Author’s Note: Thank you to everyone who offered comments and reviews. I find the parts you choose for commentary helpful. I would also like to acknowledge and thank both Breathesgirl and Ms Buffy who provided their editing expertise to this chapter.
Nautical Note: Being caught at sea with a variable breeze is a bit of a nightmare if you have somewhere you need to be. You find yourself either flying along on course or suddenly becalmed and hoping for another pocket of wind.
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.
Tara and Sookie found themselves on Jason and Michele’s wide front porch with the lights turned off. All around them, the sounds of frogs, insects, and birds filled the night air. Sookie thought about the street sounds of New Orleans and realized how much she’d missed Bon Temps. Yet as she listened, she now knew that there was something different. It was homey; the sounds that had lulled her to sleep from the time she was a little girl, but it wasn’t home anymore. Sookie raised her hand to the dull ache in her chest and smiled to herself. Home seemed to be somewhere else.
Tara leaned over and lifted her hand to her face so she could see her watch. “Good grief!” she exclaimed. “JB will kill me! I told him I’d be back by nine!” Tara stood up and hugged Sookie close. “You remember what I said, sweet girl. You deserve to be happy and I can see happy written all over your face every time you say ‘Eric Northman’.” Sookie shrugged and Tara laughed, and swatted Sookie’s backside. “Don’t you try to bullshit a bullshitter! You know I’m right.”
While she pulled past the house, Tara rolled down the window of her car and said, “You tell your man that he’s all kinds of right in my book. And you know that we’re going to invite you to come visit if you’re not too important to come rubbing elbows with the little people.”
“I’d like that, Tara,” Sookie called back. “You say hi to JB and kiss those babies for me,” Tara pulled down the long drive and out of sight.
Sookie found herself looking along the edge of the woods. She was pretty sure she saw a pair of eyes watching her. She reached out and sure enough she was listening to Owen, but in a more straightforward kind of way. Sookie was amazed. This was the first time she had ever heard a Were in animal form and it was easy. There didn’t seem to be any layers or snarly red interference, just clear thoughts. She heard him scent deer and rat. She heard him register panther and dismiss it as old. She heard him decide to take another wide arc around the property for the sheer joy of running.
Sookie went back into the kitchen and fixed a snack from the refrigerator, and then carried it out to the porch along with a pitcher of water. She thought it over and got a glass as well. Then she put the screen plate protector in place over everything. She knew that if Owen did get hungry or thirsty this would be appreciated. With a last look and a deep breath to hold in the damp, dark of Louisiana night, Sookie turned and went inside.
She watched TV until Jason and Michele came through the door, carrying their sleeping son. “Good time?” Sookie asked.
“Always good to see and be seen,” Jason smiled while he walked straight past her and up the stairs.
“You leave in the morning?” Michele called from the kitchen. When Sookie answered yes, Michele said, “I have work in the morning and I’m dropping Bit at my mom’s. Jason’s out early too. I’m not going to wake you, but there’s plenty of breakfast stuff here. Make yourself and Owen something. Just don’t leave me a mess.”
“Like I would!” Sookie huffed as her sister-in-law walked into the living room. They both laughed and hugged. “Thanks again for having me,” Sookie whispered in Michele’s ear.
“You’re family!” Michele exclaimed. “Where else would you belong?” Then she squeezed Sookie a little more. When she pulled back and linked her arm through to walk toward the stairs she said, “You know we see Eric and you as together, right?” Sookie nodded. She did know, but it was still good to hear. “He’s welcome here any time. He doesn’t need an invitation. He’s family too.” Sookie found herself kissing her sister-in–law. It was the kindest thing any Southern woman could say and Sookie felt another wall around her heart fall away.
As she settled into her nephew’s bed that night there was a knock on the door. Sookie looked up to see her brother’s face. “You still up?” he asked, even though he could see the light on and her ready smile.
“Always time for you, Jason,” Sookie said, answering the question she knew her brother was really asking.
Jason sat on the side of the bed and Sookie sat up too, settling her pillow up against wall so she could lean more comfortably. Jason had some things in his hands; a white garbage bag, and a shoe box. Sookie felt her heart catch a little when she recognized the box; it was the one from her house that held all the family pictures.
“I can’t explain it,” Jason said. “After the fire I went out to the house with Alcide. I was pretty scared, Sook. I couldn’t think that you were dead, but I didn’t know where you were. The fire had burned so hot that the firefighters on the scanner said there was no hope for anyone caught inside,” Jason’s eyes looked off toward the wall and Sookie could feel him reliving the fear he had felt that morning. She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around his waist. Jason came back to himself then and smiled down at her, his hand patting her arm.
