Author’s Note: I very much appreciated the conversations you sent my way following the last chapter. It was a quieter moment for our favorite couple, but everyone deserves to catch their breath, even Sookie and Eric! My thanks to both Ms Buffy and Breathesgirl, my beta readers. They are amazing women whose time is invaluable to me, and whose suggestions and tireless weeding take the words I produce and polish them pretty.
Nautical Note: When racing, there is always one leg of the course that is an upwind mark. It requires all your skill and strategy to maintain headway and gain as you tack endlessly back and forth, fighting for forward progress.
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.
‘How quickly we become accustomed to pleasant things,’ Eric thought as he lay in bed. Once his awareness had awakened, he knew Sookie was not beside him and he had a moment of panic. Then he felt her, muted in a way that told him she slept. It was like feeling a warm breeze blow through him. He could tell she was nearby and that she felt comfortable although not quite enough. He knew he would have to wait until fully awakening to find her, but just her presence helped. This was the part of the bond that differed from the one he held with Pam and Karin. It was the sensation that when they were not in proximity that his world was somehow muffled. He remembered a time when his ears would fill with water and he would seem to feel a little distanced from his surroundings. It was similar to that. When she was near him everything was clearer, brighter. Then he had a stray thought. What if this sensation was not the bond? What if it was because he was in love with her?
Eric spent this time as he did all his twilight time in work mode, mentally reviewing the conversations and proposals that his team had made the prior night. Tonight the meetings would be cut short, and there would be the inconvenience of the interview that the New York woman had arranged with the ‘Good Morning New Orleans’ television show. Everyone seemed to think that taping a conversation with a vampire to show on a morning segment would pull ratings. Eric was doubtful. Twy had prepped him yesterday and he had been provided an advance copy of all the questions. There would be time wasted while they applied makeup so that he appeared more attractive under their lights and he knew the publicist had already pre-approved his wardrobe. He was still not happy that Sookie would not be at his side, but at least she would be standing in a place where he could see her. Eric understood the need of building relations and a recognizable presence in the city. He was more interested in appearing as an upstanding citizen with whom people wanted to do business, and less a side-show novelty. He was not convinced that this interview would help.
Eric’s thoughts did not seem to want to obey him tonight. His mind kept returning to the fact that Sookie would be leaving in the morning and be gone for days. He dreaded that his time apart from her would be difficult, but there was much to keep him busy.
Eric had decided to bring both Thierry and Jane to the Zeus Summit. That would bring his contingent to five, including himself, Sookie, and Thalia. He knew he would have to speak with Max tonight. There was only a month until the Summit and travel plans needed to be made now. Eric had considered Thierry’s remarks about leaving Jane behind, but in the end decided that she should come. Even if Sandy Seacrest was only able to spend a little time with his people at this gathering, it would be an introduction made under pleasant circumstances. Stan would certainly be available as well. Both vampires had an interest in energy production, and this could prove a valuable opportunity to talk and set a preliminary agenda for future cooperation.
The information that his team had provided last night had been exciting. According to the surveys Eric had seen of his controlled areas, the potential for natural gas production could prove to yield even better results than the estimates he had seen for Oklahoma. This could solve short term cash needs, but in his heart, Eric did not feel that this energy process was a long term strategy. The cost to recapture and the potential for lasting damage to both land and reputation was high. No, this was a fast means to an end and Eric’s plan would be to transition to renewable energy production, at the earliest opportunity.
Eric had been surprised by the news of Sandy’s impending marriage. He sent her a congratulatory message and she had texted him back with a response that had all the earmarks of words that had been carefully chosen. She mentioned the appropriateness of the two kingdoms aligning and the practicality in the two states working more closely together. Eric knew Sandy to be a clever woman and Ralph did not appear to be clever in the least. If she was any other kind of vampire, Ralph would be well advised to sleep with one eye open. However, Sandy Seacrest was not that kind of vampire. She would honor their commitment and both monarchs would benefit. Eric found himself thinking that in some ways she might be a better vampire than himself.
Eric’s animation returned then. He likened it to being in a world of black and white, and then suddenly having light and color flow over him like a wave. He sat up and then closed his eyes, honing in on his telepath. She was definitely in the building, somewhere below him, and resting peacefully. He stood and walked into the bathroom, pushing the button that started his preferred shower setting. He could dress comfortably since everything he put on would only be changed later at the studio. He knew he had about two hours before the limo arrived, and that would be plenty of time to feed and play with Sookie. The vampire finished his shower, and then threw on some track pants and a t-shirt. As he exited his chamber Charles bowed and turned to follow him. James smiled and jerked his chin in greeting and Eric jerked his own chin in return.
Eric knew that the guards had started betting on his time with Sookie. He had overheard them. It was harmless, mostly how long or how many times. Eric knew that when Sookie found out she would not be amused. First, she’d give them both hell and frankly, Eric was tempted to let her just to be able to watch her in action. There was something about his fairy in full fight mode that made him want to throw her down and possess her like a man afire. Yet because the guards were always with them, there was a possibility that his telepath might feel self-conscious and that wouldn’t do. Eric wanted nothing to inhibit their time together, so he decided to mention it to Thalia tonight. She could handle it.
