Author’s Note: I thank everyone who responded to the last chapter. Your thoughts and your willingness to engage with these characters fills me with gratitude. I also wish to thank the wonderful women who beta my work, Breathesgirl and Ms. Buffy. Their support, time and tremendous talent are a gift to me. Thank you.
Nautical Note: Chop, or choppy seas, are a trial when sailing any distance. The most seasoned sailor can find themselves struggling with chop. There is no regular interval to the wave, nor regular depth to crest and trough. Instead the seas run, first in one direction and then another. You pound though, the hull slapping and jerking, and you pray that you will emerge from this ‘dirty’ water soon.
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.
Eric stretched to his full height and touched the ceiling. He listened as each vertebra shifted, popped, and slid in place. It was one of the benefits of this life, or perhaps he should more appropriately say ‘unlife,’ that he was never stiff or sore, unless he had been damaged. Being damaged hurt but there was the peace of knowing that until he was finally dead, he would heal and be just as physically perfect as he was right now. With a last twist, first one way, and then another, he headed up to the rooftop and launched himself into the sky. There was something about the peace of being here, high above the city, that helped to quiet the part of him that wasn’t perfect. It had been weeks since his Sookie had left. They texted and called, but it did not make the distance feel any less. If anything, the sound of her voice being so distorted, even though he had invested in the best of phone connections, brought her absence into even sharper relief. He wondered if he should just tape his hand to his chest, he found himself rubbing at the hollowness of it so often. ‘I’m pining,’ he thought and it made him smirk at himself.
The transition from donor pool to registry had settled although there were still the odd things to remind the sharp observer of what had been and what was now. Moving trucks had been summoned, and the furniture and personal things removed either to be donated or destroyed. Cleaners had come in and all visible remnants removed. The actual operation had been over in minutes, and Eric was pleased with the speed and restraint his vampires had demonstrated. The staff had been wrangled, glamoured, and released with the same efficiency.
Eric had received a message from Emil Touissant on behalf of his guards, praising the King’s actions and expressing his gratitude for both the discretion and tact that had been shown. For his part, Eric found himself grateful that his days of handling this kind of job were now and finally over. He could not foresee a time that he would need to install and maintain another donor pool. He had stood, looking at the empty rooms stripped of wall coverings and awaiting their new coat of paint, and thought of Sookie and how grateful he was that she had come to some peace with this. He knew it must have cost her dearly, but that she accepted this and was willing to concede to get them both to a place that would be more comfortable meant a great deal to him.
Now as he looked down at the lights of a barge working its way down the waterway, he found his thoughts on her again. What was it about this single woman that she could change so much about what he was? If someone had told him he would have taken these actions and had these feelings ten years ago, he would have told them they were insane. Eric couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face, ‘I would have laughed in their face and then I would have killed them,’ he thought.
He angled himself so that he could fly high over the Old Quarter. He could hear the music even from this height. Thierry, Thomas, and Jane were undoubtedly making the rounds. They had finished up around one in the morning and Eric could see that had suited the sheriffs well. “Things are just heating up,” Jane had laughed with a toss of her head.
The blond woman was an unlikely ring-leader, but leader she was. Since the vampires had arrived in the City, there had been a number of close calls with the law, but only Jane had been arrested by the police. When the call had come in, Eric had sent Thalia to the station to bail her out. The way his second in command later told him the story, she had arrived only to find that an admirer had already agreed to argue Jane’s case pro bono and was in the process of making arrangements for her release. There was a crowd in front of the station, but Thalia had thought nothing of it, walking in. On the way out, however, one of the men had pointed at her and yelled, “It is! It’s her!” and Thalia found herself surrounded by humans bent on getting photographs and trying to insert themselves in the frame using selfie sticks to make it appear that they were with her. Thierry and Thomas were standing to the side and openly laughing. They were themselves surrounded by men and women clamoring for their attention. When Jane exited the station, a cheer went up from the crowd and a general cry of ‘where next?’ sounded.
