rasul’s attention. “What is it? What are you thinking?”
“He’s got Sookie’s telepathy and more,” Karin told the Sheriff. “He can locate vampires in his head. He can guide us to exactly where we need to go.”
“I think it’s a bad idea,” Rasul hissed. “He’s in the Palace under the King’s thumb. He’s just as likely to rat you out!”
“Pam underestimates Rick,” Karin replied. “This is the kid that jumped a train from Connecticut when his Mom went missing. When his mate needed protecting, he jumped on a boat and took off across the ocean. His mate’s dead and his daughter’s in danger. I just need to talk with him.”
“It’s not like you haven’t done business with them before,” Sookie pointed out. They lay in bed, their limbs entwined. Outside the double doors of their suite the business of the kingdom was grinding on, but in this chamber, there was only Sookie and Eric.
“You’re beautiful,” Eric mused.
“You are, too,” and Sookie stretched before she ran her fingers lightly over the curves and contours of his body. As she followed the happy trail lower, Eric found himself hardening. They’d been making love for hours, exploring all the ways they knew of pleasuring each other, and then discovering still more.
“And clever,” he sighed, and then he arched just a little so her fingertips made contact with his other head.
“I think you really missed me,” his wife teased.
He couldn’t keep it all out entirely. Even as she dipped and twirled, Eric felt the weight of his worries return. Sookie felt it, too. She flipped over beside him, raising herself on her elbows so she could meet his gaze. “You know we’re going to get to the bottom of this, Eric,” she reminded him. “There’s only so many possibilities and we’ll explore and eliminate each one until we find the right answer.” She leaned forward, running first her fangs and then her tongue up his thigh, before smiling and saying, “Then, my darling, lovely, sexy husband, we’re going to make them pay!”
“So bloodthirsty!” Eric purred. They’d started tonight with him playing dominant, but by the end of their lovemaking, he’d been the one tied up and begging. “You are the best bed companion I’ve ever had,” he told her.
“Well, that’s a good thing!” Sookie smirked, “Because I’m the only one you’ll ever know and you know it!”
“Ever is a long time,” he reminded her. She didn’t have his age. He knew Sookie believed the words she said, but Eric was certain that in time his curious wife would finally say yes. There would be others, many others they would share, but Eric also knew that in the end, he would always return to her. Only his Sookie made him laugh. “I love you,” he said aloud.
“I know,” and she jackknifed off the bed, sashaying toward the shower. “When this is all over, I think we should take a vacation,” she called over her shoulder. Eric waited until he heard the water running to join her.
Sookie was standing under the rainfall showerhead, the water warmed to the temperature they preferred. She was running her soap over her torso, but Eric enclosed her hand in his. “Here, Lover,” and he tugged. “Let me.” She smiled, her eyes closed under the spray, and when he pressured her to turn, she didn’t resist. The place where he’d bitten her the last time was still a little red, and so he pricked his finger on his fang and ran it over the skin. It wasn’t necessary. Sookie was healthy and well-fed. It was a matter of a few more minutes and it would have disappeared, but Eric found pleasure in taking care of her.
“Was it hard, being back in Chester?” he asked.
“Being in the house, seeing all my friends?” and Sookie nodded. “Yes, it was hard. In so many ways it felt the same, but it wasn’t. Everything I saw was different and then I realized it probably wasn’t. It’s me who’s changed. I don’t see it in the mirror, but everyone else did.”
“You are more vampire,” Eric told her.
“I am,” his Sookie acknowledged. “Even Sarah. I feel like there was a time I could have reached her, but not now.”
“It isn’t you,” Eric hastened to tell her. “Her son was here because of vampires.”
“You’re wrong,” and Sookie shrugged as though it didn’t matter, but Eric could feel her hurt. “It wasn’t that. It’s just we aren’t part of each other’s lives anymore. Even Rick was an outsider. We can’t go back.” Eric said nothing. He’d felt what his mate was feeling more times than he could count, that sense that as he stood still, un-aging, that life was a place that had moved past him. “I could name just about every person at that funeral, Eric, but, at the same time, it was as if I didn’t know them at all.”