Eric headed down the corridor toward the elevator anxious to start his Sookie hunt, but just as he was getting ready to push the button, Pam came around corner and into his corridor. “Do you have time for me?” she asked. Eric could feel that twinge of jealousy coming from her and he realized she expected him to turn her down in favor of his bonded. It was a moment of clarity and Eric stopped, pulled his hand back from the button, and gave his child his full attention.
“Of course, Pam,” Eric smiled. “We can go back to my rooms and sit. Would that be acceptable?”
Pam’s smile broke across her face, her gratitude and happiness flowing over him. “Thank you,” she said, and Eric was sorry that he had made her feel she had become an intrusion in his life. ‘When did things become so complicated?’ Eric thought as they walked side by side back the way he had come.
Charles had obediently followed them back, and then resumed his station with James outside the door. Eric walked straight to the little kitchen in the corner of the sitting area and retrieved a bottle of TruBlood. It wouldn’t be enough for him, but it would at least take the edge off his hunger until he could feed. “Would you like some?” he asked Pam.
“Please,” Pam nodded, and Eric opened the bottles and microwaved them both. He capped them, shook, and then placed them on the coasters Pam set on the low table. Eric smiled at her warmly and Pam smiled back, saluting him before she drank.
Eric took a long look at his youngest child. She was looking well. There was something about hard work that seemed to agree with her even though she groused and complained about it. The more grueling the schedule, the more challenging the assignments, the more Pam seemed to glow. He had joked with her in the past that she was clearly a masochist and that had tickled her. “Your Jane did well last night,” Eric opened.
“I am proud of her,” Pam agreed. “She may be cleverer than me. She was a good recommendation, and I owe Maude and Phoebe another favor. “Still,” and Pam looked pensive, “I don’t want to get overly optimistic about this.”
“You have doubts about the plans?” Eric asked. The Viking had studied what Pam had accomplished with Fangtasia and he trusted her instincts. If she had a problem with the proposals he knew he needed to pay attention.
“No, not entirely,” Pam told him. “It’s not the plans themselves. It’s the timelines. They seem too aggressive. I’d love to think we could turn things around with a small capital investment within a year. Still, Eric? My gut says it’s not probable.” Pam shook her head. “I think that if we really want to make this happen within 18 months we are going to need more money. At least $30 million above and beyond what you’ll get from the gas leases.”
Eric nodded. It had occurred to him as well. “That is an investment well above anything I think we can find within our own circle,” Eric said and he looked toward the far wall, allowing his mind to turn over possibilities. Eric started to make a low, rumbling sound, but stopped when he glanced over to see Pam hiding her mouth behind her hand. When she saw she was caught, she schooled her face into a more serious look and leaned forward.
“What about the Amun kings?” Pam asked quickly, “Russell and Bart? Or Maude?”
Eric looked back, smiled, and shook his head. “I owe this position to them,” he said. “It is mine now to hold or lose. To ask for more help would be to signal I am willing to be their vassal. You know me. That is a situation that would gall quickly. I would lose my self-respect and the respect of my peers in the process. No,” Eric’s smile broadened, “This is something I must solve without begging from them.”
Pam nodded. It was an answer she had expected. “So where?” she asked. “Stan? Or another king or queen outside the Clan?”
Eric shook his head again. “You know the strings that would come from that sort of arrangement. There would be a demand for a royal marriage or something just as binding. I do not intend to be cash poor for long. Two or three years would position us to be one of the strongest kingdoms in the United States if everything plays out. Why would I sell myself for a hundred years and give up what is precious to me to gain what I will doubtless achieve within three?” Eric leaned over and said in a low voice, “If I survive,” but he said it in a way meant to make light of the situation.
Pam shook her head, nonverbally scolding him for his lack of concern. “So where? Where will you find that kind of capital?”
“Banks and investors,” Eric said, keeping his tone light.
“Humans?” Pam exclaimed. “Eric, they won’t do business with you. I don’t care how interesting they find us! They don’t trust us! You know how they treat our people when we ask for small loans like mortgages or cars. We are rarely approved, and only when we have some human to co-sign. They seem to think every penny we have drips with their blood.” Eric could feel the anger flowing through his child. “You know that I approached one of those banks in Shreveport for a loan to help with the Fangtasia expansion? They knew me and the business we were doing and still, the manager told me that he wouldn’t give money to someone who was probably engaged in illegal activities. He said he knew it was only a matter of time before I was caught in whatever criminal acts I did on an everyday basis and he didn’t want his bank to suffer.”
Eric shook his head and then wrapped his hand around his chin to cover his smile “After all, it’s not like we’ve ever been caught,” and he snickered.
“No, we haven’t!” Pam exclaimed, and then found herself giggling too. “Everyone makes such a big deal about innocent until proven guilty!” she added sarcastically, “And not one thing has ever been proven!”