Thalia had growled loudly enough to disperse those standing closest, and hissed at the three to explain what was going on. Jane had been the one to provide the story. They had been bored and decided they needed a game. The evening’s entertainment involved dividing their rather drunk entourage into three teams and they had launched them into a scavenger hunt to locate the most fountains in the city. It seemed that the winning team got one night of sex with all three of the vampires and that seemed to have motivated the general mayhem. There had been a fight over whether a man urinating against a building was considered a fountain. There were reports of people breaking into backyards to photograph birdbaths and other more conventional water features. The particular charge against Jane was public indecency. She had decided to dare her team to arrange themselves in the duck pond in Louis Armstrong Park and declare themselves a fountain. Of course, clothing had to be removed, because who ever heard of clothed statues? There were complaints from the neighbors and the police were called. Jane had proudly asserted their rights as an expression of art and the police had felt duty bound to arrest her. No sooner did Thalia extract the story than the three of them were bickering over whether the game was forfeited or if they should start again.
Thalia had ended the argument with a growled, “No more games tonight!” and amid groans and boos, the entire unwieldy mob decided to head back to Bourbon Street.
“Come with us,” Thomas had called, and that suggestion was picked up by those around them.
“Not likely,” Thalia retorted with a hiss and show of fangs as she turned to leave. “Don’t make me come out again!” she warned.
Jane had laughed the loudest. “You couldn’t keep up with us anyway!” she jeered. Thalia had launched herself at the young woman and hoisted her up by her neck high enough that her feet were suspended over the ground. It didn’t seem to faze the female sheriff at all. When Thalia dropped her, Jane picked herself up, dusted herself off, and just kept right on with what she had been doing. Thalia found that she couldn’t help but admire Jane’s cool composure, and within minutes the whole group was moving down the street, a great mass of undulating bodies and exuberant spirits.
When Thalia told him the story, Eric had found himself laughing in spite of himself. It was all to the better as far as he was concerned. Anything that could deflect his spotlight these days was something he welcomed.
Since Eric’s appearance on the morning talk show, almost overnight there had been scores of young girls, and not so young girls, lining the sidewalks near the palace all day and most of the night. They would stand behind the barriers for hours, holding t-shirts and other memorabilia, hoping for a glimpse of New Orleans’ most eligible vampire King. During one of their first telephone conversations, Sookie had told Eric that she had seen his blue-eyed, blond, ‘smug mug’ as a feature on one of the Iowa evening shows and that he looked good. There had been requests filtered through Twy for follow-up interviews and appearances and Eric had been worried, but Sookie had already handled it. Eric was informed that his bonded had negotiated a single appearance per month, and that Twy would honor that agreement. It hadn’t stopped the New York harpy from pressing for more, but when he told her absolutely not, she had backed down.
Now, with the antics of the Triad, which was what the media had dubbed his three sheriffs, Eric had hoped he would get some relief from the overwhelming attention.
To see them together, the two dark-haired handsome males, book casing the commanding blond female, one understood the fascination. They were visually beautiful. Added with the attraction of boundless energy, high spirits, and a willingness to prank each other and everyone else, it was no wonder they had become the City’s favorite rock stars behaving badly. The Internet was full of reports of the sheriffs being sighted at parties and out dancing. Every club treated the three as most preferred guests and they each had Facebook pages dedicated to following them. Unlike Eric and Pam, Thierry, Thomas, and Jane were clearly enthralled with enthralling the vermin. They were completely open about trading everything, from partners to vehicles to each other. They laughed and played and took the Grand Lady that was New Orleans by storm! Maxwell Lee had reported there were already rumors running through the city that the Triad would be invited to be the celebrity hosts for the Krewe of Bacchus at this year’s Mardi Gras.
In spite of all of it though, it hadn’t decreased the public’s interest in the King one bit. The lack of access and the limited visibility only seemed to fuel the hunger for more news about Eric Northman.
Eric had hoped that at the least, this notoriety on top of his already established reputation would translate into a softer attitude from the banks, but that had not happened either. The Viking was not ready to concede, but his first few inquiries had been met with polite deferral. At one bank he was presented with mountains of paperwork that would need to be completed before any discussion of loans or extensions of credit would be appropriate. At another bank, although it was verified (twice) that he had holdings with them, he was informed that the department that handled large commercial loans and the department that handled personal investments were entirely different. Of course every effort would be made to get the paperwork from one to the other so that they could start the conversation, but they couldn’t commit to when that might happen. At a third bank it had been a less subtle refusal. Given that he had no birth certificate and was, therefore, unable to prove he was who he said he claimed to be, they would be remiss doing business with Eric Northman.