“You see their mortality.” He reached out to stroke her cheek. He knew that soon those faces would join the others in the cemetery and for Sookie, it would complete her journey to being vampire. It happened when you realized every person you’d ever known in your human life was no more. It was standing at the grave of your childhood friends with a face as unchanging as the rocks around you that you truly understood the power and the tragedy of this life. That moment would come in its own time and, at this moment, his mate was troubled, so Eric changed the subject. “Karin’s human was different…for a human.”
His distraction worked. Sookie’s expression changed as she said, “Rick is going to miss Peter, too. When George and he started drifting apart, it was Peter who stepped in. Karin lost her mate, but Rick lost his best friend. I think he should get back to work as soon as possible. He’s going to need something to keep him busy.”
“Rick also lost his mate.” Eric ran his hands around his wife’s hips before sweeping up to capture her breasts. “Rick was struggling before this happened. Now, he has the child, but those who were beside him are gone. It would be best to give him time to reflect.”
Sookie turned a little. “I thought you said he was doing better.” She said it as a statement, but it was a question. “He did well in Chester. He was sad, of course, we all were. I don’t think you’re giving him enough credit. He really stepped up for Sarah…for everyone. And with Diana? He didn’t miss a beat.”
Eric nodded, “It happens that way, sometimes. It’s easier to be doing tasks, but Rick needs space to mourn his loss.”
He felt the eyeroll before he saw it. “He is mourning,” Sookie scolded. “I’m just saying he’d do better staying busy. I don’t want to see him start dwelling on things and become like Karin.”
“Are you saying Karin’s anger would be less if she had more work?” Eric asked. He could hear the way he said it. He’d meant to cover his irritation, but he could see from Sookie’s expression he hadn’t done it well.
“I’m not blaming you,” Sookie replied, but Eric was pretty sure she was. “I’m just saying they’re different people.”
“I’m not sure that’s true. They are both behaving badly. With Karin there’s no question, she carries her anger like a shield around her. Rick is also angry, Lover, but he’s keeping it tied up inside him, waiting.” Eric meant it to be a conversation, but Sookie seemed to think he was challenging her.
“I think I know my own son, Eric!” she snapped. “I just spent three days with him and I know Rick’s coming to terms with this. I know you feel bad about Karin, but seeing her problems in everyone else isn’t the answer!”
Eric felt his lips go flat. “I’m not projecting,” he informed his mate, and wondered that Sookie couldn’t see it. It was in Rick’s flash temper and jump to judgement. He’d seen it often enough in warriors who’d suffered loss, particularly the young who thought showing their pain was a sign of weakness. His experience taught him it was the quiet ones you needed to watch. “While you were visiting in Chester, did you take the time to sit Rick down and talk with him, or were you too busy comforting and caring for strangers?” It was a low blow, but Eric took it. “Who’s the one here who’s ‘projecting’?”
“You really are a shit!” Sookie snarled and bath time was over.
She grabbed the towel but he didn’t bother. He knew she didn’t like his trailing water over their rooms and when she turned, her eyes flashing, he threw his chest out, crossing his arms, unconsciously taking the pose he knew pissed her off most. “You’re not always right!” she hissed, punctuating her words by jabbing her finger. “There’ve been plenty of times you screwed things up when it comes to reading situations!”
“For example?” He knew he was being exactly what she said, a shit, but this was Sookie. Only she was so capable of stripping him down to his most essential self and sometimes that self wasn’t admirable.
“The contract!” She cocked her head and he knew she’d won. “Oh, you knew how to get out of it! You knew everything you needed to know! You didn’t need to tell me or ask for help! You just knew!”
“It was a lapse,” Eric conceded. “You were involved. I’m not at my best when you are in the mix, Lover. I care too much.”
“Like you care about Karin…and Rick,” Sookie said a touch too triumphantly, but then she gave. “All I’m saying is your emotions are as tangled up about this as mine and maybe we’re both wrong.” She laid her hand on his chest. “I got an earful on the plane about Rick’s living here…”
“Now is not the time…” Eric interrupted. The idea of Rick and Diana out of sight caused his chest to constrict, but Sookie pushed right back.