Eric chuckled. “It is rather prejudicial, un-American, one might say.”
Pam sat back and took a long swallow of blood. “By their laws, without proof they shouldn’t treat us this way, but they do”
“I agree,” Eric told her, “But things have changed. It should be harder for them to continue to hold to their bad behavior. Too bad glamour is so dangerous.”
Pam nodded thoughtfully. Were they to be caught using glamour for personal gain in business, the penalties were severe. Then Pam sat forward, “There is the one exception, the bank that does business with Nabila. She had positioned herself as a strong bridge to the humans. As a new king she may be willing to reduce the finder’s fee she would charge you.”
Eric nodded. “It’s worth a discussion, but I would prefer finding my own source. I am uncomfortable with being tied too closely to a potential rival. She did support me at Amun Summit, and the terms would be in the form of a loan from the bank itself and not her. Still, what is all this inconvenience with interviews and publicity worth if it doesn’t translate into humans treating us as well as everyone else?”
Pam started to peel the label on her bottle. “So, if Nabila was at the Summit in San Antonio?”
“I would meet with her,” Eric agreed. Pam smiled and shrugged, then dropped her eyes. Eric could feel that she was unsure. “What is it?” he asked.
“Did Sookie speak with you about the Coronation?” Pam asked, her voice carefully neutral.
“Yes,” Eric told her. “She told me.” He shifted then so he could face his child. “You are jealous of her,” he said.
Pam was startled, and then she frowned and nodded. “I find I am in some ways,” she agreed. “Before, when you wanted to talk through things, you generally came to me. Sure, Karin had your trust too, but for most things, personal things, it was me. Now? You are spending your personal time on Sookie. I understand it, I do. Yet it is different, and it’s hard not to feel like I’ve been handed a gold ring and told to go out and play.”
Eric nodded and sent his progeny his warmth and affection. “You are ever my child. Sookie can never replace you. It is true, she is now the guardian of the heart you said I never had. So she does not possess anything that was ever yours, yes?” and Eric smiled warmly at Pam. When he continued to feel her misgivings he added, “I would not lose you as I have lost Karin. I will leave the bond open between us if you wish so that you will know your importance to me.”
“It’s okay,” Pam smiled. “Maybe when I have someone to help me work off what flows through from the two of you, I’ll feel differently.” Pam assured him, “I’ll figure it out. I like Sookie. I have for a long time. And you? Eric, you are my maker. That never changes.” They sat back again, a comfortable silence between them. “I do have something I think you should know. When I go to Europe I intend to see Karin,” Pam said quietly.
Eric stilled. He had not expected this and it surprised him how hearing Karin’s name disturbed him. He thought for a minute of forbidding it, but then he thought of the friendship that existed between his children. He nodded and he could feel Pam’s gratitude. She leaned over and put her head on his shoulder. He shifted his arm around her and pulled her closer.
Pam sighed. “So, are you taking the testosterone twins with you to San Antonio?” She could feel Eric’s question so she supplied, “Thierry and Thomas.”
Eric smiled. “Just Thierry. And Jane.” He shrugged and allowed Pam to feel the thread of anxiety that ran through his feelings on the matter. “I wish you could be there. I could use your expert opinion. There is likely to be a fair amount of positioning. You know Stan. He can be the king of passive aggressive. Friendly enough until money is involved, and then he can border on paranoia.”
“Watch your back,” Pam agreed. “Thierry strikes me as a snake charmer. It may be that he will do well with Stan. I would suggest Jane, but I don’t think he ever recovered from Isobel. He doesn’t seem to trust women the same way anymore.” Then Pam shrugged, “I think it’s your height that gets Stan so wound up. I’ve watched him and he seems to posture around tall men.”
“Are you sure you aren’t thinking of Ralph?” Eric smirked.
Pam laughed out loud. “He has to be the dumbest vampire I’ve ever met. What is Sandy thinking? She’ll have to draw him a map and outline her pussy with lights if she expects this marriage to be consummated.”
Eric’s eyebrow climbed and his lips curled in a smirk, “Who knows? Maybe that’s the one thing he does very well. Something has to explain why he was made because it wasn’t appearance or charm.” Eric’s mood shifted as he looked directly into Pam’s eyes, “Be careful in Europe. I know you trust your sister, but she is running with Horst. They are making a name for themselves.”
“She wouldn’t hurt me, Eric,” Pam said and she sent him her absolute conviction.
Eric pulled her to him and kissed her forehead. “Be right, my child. It would kill me to lose you.”
“Never happen,” Pam smiled. “You made me too good.”
Thomas only narrowly avoided falling down the stairs. Thierry had come streaking down the hallway at vamp speed and pushed him from behind. “Tag,” the French vampire called and continued running.