“I knew Sam had left you and I knew in my heart that somehow that son of a bitch had something to do with everything,” Jason shrugged. “Well, anyway. When we got there to take a nose around, these were just sitting on the bench near the edge of the property like someone had put them out there on purpose.” Sookie reached out then for the shoebox. She lifted the lid and saw the photo of her father and mother standing in front of this house. A younger Jason stood beside their father, his blond hair, and open smile looking so much like the photos of JC she had seen at the same age. There was a small girl in her father’s arms and Sookie knew that it was her. That little girl was not smiling. She was looking solemnly at the camera, her expression too old for her face.
Sookie lifted the first photo and Jason smiled as he reached for another. Together, they looked through all the images of family they had never met, and the family they remembered but who were now gone. When Sookie saw the photos of Gran and Grandpa Mitchell, she told Jason what Dermot had told her, that the photos where Grandpa was smiling were really photos of Fintan. Jason looked closely, and then they found a non-smiling photo of Grandpa Mitchell where you could see the feet. When they compared the photos, Sookie had to admit that they were different men. It made her sad.
“Why’d she do it?” Sookie asked aloud.
“Why’d she do what?” Jason asked in return.
“Why’d she cheat on a man she always told us she loved?” Sookie shook her head.
“I don’t know, sis,” Jason replied. “But I’m not a good one to ask. You women were always a mystery to me.“ When Sookie snorted he exclaimed, “I mean it! Sure I know how to spark a gal’s interest and make her shimmy in her drawers a little. But what makes a woman do the things she does?” Jason huffed. “I couldn’t tell you.” Sookie shifted over and Jason sat on the bed next to her, his back leaning against the wall. He wrapped his arm around her and Sookie nestled her head on his shoulder. Jason threw his other hand up behind his head and looked off at the far wall as he continued to speak. “Like having kids. I saw what Michele went through. There’s no way in hell I’d do that once, never mind twice. Still, here she is, doing it a third time, something she knows will hurt and with a smile on her face as if it’s nothing. How do you explain that?” Jason shrugged. “Tonight? I knew she was tired, but she still went over, helped out with all the serving and clearing away like she was fresh as a daisy. Smiles for every old bat who asked her if she’d washed her hands first, like Michele isn’t the clean police on our kids every day,” Jason rolled his shoulders. “Hell, it was me? I’d tell them to stuff it, go get myself a beer, and put my feet up!” He looked at Sookie. “But not you women. You are a mystery.”
“I wonder about it, Jason. I wonder what could have possessed her to open her arms, to cheat. I just can’t see it any other way.”
“Maybe she didn’t know who it was,” Jason said. “Maybe she thought it was Grandpa Mitchell.”
Sookie shook her head. Then she thought, ‘If someone were to come to me wearing Eric’s face, would I know it wasn’t him?’ Sookie felt sure that on some level she would know the difference. Then the reality of what she was thinking, that Gran may have slept with someone who was pretending to be someone else made her shiver. It was a terrible thought, but somehow not something she could entirely dismiss. She thought of her conversations with fairies and the answers they gave that didn’t seem to be answers at all. However, before she was able to entirely explore this possibility, Jason shifted.
“Oh, before I forget!” he said, and he reached down beside them to pull up the white garbage bag and handed it to Sookie.
Inside the bag was the ugly afghan that her Gran had made, the same afghan that she and Eric had wrapped themselves in before the fire in her living room so long ago. Sookie found her throat catching and tears springing to her eyes. “Thank you, Jason!” she exclaimed, and threw her arms around her brother’s neck. She pulled back and wiped away the moisture, then said through her smile, “I’m not sure Eric will be thrilled to see this. He always said it was the most hideous blanket he’d ever seen, but I’m so happy it’s still around. It’s like getting a little of my own back.”
Jason beamed at her, then twisted his legs off the bed, turned a little to kiss Sookie’s forehead and said, “Sweet dreams, sis, and you call me from the palace. Don’t forget us, you hear?”
“Thanks, Jas,” Sookie whispered back. She drew the blanket out of the bag and cuddled it close to her shoulders. It was too warm for the weather, but she didn’t care. It reminded her of Gran and Eric, and it was going with her to the only home that now counted.
When Sookie got up in the morning, she found Owen seated at the kitchen table. He had already had breakfast and rose from his chair to start more eggs in the pan.
“Breakfast in a minute,” he said without turning his back. “Coffee’s on the counter.”
“Who told you I needed coffee?” Sookie asked.
Owen glanced back, a smile on his face. “His Majesty offered a number of details. I was informed about coffee, how you like your eggs, and how much talking you can stand first thing when you get up.”
“Eric gave you a run down?” Sookie wasn’t sure whether she should be flattered or put out. It seemed a sweet thing on the surface, but seen in another light it could be another way to control her. Sookie had an ugly moment when she thought about how Sam had regimented her life, always requiring that things be done a certain way. Then she thought about Eric and dismissed her worries. ‘He’s not like that,’ she told herself. ‘He’s been in my shoes. He wouldn’t do that to someone else,’ and she felt another wall within her drop.