“You said Thalia mentioned witches,” she pressed. “Did she say what the witches were offering?”
“Witches are not trustworthy,” Eric snipped, but Sookie was having none of it.
“Like Fran?” she challenged. “Fran Miller was my good friend and Rick’s godmother! Not all witches are bad and you know it!”
“Like your roommate?” Eric pouted.
“Give it up!” and Sookie shoved him a little before moving back to their bedroom. “I’ll grant you, Amelia wasn’t exactly the best witch around, but she meant well.”
“She broke our bond!” It was a crime Eric couldn’t forgive.
His wife’s look made him feel very much like a surly child, and he picked up Sookie’s towel, drying himself to escape her. “I’m not going over that with you again,” Sookie was saying. “This is now. That was then. We paid for our foolishness and we’re finally together. That’s what counts.”
It was exactly where Eric had hoped his wife’s mind would take her, and so Eric swept Sookie into his arms, kissing her until she laughed. “All right, Buster!” she giggled. “Enough of that! Now, tell me more about the witch!” and she punctuated her request by swatting his exposed behind.
“Thalia met her in Boston. She’s someone Fran Miller knew at Wellesley College,” Eric started.
“Then I probably know her, too,” Sookie prompted.
“Grace Adler,” he said, and sure enough, Sookie’s face lit up.
“Grace! She’s a lovely woman! She was someone Fran admired and frankly, so did I. She was invited to almost every holiday. Didn’t she tell Thalia she knew us?”
“She did,” Eric admitted, “but you understand the problem. If we start buying spells and wards, it will give those who hate us, vampires like Russell Edgington, ammunition to use against us. We have lost loved ones and their killers haven’t been found. Our race is fighting humans. How many battles would you have us fight?” Sookie wasn’t looking persuaded, so Eric added, “Isaiah and the others have taken a risk for us. They are asking the other rulers to trust us as emissaries for vampire rights. Bringing in witches will make it look as though we don’t respect them…”
“This prejudice against witches never made any sense!” Sookie protested. “You know it and so do I! Everyone knows what happened. If it was any one of them and they could use a ward to protect their own…”
“Did you notice any of the other rulers at the funerals?” Eric asked. That brought Sookie up short. “Stan Davis? He could have been here. Isaiah? Maude?”
“I didn’t think about it,” Sookie confessed.
“They know we have problems, Sookie, and they don’t want to get swept up in them,” Eric told her.
Eric had hoped Sookie would consider the implications but instead, her mouth pressed into a straight line and her eyes snapped. “Well, fuck ‘em!” she snarled. “We’re on our own? They can keep their money and all their fine words! If Grace is willing to put wards in place to keep our enemies out, then I don’t know what we’re waiting for!”
“You’re suggesting we’re incapable of defending our own,” Eric pointed out. “We weren’t expecting an attack. Now we’re on alert. If we fall back on using witchcraft…”
“Why don’t we ask Rick what he wants?” Sookie interrupted. “After all, this really is about him and Diana, isn’t it?” and before Eric could protest, his wife was striding from their room, leaving him following in her wake.
When Eric entered the room, Rick was already squared off against his wife. “Yes, I understand she comes with recommendations, Mom,” Rick barked. Eric took in Sookie’s jutting lip and Rick’s stormy face. “I know you mean well, but I don’t need some stranger’s help with Diana.”
For a minute, Eric thought Sookie had already hired the witch, but in the next instant he realized this fight was about something else. “What’s have you done, Lover?” Eric asked.
“Rick met the nanny I hired,” Sookie said a little too brightly. It was hard, biting his tongue. Eric wished Sookie had consulted him before doing this, but, looking at Rick, he could see this was their son’s fight and he would stay out of it. “Pam found her,” Sookie was saying as though that explained everything. “I know you don’t want to be stuck in the Palace all day, Rick, and with Miss Joy here, you can take your guards out into the City any time you want. You can play music or get back to work…”
“I can’t believe you just went and did this!” their son seethed. “You should have talked with me first!”