As an added frustration, Mr. Cataliades had officially refused to act as go between for Eric.
The demon lawyer had thanked Eric politely, but, in the end, had declined, stating that his current commitments to Sookie and her Fae family were keeping him too busy to take on additional responsibilities. The lawyer offered to set up an introduction with someone he could recommend who was known locally. Eric had agreed, but the meeting was still two days away.
Eric could almost understand the lawyer’s reluctance. The news about Sookie’s divorce from Merlotte had not improved.
When Sookie had traveled to Iowa, the attorney had stayed behind in Shreveport, presenting himself at the Caddo Parish Courthouse. The counselor whose decision it was as to whether to expedite matters or allow them to continue running their course had met Bernie Merlotte, Sam’s mother, on her recent trip. He wasn’t exactly suspicious at this point, but he was curious, and that was a problem. He certainly was not inclined to make a decision. He felt that with a mother in the picture, the husband couldn’t be far behind, and he preferred to allow things to run their course. How that translated was a best case estimate of another five to six months, and that was assuming the glamour held and Bernie Merlotte didn’t make any more unplanned visits to Shreveport. It also meant that both the Zeus Summit and the Coronation would have to be without the public statement that the King wished to make regarding Sookie Stackhouse’s place in his life.
All things considered, it was probable that things would not resolve quickly, and combined with Eric’s troubles, keeping Sookie with some legal separation was wise, but Eric’s pragmatism was getting a workout. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to maintain his emotional detachment when it came to Mr. Cataliades. There were simply too many frustrations.
Sookie had taken the Shreveport news with resignation. Eric had tried to be positive but she wasn’t having it. She asked him where the pig was because he sure was working on that tube of lipstick. They had laughed, but both knew it wasn’t really a laughing matter.
Thus Eric circled the city, floating above his troubles but below the clouds, communing with his thoughts. He thought of his fairy’s favorite movie and he imagined himself standing on the hill. ‘Yes, älskade, let’s hope that this tomorrow is another day,’ he thought, and he sent his best wishes and desires through their bond, hoping they would find her so far away and comfort her.
It was Night Sixteen and there had finally been some progress. From the beginning, the talks had not gone well. At some point in that first week, one or both sides had walked away from the table. Things were so tense that meetings during the day when the Queens were not available had stopped.
About seven days into the meetings, the distance between the humans and the Iowa Queen’s interests had been so wide that Sookie had told Eric she thought things were irretrievably broken down and she’d be flying home within a day or two. Then, unexpectedly, on Night Eight there had been a compromise struck, and the negotiations had begun again. Sookie relayed the information she was gathering as best she could, but there were two individuals at the table she found difficult to read. It took Sookie a bit to figure it out, but she had come to the conclusion that both had been deliberately glamoured to allow them to hide certain information.
Of course, Sookie passed this news to the Queens, and Phoebe had sent an investigator to determine who was working on the humans’ side. In the end, it was just another problem to solve. The Queens could not confront their counterparts without revealing Sookie’s secret. Sookie had to work twice as hard to catch what clues she could. The telepath likened it to trying to solve a puzzle in reverse. You had to figure it out by trying to see what was missing based on what you couldn’t see.
One week dragged into another week. Then that week lapsed, and Sookie found herself long-faced and marking off the days in her pocket calendar with a red pen.
Making matters worse, it was not comfortable staying with Phoebe Golden. Sookie had offered to move to a hotel in town, but Iowa had resisted to the point that bringing it up again would cause a problem. That didn’t mean that staying in the palace had been made any easier for the telepath. Sookie was largely confined to her room and the small balcony that opened from it during daylight hours. While it wasn’t forbidden for her to move around the house, every time she did venture through the halls for food or a book before dark, it was reported and the Queen would feel it necessary to mention. No formal complaint was made, but the rules and sense of endless watching was galling to the Louisiana group.
After a week, it had become clear that Shari Decker was having trouble holding her temper under the constant pressure of the Palace’s watchful eye. Rather than risk a confrontation, Sookie decided she could make do with just Owen and the Queen’s retinue. Arrangements were made and Shari headed home to Shreveport to visit with her family. It was understood that since Sookie would be stopping in Shreveport on the way home to meet with Alcide, they would pick Shari up then and the whole group would continue on to New Orleans. Phoebe’s reaction to the news that there was one less foreign Were on her grounds had been a small, satisfied nod.