“More like a pop quiz,” Owen was laughing, his attention focused on the pan. He shifted and scooped the eggs onto a waiting plate and carried it to the table. “He had much to say on the subject, Mistress,” Owen told her. His eyes were warm and Sookie could hear him thinking that the king was in love with this woman, the kind of love that translated to death for anyone who injured her in any way.
“Well, that’s real sweet,” Sookie said in return. “Thank you so much for this,” as she gestured toward her plate of food. “I don’t expect it. Next time, I’ll return the favor. I make a real good omelet.”
“Thank you, Mistress,” the Were bowed. “I would count it an honor.”
Sookie watched Owen retreat out the door, leaving her to finish her eggs, coffee, and to clean up all the dishes on her own. “Men!” she thought.
Sookie brought her luggage downstairs. Owen swung in and took the suitcase from her hand, and then headed for the car. “Just a couple more things,” Sookie called to him, and she headed back up the stairs to retrieve the box of photos and the afghan. She had already written her ‘thank you’ card and placed it on the kitchen table. She looked around the living room one more time, and then turned the lock on the knob pulling the door firmly shut behind her.
As she walked toward the car she caught a clear thought from Owen. He was thinking that the blanket draped over her arm had to be homemade because no one would buy something so ugly. Then he walked to the car door and opened it for her.
“What time did we tell Mr. Cataliades we were going to pick him up?” Sookie asked.
“The attorney said he would be finished at the courthouse by ten. That gets us back to the palace before rush hour,” Owen replied.
With that information, Sookie knew what she needed to do. “Owen?” Sookie asked. “I want to swing by my old house and see my Gran’s grave. It looks like we have an hour, more or less.”
“Of course, Mistress,” Owen responded, but Sookie could tell he wasn’t entirely enthusiastic about the idea. Sookie leaned over the car seat and directed Owen through the turns, and soon they were turning down the graveled driveway that led to where the house on Hummingbird Lane had stood.
Once they pulled to a stop, Sookie got out and walked around the overgrown foundation. It was hard to believe it had only been a few months. The vegetation made it look as if years had passed since the house had been razed. Everywhere she looked, Sookie could see flowers, green, birds, and butterflies. It was like walking into some crazy, demented Garden of Eden. She half expected to see satyrs or nymphs dancing through the trees! Her Gran’s rose bushes had become wild tangles that stood taller than her and the thorny stems were creaking with buds and blossoms.
“Sure is a green place,” Owen offered, and then he snapped his head toward the line of trees.
“What is it?” Sookie asked him.
“Not sure,” he told her.
Sookie could almost see the hair standing up on the back of his neck. “You smell something? There’s a vampire over yonder,” Sookie waved toward the cemetery. “Bill Compton, Vampire Bill. He moved back recently and I know he used to walk around here sometimes.”
“No,” Owen told her. “It’s not vampire. It’s something else.”
“May be Fae,” Sookie told him.
“Fae are dangerous,” the Were stated in a way that sounded more like lecturing and less like offering information.
“That’s true enough,” Sookie confirmed. “And you probably know that I’m Fae, at least part.”
Owen’s eyes flared, and then he looked a little guilty. “The king told me,” Owen then looked less certain. “I heard a rumor that you were some kind of fairy royalty. More than talk?”
Sookie grinned and shrugged. “More than talk. Course still takes me that and $2.25 to get a cup of coffee at one of those fancy places.”
“Still,” Owen said. Then he looked thoughtful. “Would you mind if I asked you another personal question?” When Sookie just shrugged, Owen continued. “You really the new High Sachem for the Packs?”
“Yeah,” Sookie told him. “If that’s what you call it. It looks that way.”
“Well, good then,” he replied. Then he smiled a little more and shook his head. “Mind if I tell my momma? She won’t believe I’m guarding a celebrity.”
Sookie was surprised at Owen’s reaction and had to struggle to keep from laughing. She had had the impression it was important in some way to Alcide, but she hadn’t anticipated that it would be important to others too. “Well, you must come from some pretty plain folk if you think I’m a celebrity!” she smiled. “Sure, you can tell your momma whatever you like,” Then Sookie looked toward the cemetery. “Would you mind hanging back a little? I want to talk with my Gran. She’s resting right over there.”
Owen shook his head. “I’ll hold back a little, but I do have to keep you in line of sight. That okay?”
Sookie nodded her appreciation. She walked over to the overgrown roses, the roses her Gran had loved, and snapped off a couple blossoms. The red of the flowers put her in mind of the blood she shared with Eric, and she felt the pull to return to him even more than she had last night.
The walk to her Gran’s grave seemed shorter than she remembered. The site was orderly and clearly someone had been tending it. Sookie thought it was probably Michele. She laid the two blossoms on the stone, and then placed her hand there as well.
“Hi Gran,” she said. “I know it’s been awhile since I’ve come to see you. I sure am sorry about that,” Sookie looked around, and then she sank down on the ground right in front of her Gran’s stone. She leaned forward and rested her head against the cool granite while she talked into the earth as if her Gran was really there to hear her.