“You told me how you were worried about being cooped up here all day while we rested. You can’t take a little baby with you everywhere and any person needs a second set of hands when it comes to babies. I thought you’d be grateful!” Sookie soldiered on.
“You didn’t ask!” Each word sounded like an accusation and Eric couldn’t help himself. He used Rick’s temper to try and cut off any further conversation about witchcraft.
“Your mother would like to have a witch place wards around you and Diana,” he said.
Eric had forgotten he wasn’t dressed. “What is it with you?” Rick barked, staring at his Father as though he hadn’t realized until this moment that Eric was standing there. Rick grabbed a throw off the back of the chair and threw it at his Father. “Put some freaking clothes on!” before whirling on his Mother again. “So, were you going to ask me before you pulled witches into this or were you just going to do that for ‘my own good’, too? I’m not a child, Mother, but I can see that holding me prisoner in this place isn’t going to fix that with you!”
“It’s not just ‘some witch,’” Sookie replied, shooting Eric a venomous look. “It’s Grace Adler! You remember her. Fran’s friend?” Clearly Rick did remember Grace because his eyes softened a touch and Sookie took advantage of the moment. “Thalia saw her in Boston and Grace offered wards. She’s worried about you.”
“You make it sound so altruistic,” Eric scolded. “Our son deserves the full truth about this. Your ‘friend’ Grace is willing to place wards around you and Diana, for a price.”
Rick huffed and his lip quivered. Eric smelled the sharp tang of tears, but then Rick stood a little taller, crossing his arms across his chest just as Eric had earlier. “Of course, she does! That’s what Supes are about, isn’t it? All trading and money!”
“She isn’t asking for money, Rick,” Sookie told their son.
Now, Rick’s eyes flicked his way and Eric knew what their son intended. “Rick, do not enter my head without permission,” he snapped. “I have not lied to you and I won’t now. The witch’s price is that your Mother and I use our influence to persuade the other vampire leaders. They want the business that vampires bring and they think Sookie and I can bring about that change.”
“Vampires don’t trust witches,” Rick said.
“Speaking out for them carries risk for all of us,” Eric agreed. “I’ve told your Mother I think it’s a bad idea to engage witches right now, as much as it would provide an extra layer of security for you and for Diana. It would be a short-term gain with possible long-term problems.”
“We don’t know who tried to hurt them!” Sookie protested. “We still don’t! If something were to happen to Rick or to Diana… I don’t know if I could take it!”
“I figured this was all about you,” Rick said unkindly.
“That’s not what I meant!” Sookie wailed, but Rick wasn’t looking forgiving.
“Your Mother’s ‘crime’ is that she loves you more than herself,” Eric told their son. “She would gladly walk through fire if that would help you. She’ll even risk your anger to do what’s best for you.”
“I’m so worried about you,” Sookie confessed. Rick just shrugged. “Where’s Diana?” Sookie asked.
“Out for a walk with Miss Joy,” Rick snipped. “It seems my daughter needs a schedule.” When Sookie’s mouth dropped, Rick added, “Oh, don’t worry! My daughter’s got Pam and more guards around her than the President of the United States.”
“It will get better!” Sookie pleaded. “Just give it time. We’re working on it. We’ll figure out all of this and then we can all relax.” Rick looked around his room. There were some clothes thrown across the surfaces, but nothing personal. “I can help set things up in here. Maybe some pictures?”
“I’m fine!” Rick snapped, and then shut his Mother down further by asking, “Was there anything else you needed to ‘tell’ me?”
Eric decided the conversation needed to take a different direction. “What are your plans for this evening?” he asked Rick.
“Nothing,” Rick huffed.
“You need to feed,” Eric told him. “Your Mother and I will be going downstairs shortly. You’re welcome to join us or go now. I’m headed for the armory. How long has it been since you practiced?”
“Sword?” Rick asked. He tried to look disinterested, but Eric knew he wasn’t. “Before Bon Temps,” he said after a bit.
“Then, you need the practice. You know what Thalia says. When it comes to defending your own, knives are best. I’ll expect you in an hour. Warm up.” He nodded to his wife, tossed the throw back at Rick and Eric Northman headed down the corridor.