Thomas managed to recover his balance and took up the chase at top speed. He had always been a little slower on the straight aways than Thierry, but he turned faster, which gave him the advantage at the corners. Slowly he gained on the other vampire, and as they rounded the fourth corner on the floor, Thomas landed a solid blow that sent Thierry flying down the set of stairs to land hard on the landing. Thierry stood, held up his hand and looked at the fingers set at odd angles. He deliberately straightened them, taking time as each settled back in a more natural placement with a grinding of bone, and then watched passively as they knitted back into place. “Looks like pussy whipping hasn’t slowed you down yet,” he said in a slightly bored tone of voice that didn’t fool either of them.
“You are a broken record, brother,” Thomas shrugged. He jumped down to stand next to Thierry, landing heavily. “I can see that your lack of dedicated female attention has made you slow. I think you suffer from CSBS.”
“CSBS?” Thierry asked.
“Chronic Semen Backup Syndrome. It gives you shit for brains,” Thomas smirked. “It’s the only thing that explains why you can be so smart at business and so dumb fuck stupid at everything else.”
Thierry just laughed, “Like what? What example would you offer as evidence, oh passed over one?”
“Like keeping in touch with New York,” Thomas said, his tone deadly. “Those people are poison. Just associating with them makes you poison too.” Thomas’ face turned serious, “You know this. You know how dangerous they are. Why maintain any communication with them?”
“You exaggerate,” Thierry huffed. “So, they are not so human in their actions. What’s wrong with being vampire? Why do we need to knuckle under to human laws and customs? Good enough for breathers, I’ll grant you, but not for us! We are immortal! We are above such things.”
“I would think you would have learned, brother,” Thomas said, his eyes sad. “I thought you were sick of it too.”
Thomas was sure he saw a flicker of pain cross Thierry’s face, and then the vampire gave him his signature Gallic shrug and his broad smile. “What’s done is done. There’s no going back.”
Thomas picked up his friend’s formerly mangled hand, turned it this way and that, looking at the alignment of fingers. “There is learning from your past then there is making sure you don’t repeat your mistakes,” he said and then wrenched a knuckle swiftly so that it clicked into a perfect line with the rest of the finger. Thierry winced briefly then quickly covered his action with a laugh.
Thomas found himself thinking back to how they had met and become friends in Misha’s court. They had both arrived at nearly the same time from Europe, and found they had much in common. They shared a love of cards, risky games, and beautiful women. While Thomas had come from real aristocracy, Thierry’s roots had been somewhat humbler, his family were members of the French bourgeoisie.
As a younger son, Thomas had been expected to join the navy. Fortunately, or unfortunately for him, his father’s sister had settled her money on her glittering, headstrong nephew and he had delayed his entrance into the service, spending wildly on horses and brothels. His childhood friend was on the same dangerous path, and together they became scandals to their families and famous among a certain faction of the Ton. Thomas didn’t know who had turned Des, but it hadn’t been long before he too had been made vampire. It had all the earmarks of an infamous alliance, but Des had been found out and trapped at his favorite brothel. Des’s girl had barely made it to Thomas in time to pass along the warning that saved him. In retrospect, Thomas knew that he was lucky to have survived at all. Neither he nor Des had had the advantage of a Maker’s instruction. Not knowing where else to go, he had begged his family for help. His father was in favor of killing him, but his mother had prevailed and he found himself nailed in a box on a one way trip to the New World. He had been so terrified of detection he had almost starved on the journey, but he made it. He ghosted from the ship in the dark of night and discovered that New York had as many advantages as London, maybe more. It hadn’t taken long for Misha’s minions to find him.
Thomas had been sure he would be killed. The short, stocky King had glared at him from behind his beard. Thomas had introduced himself and Misha’s second had asked him a series of questions about talents like forgery or lock picking, all things Thomas had not learned. When it was revealed he had barely learned how to glamour there had been general laughter, but Thomas had been sure that it was the signal to give him final death. Then a vampire who was lounging against one of the columns in Misha’s nest asked, “And what about chess? Do you have any skill with that game?”
“Yes,” Thomas had snapped, and within no time a board had been produced and Thomas was playing Misha. He knew that if he lost his final death awaited him, but he hadn’t lost. He hadn’t exactly won either, but he was never so grateful for the hours he spent playing with his father and tutors. The King was crafty and had new and different ways of pressing traditional offensive and defensive strategy. Thomas had always shown a talent for the play and as dawn approached, the King had thrown up his hands and told Thomas that a vampire with such a crafty mind must be good at something, and so Thomas had been given a place in the Court. The vampire who had made the suggestion approached him and offered him a place to sleep and from that time on, Thierry and Thomas were like brothers.