“Guess you know about me and Eric being back together,” she said. “I sure wish you could have met him. I know you liked Bill, but I think you would have loved Eric Northman more. At least, I hope you would have.“ Sookie smiled as she stared at the dirt mounded around the daisies at the base of the stone.
Then Sookie shifted a little. “I have to tell you, Gran. My heart wants Eric Northman in every way. Tara and I talked last night and she said things that made sense to me. I have to ask. Was Fintan your heart? Were you ready to do just about anything for him? Because that’s how I feel about Eric,” Sookie sighed and shifted against the stone so she could stare across the graveyard toward where her Gran’s house, her house, had stood. “If truth be told, I think I’ve felt that way deep down since almost the first moment I saw him. I just never felt I could trust that he would have room in his life for me,” Sookie felt herself turning her head a little like she used to when she was a girl and embarrassed to be telling something deeply personal to her Gran.
“I know you always said I was pretty, but you have to know that every time I look in the mirror, I still see that gawky, spotty girl with buck teeth and ugly feet. Oh, if you could see Eric! He’s tall, muscly, and perfect! It’s not just sometimes; he’s that way pretty much all the time. He doesn’t smell bad, fart, burp, or do any of the stupid stuff that makes men such lunkheads. Hell, he doesn’t even need a toilet! It’s enough to make you want to put a paper bag over your own head most days and just give up! He’s just that perfect to look at. When he turns around? Gran, he has the most perfect butt! It makes my eyes hurt; like I should put sunglasses on!” Sookie found herself giggling. “How was I ever going to keep the attention of someone that perfect? That’s what I kept telling myself.”
“And Eric? Eric would keep telling me to trust him, to just put my heart in his hand and that everything would be all right. Yet I would look at his beautiful face, his smile, the quick way he had around people, and I was so afraid. I guess with Bill and Quinn I always knew that there would be some part of my heart that would never really be theirs. Some part of me that would never truly be totally and completely in love with them. And Sam? I knew from the start that I could love Sam, but I was never in love with Sam Merlotte. Who knows? Maybe that was part of our problem,” Sookie shook her head. “You don’t want to hear about that. You’d be fussing at me, telling me to get on with the story, and stop dancing around. So, this is it. I knew with Eric Northman I was in real danger because I knew if I loved him; I wouldn’t be able to hold back any part of me. That when he grew tired of me or I grew too old he would toss me aside and I’d be broken forever. How could that not happen? He was perfect and I wasn’t.”
“But Eric told me things about himself,” Sookie’s face turned serious when she thought about that night in Jackson and she poked a little in the dirt. “His face? His beauty? It’s what attracted Appius to him. I can imagine a small part of what he went through, but I can’t imagine all of it. Not being able to end my life because I was commanded not to? If it had been me, I would have wanted that every day with what that bastard did to him. And he told me when he looks in the mirror he sees the face that brought him years of pain and suffering. He sees the body that stole him from everything he knew. He doesn’t regret. It’s not his way. He does his best to find joy in every day just like you taught me to do.”
“And you know what else? He worries. He worries so much and about all kinds of things. I used to think he just knew everything. He is smart, don’t get me wrong. He’s real smart about plenty of stuff. But he works at it. He doesn’t always get it right, in fact, sometimes? Sometimes Eric Northman just plain screws up, but when he does, he dusts himself off and tries again.” Sookie felt the dirt running between her fingers. She smiled to herself and she lowered her voice a little.
“Gran? You know what’s so special about him? He gets me. He thinks I’m funny and smart. He makes me feel like some part of why he’s so wonderful is because he has me in his life, like he wouldn’t be so great if I wasn’t there. I don’t feel like I have to be someone else for him. I don’t need to be fiery, saucy, or funny. All I need to be is Sookie Stackhouse every day and that’s enough,” Sookie sighed.
“He is different; different than anyone I ever imagined myself being with. Our lives are not the normal I imagined, but a wise woman I met pointed out that if I stepped back a little, the differences aren’t really there. He’s still just a working man who wants a home and some success in his life and a woman who loves him. That’s me. I do love him, Gran. Now? It looks like Jason, Tara, and the family I have left loves him too,” Sookie swallowed and lowered her head a little. “I know you always said I shouldn’t care what other people think. I should do what I know is right. But my time with Sam hurt me. It made me wary of cutting off everyone around me,” Sookie wiped her eyes. “Eric has never asked that of me. Not ever. People didn’t want to be around or include him because of what he is, and that made it feel like it would be the same thing, but you know what? They’ve come around. I know I shouldn’t care, but having him beside me with my family and my friends? Gran, it makes me feel complete. Now that can happen.”