Rick had to admit it. His Father was right. Practicing with swords did make him feel better. There was something about the bone-deep weariness he was feeling that allowed his head to clear. He’d figured Eric would go easy on him, but he’d been wrong. His Father circled, sword high, and launched at him the minute Rick’s weight shifted to the wrong foot. Rick landed on the floor with a thump that was going to leave a bruise.
He wasn’t caught flat-footed again. He hadn’t lasted long, only twenty minutes, but during that time Rick managed to land two solid hits, earning his Father’s praise. They promised to meet up again tomorrow night and Rick left the armory. His Mother was waiting for him in his room. She was folding his clothes and it brought back everything he hated about being here. He was trapped in this place. His Brigid was dead. His daughter was being taken from him. “I can do that!” he snapped.
He hadn’t meant it to sound so harsh and he could see he’d hurt his Mother’s feelings. “I’m just trying to help!” she told him.
He couldn’t stand it. He wasn’t a child. He wasn’t an invalid. The only person in this whole place who treated him like a whole person was his Father and Eric ‘I’m so busy’ Northman had no time to spare. “I don’t need any help!” Rick said and holding her eyes, he pulled his clothes from her hands. “I need to take a shower,” he snarled. “Or do you think you need to ‘help’ me with that, too?”
“I’m not your enemy, Rick,” his Mom sighed.
Somewhere under the hurt, Rick knew this wasn’t his Mother’s fault, but she wasn’t making things any better, either. “Just give me some space,” he told her. He looked around the guest room. “This isn’t going to work out. I can’t stay here.”
“You’re not trying!” his Mother complained. “Just give it a week. You’ve gone through so much, Rick. Why can’t you give yourself some time to sort through all this?”
He didn’t think about it before snapping back, “Like I can do that here?”
In the next room, Diana started to cry. Rick half-turned, then stopped. They could both hear Pam’s voice and the woman called Miss Joy. “Think, Rick,” his Mother was saying. “Your daughter is safe here. You have people to help you and believe me, I remember how hard it was to raise a child by yourself. You won’t have to worry about that!”
His exhaustion closed in on him. His shoulders ached from the work-out and his head hurt. “I need to take a shower,” he repeated. When his Mother showed no sign of moving, he walked past her to pull the door between his room and the room housing his daughter closed and he threw the lock. “Really,” he said again, “I need some time. Do you mind?”
“It really is going to be all right,” she said, and she stepped forward, wrapping him into a hug. Rick knew his Mom meant it to be comforting, but being held close had the opposite effect.
The feel of the hot water pounding over him helped, and then Rick turned the water to cold, forcing himself to stand there until his skin tingled and stung. Wiping himself down, he couldn’t escape the sounds of the women next door. He’d barely seen his daughter and that seemed to be okay with everyone. He dressed and sat on the edge of the bed someone else had made. He heard a sound and realized Pam and Miss Joy were taking his daughter somewhere. They hadn’t even checked with him. “I’ve lost everything,” he whispered.
Rick reached over to the table and picked up his phone. He flicked through the photos. Brigid and that crazy gap in her teeth. Brigid leaning over her guitar. Peter and Brigid on the porch in Bon Temps. Karin smiling at Peter. A text popped up. ‘Can you meet me at Peter’s place?’
He didn’t think. He didn’t need to. Rick checked his wallet for money and grabbed a jacket. It took a while to navigate through the Palace without being seen, but since he could ‘see’ every vampire in the place it wasn’t impossible. He avoided the cameras he could, slipping out the back entrance used by trucks and then running light-footed to the alley near Jackson Square. “I was wondering if you were coming,” and Karin glided from the shadows.
“I heard you were arrested,” Rick answered.
Karin laughed, “Well, if I stay around here, I will be, but I’m not staying.”
“Is that what you came here to tell me?” Rick asked. He glanced up as Rasul joined them. “Or do you and your friend have something else in mind?”
“Are you ready?” Karin asked.
“Yes,” Rick answered and, without asking another question, he followed them through the alley and got in the car.