Thomas found out that Thierry had spent time in the French Navy but several decades before Thomas had been born. They joked that the French vampire had the life Thomas should have led. Thierry had a privileged upbringing, but as his family’s second son was expected to make his career the service and support himself. He had found himself shipwrecked off the coast of Portugal, swept from the deck by a rogue wave, but fortunate enough to have found flotsam from the ship to keep himself afloat. He had drifted for two days before washing up on the little island. Teresa had found him the first night and taken him into the cave she was using for shelter. She turned him and Thierry adored her. They were found by sailors who were looking for fresh water and made their way to the mainland. Teresa was not exclusive, but Thierry had not expected it of her. When she decided he needed to go his separate way, he had been devastated, and rather than prolong his suffering, she had ordered him to make his way to the New World and present himself to Misha. When Thomas arrived, Thierry had been living in the New York nest for almost five years. Thierry would later tell Thomas that he was the first vampire he had seen come through the Court that had class.
Thomas and Thierry bonded over their mutual love for music. Thomas played keyboards somewhat indifferently, but he sang well. Thierry also had a decent voice and they competed with a sharp and witty repartee of madrigals and bawdy ballads. Thierry played violin and they would spend hours in one cathouse parlor or another entertaining the clients and each other.
While their tastes were compatible. Misha’s tastes were markedly different.
Thomas had known immediately that Misha was a thug. If there was money to be made, Misha had his hand in it. He trafficked in drugs, women, children, identities, whatever the market demanded. He sold vampire blood and witches spells, killings and loan sharking. When Misha was your friend, the world shone on you and there was nothing that couldn’t be given to you. When Misha decided he didn’t like you, death did not come swiftly. Instead it crawled toward you, brought by the edge of a skillfully wielded knife and more silver than you liked to contemplate. But he was King and for whatever reason, New York seemed to embrace him. He was rich, powerful, and charming. He was arrogant, venal, and cruel.
Years passed. Thomas found that with each passing year, it was less easy for him to overlook some of the more barbaric things that happened around him. His nest mates would chide him as being a thin-blooded vampire. They would jeer him for not having been properly trained by his Maker to do those things that should come naturally to his race. When things would be most difficult, it would be Thierry who would tease and cajole him into a more open and accepting frame of mind. Then one day, Misha sent Thierry to the court of Bartlett Crowe. Thierry’s mission was straight forward, seduce the vampire, and ingratiate himself so that he could spy for New York.
Thierry was gone for almost eight months and then he returned. He had failed. Bartlett had not been fooled, but he allowed Thierry to live though he had inflicted some damage as a lesson to the younger vampire, and by extension, Misha. Thierry had begged forgiveness, abjectly prostrating himself before the King, his forehead pressed to the floor. Misha had told him all was forgiven and that it was understandable. Time passed and Thierry had started to relax. Until one night he awoke to find his two favorite donors, two women, gutted, their flayed corpses left hanging to either side of his coffin.
Thomas had been appalled. At first, Thierry had been angered as well and they had both talked of leaving New York. Within days, Thomas had been ordered to make a trip out of state. He wasn’t gone long, only a month, but when he returned he realized something had happened and Thierry changed. His friend told Thomas that he now believed that the anger he felt at Misha’s action was wrong and that he attached too great an importance to these humans. Thomas had watched his friend regain his humor, but not his moral center. After that, Thierry had been more guarded and less kind.
Neither had moved to leave the nest but for Thomas, it was not something forgotten, just something that seemed best left alone. Years passed again before his breaking point finally arrived. Misha was collecting protection from a particular brothel that catered to a clientele with a taste for young children. There had been a boy among the child prostitutes and Misha had taken him for his own. For months the King had walked around with the child on a tether like a dog. Thomas would never forget the eyes of that boy, large and knowing. He had been so old before his time, old enough to have known his own death was near. One day the King decided the boy no longer amused him, and he killed him as casually as he would a bug. As the life left his broken body, that boy had turned his eyes to Thomas and as the vampire watched those eyes become just still, dead things, the vampire knew that it was time to leave.
Thomas did not understand why Misha just let him go, but he considered himself lucky and never looked back. He found his way to Isaiah and became a different vampire in many ways, a vampire who now saw humans and others as more than just a food source or a play toy. He met Karin the Slaughterer, and he found in some ways a companion to his heart and sensibilities. She was a cipher even on her best days and it was that guessing that kept him engaged until he knew he would never be rid of the puzzle that was her.
When Thierry had turned up in Bartlett Crowe’s court, a friend now and not a spy, Thomas had asked Thierry what had been his tipping point. The Frenchman had simply shrugged and laughed it off as ‘just being time to move on.’ Thomas was sure there was something more to it and he thought of that time when he had been away, that time after the women had been killed. He wanted to think that the hard veneer that Thierry had had in place in New York had softened. Thomas was convinced there were days when his friend almost seemed like he cared.
Now, as he looked in his friend’s face he saw that flicker again. “So, do you think you could be settled here?” Thomas asked.
“I admire the Viking,” Thierry said, his face, for once, open and lacking the humor he used as a mask. “I wasn’t sure when I accepted the offer, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity. It was not very French,” and the shrug returned, a roll of the shoulder that said this was a person who accepted what fate had in store. Thierry looked frankly and openly into Thomas’ eyes, “Yes, if all goes well I will be content to rest here for a while,” and then the smile returned, “and if it goes poorly, final rest is an option as well!”