“Eric and me, we’re facing some real troubles right now, trouble from the outside and I figure you probably know better than anyone how that feels. You must have got up some days after Jason and I moved in, and wondered how you’d keep us all together until nightfall so you could get up and do it all over again. Still, you never let us see your doubt. You just made us believe that every day everything would turn out fine. Somehow it always did.”
Sookie felt the tear slip down her cheek and she watched the water drop to the ground. “I never doubted that you would do anything for me, that your big love would keep me safe. You smiled and you were gracious to everyone you met. You were so strong, and it was a gift of love that you gave me. And Gran? I’m going to pass that gift along now. I’m going to remember the example you set and I’m going to be strong for Eric and for me. I’m going to give him everything I am and I know in my heart, he’s going to give it right back. I wanted you to be the first to know and I wanted you to know that I miss you, Gran. I miss you every day.”
Sookie smiled one last time. She wiped her face with the back of her hand and patted the ground, and then she got up. She plucked a daisy from her Gran’s grave and started walking back toward the house. As she emerged from the shade of a tree, she suddenly pulled up short. Bellenos stood in the path directly in front of her. His moss green eyes were shining and he had a small smile on his face.
“Goodness!” Sookie exclaimed. “You sure gave me a start! You been here all along?”
Bellenos smiled, his pointed teeth looking prominent. “I come here often,” he replied, not answering her question at all. “It’s nice to see you. I thought I would have heard from you about training already.”
“I’ve been busy,” Sookie told him. She looked beyond the elf and found herself wondering what Owen was making of all this. Bellenos glanced in the same direction, and then turned back toward her.
“Dogs like to sleep in the sun,” he said, and he smiled again.
“Jesus, Bellenos! Did you put Owen to sleep?” Sookie shook her head and made a huffing sound. However, on the inside she was starting to feel afraid. “If Owen doesn’t keep a good eye on me, Eric will punish him, and then I’ll feel terrible.”
Bellenos shrugged. “What could be more important than learning to use your power?” he asked conversationally.
Sookie took a deep breath and walked toward the elf with the idea of walking past him, toward the car. “Well,” she started, “there’s moving into my new home in New Orleans. I’m living with Eric now.”
“The Prince was informed,” Bellenos replied. “He is wondering about the nature of your relationship with the vampire. He had thought you were together before, but now you live together, though still you have yet to bond,” and the elf turned his head at an angle and drew in a large, snuffling breath. “No, not truly bonded. So he wonders why you are with the North Man again.”
Sookie pasted a bright smile on her face. ‘Can’t answer my question?’ she thought. ‘Let’s see how you like it.’ “You’ve seen Grandfather? Is he well?” she asked out loud.
“The Prince is always in the best of health,” Bellenos responded smoothly. “And he is most solicitous after you. He wishes you to have all the benefits of your heritage and he is most anxious that you should begin to access your birthright.”
Sookie walked past Bellenos’ shoulder and the elf did nothing to restrain her. Instead he turned and fell into step beside her, walking back toward the old foundation and the car. “Well, I know that I can read Weres now,” Sookie offered.
“That is a Dae trait, not Fae. I believe you can also call weapons and other things to yourself,” Bellenos stated. Then, faster than Sookie could register, Bellenos was running past her, and then he turned around, a bright knife in his hand. “Can you stop me, Princess Sookie? Can you keep me from cutting you?” and he ran at her full tilt.
Sookie was shocked and she looked around wildly for something she could grab. ‘Knife!’ she screamed in her head. Instantly her hand was closed around a hard handle and she brought a bright, long knife up before her.
Bellenos stopped on a dime. “Very good, Princess. I didn’t think you would be successful the first time. You only needed a little push. You need to learn to call what you want without a trigger. You should practice every day what you did here. It will help you to lower your inhibitions and to do without thinking as it is our way.” Sookie could feel her heart hammering in her chest, but the elf appeared not to notice. “What about glamouring? Have you been able to hide your scent or your presence yet?”
Sookie thought back. “Yes, once,” she said.
“Not surprising. A fairly common trait for your family,” Bellenos confirmed. “You should attempt that skill as well, but don’t be surprised if you are unable at first. We may have to devise a similar trigger to help you access the skill within yourself,” Bellenos smiled in a way that made Sookie want to shudder. Then the elf turned back toward her. “What about changing appearance?” When Sookie looked blankly at him, Bellenos restated, “Looking like someone else? Have you been able to do that yet?”
“No,” Sookie told him, and she thought of the photos of Fintan looking like her Grandfather.
“Well, there are other things that I would expect you to manifest. Being able to hide yourself under another face is one that’s likely to come soon. And scrying. You should be able to do that now.”
“Scrying?” Sookie asked.