Eric emerged from the elevator and turned in the direction he could feel took him closer to Sookie. There was still over an hour until they had to leave and he was feeling anxious to see her. As he came closer to the hallway that led to the garden, the garden he now knew was where Sookie slept, Thalia approached him.
Thalia nodded and Eric nodded in return. The woman who was now his second had a hard-bound journal in her hand. “The interviews?” Eric asked.
“Yes,” Thalia confirmed, “Your Sookie writes well. She seems to have captured a great deal of detail, even from the two-natured.”
Eric smiled, “I didn’t want to say it publically. It is as you suspected, she reads Weres now.”
Thalia smiled thinly, “You are lucky, North Man. She brings gifts, and she is willing to put you and the kingdom before herself. It is a rare combination.”
“You like her, don’t you?” Eric smiled. “You might even fight for a breather if that breather was Sookie,” and the Viking leaned close to smile directly in Thalia’s face.
“I support your choice,” Thalia scowled, “And I would fight for her.” Then Thalia’s eyes narrowed as she leaned forward too, “But I do not forget that the pledge I made to stand as your second comes first. I will do whatever is needed to protect you and your kingdom.”
Suddenly Eric wasn’t smiling any more. “Thalia, this is hard for me to understand, but protecting Sookie is protecting me. Were something to happen to her, were she to be threatened, I would be moved to lay down my own life to save her.”
Thalia’s eyes widened, “That violates everything you have been taught. It is not vampire! It is not our way. I understand you care deeply for her and she is special, different. You can not mean that you would sacrifice yourself for her. She is breakable. You are other!” Thalia leaned back then, her eyes stormy. “You would make her a weakness.”
Eric shook his head, “No, not weakness. She is my strength.”
“And when she dies?” Thalia asked.
“It won’t be for a long time,” Eric sighed, “But I will follow. I know this.”
Thalia looked at him, her gaze intense. “It is a rare bond that desires that level of connection. Perhaps it is that it is new,” and she lowered her gaze to the book in her hand. “There are many troubles here, according to your telepath. Some we can deal with swiftly, but others will require some conversation. The guards here are almost all from the Greymane Pack. In the old days it was vampires who guarded us, but Victor drove so many away that he made this deal. According to Sookie’s screening, many of these guards are not loyal. I thought the demonstration I provided with Stuart would properly motivate them, but it seems not.” Thalia shrugged, “If I were to follow my instincts I would set another example, but there was a formal protest filed by Greymane. I need to have a conversation with the Packmaster,” Thalia raised her eyes back to Eric’s, “and I need your telepath to help.”
Eric noticed that Sookie seemed to have shifted to ‘his telepath’ with Thalia, and that caused him some worry, but he set it aside for the moment. “When do you want to have that talk?” he asked. “You know she leaves tomorrow and will be gone some time.”
“I need to have it tonight. We have interviewed them. Those who are thieves and traitors are alerted now. Waiting could be dangerous for us,” and Thalia waited, her dark eyes snapping.
Eric knew she was right, but the thought that he would have another hour stolen from his time with Sookie didn’t sit well. “I have that television thing in another hour,” he sighed. “Demand the Packmaster come to the palace tonight. I will tell Sookie. You can talk while I’m fulfilling this obligation.” Thalia nodded and then waited. “There’s more?” Eric asked.
“I received news from Area 5,” Thalia nodded. “There has been more violence. A nest was burned out. Herveaux’s Weres seem to be particularly targeted, women beaten, businesses vandalized. There was an incident involving the were panthers in Hot Shot as well.” Eric’s eyebrows lifted. Sookie’s brother was a werepanther, and if he or his family was injured, it would doubtless spur his bonded’s wish to return to the unstable area. “It was a vampire and two Weres. No one recognized them.”
“Do they need help interrogating them?” Eric asked.
“No,” Thalia said flatly, “There wasn’t enough left to interrogate. The panthers are a dangerous community, unstable. They should probably be cleared out. I don’t think there is enough new blood to ever save them.”
Eric didn’t respond, but he knew Thalia didn’t really expect him to. “What do Rubio and Indira think is going on?” he asked.
“Outsiders, certainly,” Thalia stated. “They think the attacks are being organized to look random. Indira is convinced there is someone behind this.”
Eric found himself glancing down the hall toward where he knew his bonded lay. “It is best she is leaving tomorrow. Tell Indira to dig deeper. Go yourself if you think it can help. If Area 5 becomes unsettled it could frighten those who are thinking of staying in my states. I can’t afford it.”
Thalia followed the Viking’s gaze. “You should know Herveaux has probably already communicated with her. He wants her to come quickly. He is convinced that there is a leak in his organization and he wants her ability to see as Sachem to ferret it out.” Eric felt his fangs descend and he hissed. Thalia gave him a stern look. “She is leaving tomorrow, as you said. She won’t have time for several weeks. I will go. Perhaps it won’t be necessary.” Eric nodded. Thalia looked at the book in her hand. “There are others, staff and donors who are also problems,” she said evenly, “Traitors in our midst.”
Eric shrugged. “So we deal with them.”
“Your breather may object,” Thalia said and looked down the hallway again.
“I have explained how things are,” Eric shrugged again. “She did not protest. Anything else?” When Thalia shook her head, he found he couldn’t resist a small smile. “I am grateful for your support,” he told her, “I would be dead a hundred times had it not been for you.”
“I am fond of you, Viking,” Thalia said, “You make me smile.”
“But Thalia,” Eric smirked, “You almost never smile.”
“Exactly,” She said with a totally straight face.
Eric sat on the edge of the chaise looking down at Sookie. Her face in sleep was so soft and open. He thought she must have been a beautiful child. Her hair was spread around her and he couldn’t resist arranging it just a little more so that is was like a flow of gold on the seat cushion around her face. As he touched her she stirred. Her eyes opened a little and her mouth turned up. She made a soft noise, and then drew in a deep breath. “Awake, beautiful dreamer,” Eric whispered. Sookie’s eyes opened more and her mouth turned into a broader smile, then she arched back and stretched like a lazy cat. Eric could hear the pop of her joints as she reached for the walls with fingers and toes, and then she pulled back into herself and rolled towards him.
“I was so sleepy,” Sookie mumbled. “This sure is a nice way to wake up.”
Eric smiled down on her and he traced her lower lip with his finger. “I miss Jackson,” he said.
“Me too,” Sookie agreed and kissed his fingertip. “I miss snuggling by the fire and looking up at your face as you read.” Sookie reached up to run her fingers lightly over his cheek. “You have the most wonderful expressions when you read. It’s like you become another person who is just about the story,” Eric turned into her hand then, “And me,” Sookie whispered.
Eric drew in breath and Sookie knew he was savoring the scent he drew from the palm of her hand. He had told her it was an area that concentrated scent and she found herself flattered that he loved her so much that he even loved how she smelled. “Have you fed yet?” she asked him.
Eric shook his head, “No, but neither have you.”
Sookie frowned a little, “What time is it? When do we have to go to the television studio?” She pulled up her wrist to focus on her watch. Eric found himself mesmerized by the way her mouth pursed and her eyes squinted shut just a little as she tried to see the numbers. She must have felt it because her eyes looked up at him, now wide open, “What?” she asked. But Eric had no words. He just leaned down and kissed her.
When he felt kissing turning into stroking, Eric pulled back. “We would have to leave for the studio in less than an hour,” he murmured as he rubbed his cheek along her chin and then nuzzled the soft spot just below her ear, “but I’m hoping you will help Thalia and talk with the local Packmaster.”
“Doesn’t sound very romantic,” Sookie breathed back, and then ducked her head so she could catch his earlobe in her teeth.
“Well,” Eric sighed, “I’m told that I’m a practical vampire able to mix business with pleasure.” He freed his ear and turned his head again to kiss the line of her eyebrow and then run his nose along her hairline from the top of her ear to her jaw as he drew her into him. Sookie’s hands twined in his hair and she twisted her head back to expose the long line of her neck to him. Eric licked once and then twice. Sookie barely felt his fangs enter her.
The chicken tonight had a topping of chopped tomato and celery and some kind of spicy sauce. Sookie had asked for seconds much to Eric’s delight. “I am happy to see you eating, Lover,” he told her. “You are still too thin for my taste.”
Sookie had screwed up her mouth and eyes, “You won’t be happy until my butt is so big it can’t fit through doors,” she huffed.
“More cushion for the pushing,” Eric teased.
Sookie felt her cheeks flame over and she knew she was bright red. “I don’t know who tells you these things, but it’s not very polite!” she exclaimed.
Eric roared with laughter, “You don’t mind the doing, you just don’t want me to put words to it,” and with that he pulled her chair around and sank to his knees, burying his nose between her legs.
“Eric!” the telepath squealed and tried to stand and push away and push him away all at the same time. The more she wriggled, the more firmly he pressed himself to her, nipping and breathing, and shaking his head. She pushed some more, and then the chair started to fall over and Eric carried her to the ground. It was so ridiculous that Sookie started laughed and kicking at him, “Stop! Cut it out!” she squeezed out between her giggles.
Finally Eric relented. He propped himself on his elbow and looked at her all wide eyed innocence. “What?” he asked.
Sookie gave him a mock angry look and picked herself up off the ground. They had agreed that the time to talk with the Packmaster was now before she left town. “You really are a bad man,” Sookie snarked as she brushed off her pants.
“You wouldn’t have me any other way,” Eric said from his position on the ground. Then with a single, fluid motion he was standing next to her and they were walking to the stairs. “Thalia told me Herveaux is probably going to contact you,” he told her.
“Already did,” Sookie confirmed. “I told him I can’t possibly get there until after Iowa. I may stop on my way home. That way I can see Jason and Michele too.” Eric was about to say something but he felt her worry as she said, “Alcide told me that there’s been more trouble and the folks in Hot Shot were involved.”