“It’s seeing a future, or seeing other places,” Bellenos told her. “It requires water.” Bellenos stopped beside a small puddle in the path. “Here, I’ll help you,” he said. “Walk around the water until you can see the sky reflected on the surface.” Sookie did as she was asked, walking first around, and then getting closer, and then further until she could see the clouds in the water’s surface. “Good,” Bellenos confirmed. “Now, empty your mind and look deep into the reflection, like it’s a painting and you are stepping inside.” Sookie wasn’t sure why but what Bellenos was asking made sense. She watched the surface and it was like when she was in pain, some part of her was able to detach and move toward the water’s surface. Then the reflections of the clouds became something else. Sookie saw Deirdre cooking in Maude’s kitchen in Minnesota. Then the image changed and she was watching Karin and Horst making love, her on her knees and him slamming at vamp speed from behind her, their faces reflecting their concentration. The image shifted once more and she saw Eric sleeping in their room, his face so dear to her that her heart ached again.
The surface went dark and Sookie looked up to see Bellenos watching her closely. She was aware that she was rubbing her chest and she purposely dropped her hand. Bellenos’ eyebrows were raised and his mouth tilted upward. “You should try to return here often, Princess,” he told her. “You are most strong here. Your training will go more swiftly.” Bellenos glanced at the dark surface of the puddle. “I think you and your vampire will have need of your skills, if you truly mean to bind yourselves.” Then the elf bowed and he was gone. Sookie looked around her only to hear Owen’s grunt coming from near Gran’s grave.
“What the hell?” he growled. Sookie turned to see the Were getting up from the ground, knocking grass and dirt from his pants.
“Fairies,” Sookie said, and then she shrugged and continued walking toward the waiting car. ‘Time to go home,’ she thought.
Sookie checked her phone. There was a message from Alcide Herveaux. He had located the Were named Brian and wanted to know if she wished to speak with him. Brian had been one of the guards stationed to watch her when she had been married to Sam, one of the guards who may have witnessed the abuse that was the nature of her marriage.
“Did you say we are picking up Mr. Cataliades at the courthouse?” Sookie asked. Owen grunted in acknowledgement and he cut his eyes at her in the rearview mirror. He had been distinctly out of sorts since he had awakened. Sookie figured she was in for a lecture from Thalia, Eric, or both when they returned. She figured there would be some kind of discussion about training with the Fae as well. She could already see how this would play out. Eric would be angry that Bellenos put the guard to sleep. Bellenos would point out that he agreed to a guard, but no one specified that the guard had to be conscious. ‘Fairies,’ Sookie thought and shook her head.
Sookie forwarded the message to Mr. Cataliades. He would know how best to handle the information that needed to be gathered from the former guard. Sookie hit her Send button, and then glanced out the window. She remembered all the times she had driven this same road on her way to Fangtasia or to Eric’s house. Most of those trips had not ended well. Still, some of them had been sublime. She remembered walking into Eric’s house, taking off her shoes, and flying through the halls only to leap into his arms, how he had laughed and twirled her around and around. ‘Home,’ she thought again, and the ache in her chest seemed to diminish.
‘I’ll be a strong Southern woman, Gran,’ she promised herself, and she kissed her own thumb as a way to seal her pledge. ‘I’ll make you proud of me.’ Sookie could feel tears prickling her eyes with the strength of her conviction.
As they approached the outskirts of Shreveport, Sookie picked up her phone again and called Devrah. Sookie couldn’t believe how happy she felt to hear the woman’s lilting accent. The housekeeper’s voice reminded her of warm water and hidden courtyards, all things New Orleans. “You almost here, cher?” Devrah asked.
“No, just outside Shreveport. We should be home around three, depending on how Owen drives.” Sookie glanced in the mirror, but Owen was not making eye contact. ‘Yup, definitely got a mad on,’ Sookie thought.
“Well, you tell him to drive you safe, not all crazy like some race car driver. You are missed here. There is someone who pines for you. His eyes watch the doors. I see it.”
Sookie smiled. “Me too,” she said and she could feel a blush creeping up across her face. Sookie thought of how she wanted to spend their first night together. What she really wanted was a fireplace, the afghan, and a book being read between them until they stopped reading. There was no place for that at the palace so she said, “Could you arrange for us to have dinner on the roof together tonight? Nothing too elaborate, I won’t be real hungry. But if there were some kind of double chaise lounge or something like that set out under the stars…” and Sookie found herself blushing more.
“Of course, Mistress,” Devrah agreed. “I know just the thing. You leave it to me.”
When Sookie ended the call, she glanced in the rearview mirror to find Owen was looking at her now. Sookie could feel her cheeks burning and she shrugged, and then turned her eyes to look out the window. She could hear Owen thinking that the king was a lucky man.
The drive home was quiet. Mr. Cataliades told her he had called Alcide and they had agreed to an interview with the guard for the next day. Sookie would not be required to attend. The attorney would let her know if there was anything that could be used to their advantage. Sookie had been grateful, but within a short period of time had felt her eyes droop, and she awoke to find herself pulling up to the sidewalk in front of the palace building. She went into a little panic, smoothing her hair, and checking the side of her mouth for drool. Her throat felt dry and she had the uncomfortable sense that she may have been snoring in the back seat.
James was at the door to greet her and Owen followed close behind with her suitcase. She handed the photo box and afghan to Meg who had appeared at her elbow. “Welcome home, Mistress,” the younger woman had smiled. “Miss Devrah said to bring you to the office so you could freshen up,” and she nodded, and then walked forward toward the meeting rooms.
“See you later,” Sookie called to Mr. Cataliades. He waved, and then walked with purpose in a different direction.
The little bathroom in the corner of the office space was set out with washcloths, brushes, a new toothbrush, and hairspray. Sookie felt entirely grateful. When she emerged, she found Devrah arranging a vase of daisies and red roses. The tall, dark woman turned and smiled, her teeth showing. “From your someone,” she said, her eyebrows raised. Sookie walked to the bouquet and buried her face in one of the blossoms. From behind her Devrah said, “In the old days, people used flowers to say things to each other. This bouquet would say that he loves you in large ways and small.”
Sookie’s face hurt, her smile was so bright. “He is the best of men,” she heard herself say. She was pleased that she had shown restraint in how she expressed the overflow of her heart. She didn’t want to make others uncomfortable by saying too much about what was personal to her. She thought that her Gran would be proud of her behaving like a lady. “So, how did things go while I was traveling?” Sookie asked. She caught the caution from Devrah’s head immediately. Devrah could see that she’d been found out and her eyes dropped.
“I’m sure His Majesty will have much to share with you when he rises,” Devrah nodded. “But for now I was asked to present these to you.” She handed Sookie two leather bound books. They said ‘Journal’ on the front and when Sookie opened them, she could see the columns of figures and explanations written in a fine, block hand. “The household accounts,” Devrah confirmed without having to be asked.
Sookie nodded and walked over to the nearby desk. She set them down, and then looked at the figures and dates until she knew which of the books was the most current. Then she pulled out the chair and sat down. “Can I get some paper and pencils?” she asked, and Devrah walked toward the door. “And Devrah?” Sookie continued, “I will need you to help me with some of this. You have time?” Devrah nodded, and then hurried out.
Sookie spent the next hours poring over the handwritten entries she found. For each payment, she asked Devrah if she knew who the party was and what had been purchased. Some of the entries Devrah recognized, but most she did not.
“Miss Melanie kept the records pretty well to herself when she took over,” Devrah told Sookie. “I used to handle all of this for Queen Sophie-Anne, but Mr. Madden? He only wanted vampires handling things.” Sookie could feel a sharp push of hatred every time Devrah mentioned Victor’s name.
“What happened to you when Victor was here?” Sookie asked. She kept her voice low and level, and she tried to project honest concern toward the tall housekeeper. Devrah had initially looked as if she was not going to answer, but then Sookie saw something soften in the older woman’s eyes.
“When Victor Madden came, I was training my daughter to take over my role here. I inherited this job from ma mére. Ma mére always felt that she could rely on the paycheck and things here were pretty good. I thought the same. That all changed when that son of a bitch came. My Trudy is working uptown now. She’s running the house staff for a nice hotel. Sure, it isn’t as flexible as here, but I don’t have to worry about finding her half-drained in some hospital either.” Sookie felt terrible hearing what Devrah was telling her. She was just about to protest that things were better when she remembered walking in on Thierry and Thomas with Sonder between them. She wondered what would have happened if she hadn’t interfered when she did. Would Sonder’s fate have been much different than what Devrah was hinting had happened to her own child?
“I don’t know how to change things,” Sookie mumbled. “It isn’t right, but I just don’t know how much I can do.” At this, Devrah started to stand up, but then she seemed to change her mind. Sookie watched the conflict work its way across the housekeeper’s face until she finally said, “All right. Out with it. You’ve been around this palace longer than me. You’ve seen it run where you were comfortable and you’ve seen it when it wasn’t. What made the difference? And don’t tell me you don’t know because I can tell you do.”
Devrah looked down her nose, her expression both suspicious and wary. “What makes the difference?” she asked. “Well, telling vampires that they can only feed from donors is a start.”
Sookie felt surprised. “How would I do that?” she asked.
“Well,” Devrah said, her shoulders starting to loosen a touch, “The Queen had a Rules Page that every vampire who came here had to sign and if they broke the rules, they were punished.”
“Do you still have a copy?” Sookie asked. “If you do, I bet Eric would support putting the Rules back in place. He’s told me how much he admired Queen Sophie-Anne. He used to like coming here. I’d be surprised if he didn’t support that. I promise you I will fight for it. It would make my life here easier.”
Devrah nodded. “If you asked it, I think he would listen,” she said, nodding slowly. “I think I can find a copy. It would probably need to be updated.”
Sookie nodded and smiled. “We can work on that,” she confirmed. Then Sookie checked her watch. There were still several hours until Eric would rise. She found herself glancing back at the long columns of debits and credits in the ledger in front of her. “Can I ask you a different question?” Sookie asked. “How did we pay people here?”