Eric found himself annoyed and he could see that Sookie was feeling it. “The panthers took care of it, älskade. The dog should not have presented it in a way that worried you.”
Sookie shook her head, “How can you know me and think I wouldn’t want to go see for myself?” she asked. “Why do you even bother throwing a fuss?”
“Because I keep thinking, no, hoping that you’ll develop some sense of survival, yet you don’t.” Eric was feeling even more annoyed. “Thalia is headed up there tomorrow as well. It may be that you don’t need to stop at all,” and Eric could feel that for some reason that didn’t set her mind at ease. In fact, it just seemed to piss her off more.
“Would you stop trying to shield me from everything!” Sookie stopped walking and actually stomped her foot on the ground. It took everything Eric had not to grin at her. She was standing there with her hands fisted and her lower lip jutting forward. She was about as threatening as a wet kitten, and he had an overpowering desire to kiss her. “Cut it out!” she shouted and hit him in the shoulder. “Don’t you patronize me! If I want to see my brother, I will,” and Sookie turned and marched down the stairs, her head high and her temper higher.
Thalia and Shari were at the bottom of the stairs and both stepped back as Sookie sailed past. Eric followed at a slower pace and Thalia lifted her eyebrow. Eric lifted his hand in return, motioning that they should not follow too closely. Eric moved at vamp speed to get in front of his bonded, bringing her up short. “Of course you will do as you think you must, Lover,” Eric smiled and he ran his hand along her jaw. Sookie swatted it away, but Eric just stroked her upper arm and then lifted his hand to smooth her hair. He gentled the temper from her, smiling at first one part of her face, and then another, never really meeting her eyes. Finally she sighed and relaxed. “Okay,” she said. “You win. I’m not mad anymore.”
“Good,” he said and leaned in to kiss her. Then he pulled back and resumed walking down the corridor. “I am still not happy with the idea of you holding yourself out for hire to any dog that sniffs down the road,” Eric said gruffly.
“Well, it seems to me a small enough thing to try and pull my weight around here,” Sookie replied.
Eric stopped then and took hold of her arm. “What are you talking about? You are screening, you are taking hold of the household, and you are working for Amun. What is it you do not feel you are doing?”
“Cheese and rice, Eric,” Sookie said, her face upturned to his, “I am watching you do everything you can to make this work and to keep us all safe. Why would you expect me to do any less?”
Eric stilled then. He could feel her determination and he was about to call her out as stubborn when he felt something else. It was mixed with affection, pleasure, and some desire, it was a sense of ownership. She felt that this battle, their lives, and him personally were as much a part of her as she was herself, and Eric knew that the question he asked himself on his rising, about whether his reactions were because of the bond had been answered. He was in love with her, and he could feel that she was now in love with him too. He found himself smiling and when Sookie put her chin out and crossed her arms and said, “And I want to pay for the coronation too,” he found that for a whole minute he was too bemused to respond. Then what she said started to sink in.
“Pay for the coronation?” he said flatly. Eric knew that if he had been a hunting cat his ears would have been lying flat back on his head. He could see Shari and Thalia standing further down the corridor and he jerked his chin towards them. Thalia touched Shari’s shoulder and they walked away. Eric waited until he couldn’t hear them anymore and then, when he was sure his own temper was in check, he turned back to Sookie. “You seem to think that I am in some way too weak to take care of my own affairs,” he snarled and as soon as the words left his lips, he knew he was making a mistake, but somehow he was finding his famous control quickly fleeing him. “I don’t need your money, Sookie. I don’t need you to be giving me your famous charity.”
If Eric had thought Sookie was angry before, it was nothing to the flames he felt from her now. He was sure she was feeling the same thing and more from him, but she didn’t back down at all. “Now you look here, Eric Oh-So-Mighty Northman,” Sookie snarled back, “This is not just your affair! If you hadn’t noticed I’m in this with you right up to my eyeballs, and unlike what some people might think, I am not just along for the ride; I’m in this for the long haul!” Sookie took a step towards him and she poked him in the chest with her finger, “and if you think you are going to try and do this all on your own, and then be all ‘look at me I saved the day’ with me, you have another thing coming, Buster!’
As he looked down at her, Eric was suddenly reminded of something that had happened over a thousand years ago. His father was away raiding. Intruders had come to his village. His mother stood before him, a sword in her hand, prepared to fight in defense of him and their people. Her eyes had blazed as Sookie’s eyes now blazed. Eric’s anger was gone and he couldn’t help his lips from turning up, “Min krigare kvinna,” he murmured.
“You better believe it,” Sookie said, her lips trembling.
“All right,” Eric nodded, “You can contribute, but there will be a contract with terms. The kingdom will reimburse you with interest.” Eric placed his hands on her shoulders. “You should be a vampire,” he told her, his eyes warm.
“I’m sure you mean that in the nicest way,” Sookie said to him, and then she placed her hand against his cheek before stepping into his embrace.