“You mean besides handing over cash?” Devrah asked. When Sookie’s eyebrows rose, Devrah nodded in a meaningful way. “There was much business done through here with the Nevada folks that was cash in hand. Though most of the vendors,” and Devrah jerked her chin toward the journal, “They were paid by check. Twice a week one of my people had to grab the stack of envelopes from Melanie’s Area and waste hours standing in line at the post office.”
Sookie looked around. “Did anyone find any checkbooks?” she asked.
“Can’t say,” Devrah said. “But if they did, I would have thought they’d be here with the ledgers. The king made clear that anything that had to do with the house would come to you,” Devrah looked down and Sookie could see she was making a decision. Then she looked up and said, “I don’t think there are any checks left, though. Miss Melanie was pretty busy burning records before y’all showed up.” Sookie nodded. “Course, I probably remember which bank we were using,” Devrah added and she walked forward, and wrote down the name of a local bank on the top of the ledger page.
Sookie smiled. “Thank you, Devrah,” she told the tall woman, but both of them knew that Sookie was really thanking her for her trust. Sookie turned to the older book. “Let’s take a look and see what ‘s different,” she said.
The two women sat side by side making lists. They wrote down all the names that they didn’t recognize. Sookie created a subaccount tally to let her know the costs of maintaining the donor pool and realized it was almost 60 percent of the overall spending for the household. Then they made lists of payments that had been regular in past but were missing now.
Sookie could see where the handwriting in the older journal changed. “Was this you?” she asked, and Devrah had nodded. “Who’s this?” she asked, pointing at one entry.
“It’s the bi-annual bill for the medical inspections,” Devrah told her.
“Medical inspections?” Sookie asked.
“Donors. I had the doctor in here twice a year to make sure that they were healthy. It’s not like they ever get to go anywhere, poor souls, still, there are those who come in from the outside, and it’s important to make sure that they aren’t sick.” Sookie had a sinking feeling. She looked at the long list of names and businesses she had from the newer journal, names that Devrah didn’t know. It was possible one of them was a doctor, but she couldn’t tell.
Then she pointed at another name. “And this?”
“Oh, that is the firm that came in and did bug sweeps for us. Made sure that the Queen and her children could talk in peace,” Devrah said with a nod.
Sookie bit her lip. “Do you remember anyone coming in recently and sweeping for listening devices?” Sookie asked.
“Now that you mention it,” Devrah said, “Even Mr. Madden stopped. Melanie didn’t seem to care. Not that we had many visitors.” Devrah looked at Sookie, her eyebrow raised. “Most of the time Mr. Madden was looking North and figuring out how to hurt the two of you.”
Sookie found herself looking at the older woman and nodding. She found herself feeling pleased that she had been the one to come up with the plan that had killed Victor. In fact, she was very pleased.
Sookie glanced at the clock and saw that Eric would rise soon. “I’ll be coming back to this,” she told Devrah.
The older woman glanced at the clock, and then smiled back. “Don’t you worry none. Work and worry always have time,” she nodded as Sookie stood and almost ran for the door.
Felipe leaned back, the hair of the woman who was sucking on him spilling across his legs. Angie had made a point of arranging only women and men who weren’t blond to perform this task. Felipe was less angry now, but he still had moments of rage when a blond head made him wish to punish and injure.
He turned at the sound of his child’s high heels on the marble floor. “I wish you would take your shoes off,” he said, not really making eye contact with her. “ The marble is not as hard as the granite or tile and your shoes leave marks in the stone.”
“Sorry,” Angie said her voice distracted. He heard her slip from her shoes and continue her path to him in bare feet. “I thought you would find this interesting,” she told him and she placed several pages of transcript before him.
“What is it?” Felipe asked, his hand waving it away from his face.
“It is our ear in the Shreveport Packmaster’s office. He was talking with the demon, Cataliades. The attorney is questioning one of the Weres that used to guard Stackhouse. There seems to be some problem in her getting a divorce and they are thinking that the story the guard can tell will hurry things along.”
‘And I care about her nuptials because?” Felipe allowed the question to linger with the curl of his lip.
“Because Sam was Sonny, and Sonny disappeared. An investigation could slow down anything the North Man tries to put together.”
Felipe shrugged. “I appreciate the sentiment, but such a path would be small. It would take energy to manufacture and the outcome would be a fly bite when what I want to administer is a bee sting,” Felipe flipped his fingers at the papers. “Don’t interfere. Let them be together. It is better that they should have a taste of happiness, so that when the bitter comes it is a taste that is more remembered.”
Then Felipe De Castro tapped the cheek of the woman who was sucking him. When her eyes met his, he said, “Suck harder. Make me purr.”
End Note: I welcome your comments and reviews. Always a pleasure to chat with you. Have a great week and look for the next chapter soon.