Sookie did find one benefit to the oppressive silence of daytime in Ames. She found it inspired her to practice bringing things. First it had been a glass of water. Sookie remembered her time in Jackson and how she had frightened herself when she realized she had brought the same thing, but without conscious effort. Sookie recalled every sensation; the peripheral way she needed to visualize things to make them reality. She called books, then particular titles. She thought of simple food, and then progressed into calling prepared items like sandwiches. When she called a steaming bowl of the squash soup she remembered from her time in Minnesota, she wondered where these items were really coming from. Was she calling or was she creating? Sookie decided it that was a larger question that would need to wait for another day, so she dismissed it.
She next decided to progress by trying to send things away. She would visualize each item somewhere else. Sookie found this was harder, but with lots of time on her hands, she did figure it out. It took a little longer to confirm that items she was manipulating were ending up where she intended, but once confirmed, she started practicing with distance.
Most nights Sookie would head downstairs for dinner and once she finished, the whole contingent would travel as a group to the hotel where the pharmaceutical purchasing team was staying. They would talk through numbers, over proposals, potential acquisitions for four to five hours every night. Sookie rarely left these meetings ready for bed. The tension and energy would leave her returning to the Ames Palace keyed up and restless.
Maude and she fell into a habit of sitting together in the library on their return. Maude would have a warmed blood and Sookie would sip tea. The telepath found she enjoyed the Queen’s company every bit as much as she had when they had been together in Minnesota. Maude told stories of the frontier before her making, and Sookie shared stories of the Louisiana high country. They sang songs of their youth to each other and laughed at how similar the tunes were, but how different the words had become. They swapped recipes and debated methods of preparation. One night they put Deirdre on FaceTime and they talked through baking powder biscuits, step by step.
Phoebe rarely joined them during the evenings for more than the most cursory review of the business proceedings. The Iowa Queen told the telepath she preferred solitary reading or finding relaxation by working on her projects. Maude had told Sookie about the clocks and the telepath hoped that Phoebe would show them to her before she left.
It was as things were settling during this part of the evening that Sookie spoke with Eric, and every night as they ended their conversation, she felt she was a million miles from where she should be. The pain in her chest had become a persistent, dull ache. As she sat on the sofa on Night Sixteen, absently rubbing her breastbone, Maude said, “Your bond must be causing you some discomfort.”
Sookie was startled and tried to cover it with a smile. She dropped her hand self-consciously, “I guess it does,” she told Maude, “I just miss him.”
“If you care for him so much, you have a hell of a way of showing it,” said a sharp voice from the doorway. Sookie was so taken by surprise she jumped! Phoebe was standing there, watching her, disapproval written plainly on her face. Sookie glanced at Maude and she could see the Minnesota Queen was not happy at her fellow Queen’s words, but neither did she protest. Instead she just shook her head and rolled her eyes before looking elsewhere.
Suddenly all the days of curt dismissal accompanied by barely disguised disdain were too much. Sookie stood up and marched right over to Iowa, “What do you mean by that?” she demanded, her hands on her hips.
Although they were of comparable height, Iowa managed to look down her nose at the telepath. “I mean that I don’t understand why you so selfishly tie Eric Northman to you. What do you bring him? Allies? The assistance he needs? Or do you just bring another problem to his door when he can least afford it?” Phoebe stepped forward, causing Sookie to step back. “You, with your pretense of Fae magic and your reek of otherness! It is one thing to hire you, but to link you to one of our own, to one of our Kings? Do you think we are so many that we can afford to bring creatures like you into our midst? You see how humans treat us. They think we are beneath them. I am a scientist and I know my place in the order of things. You should too.”
Sookie had been shaking her head, her temper growing with each word. “Who are you to tell me what I can and can’t be? Eric and I know what we are to each other and it sure isn’t defined by some species card!”
“You would live a fairy tale, breather. One that would see you dead and him lost to us. A thousand years of experience gone. It’s almost too much to bear!”
Maude stood then and inserted herself between the two. She shook her head at Phoebe, and then turned to Sookie. Her eyes were warm but her face was concerned. “Phoebe is not alone in our community feeling as she does. They question why you are not vampire already. They wonder what makes you care so little about us that you would choose to remain as you are.” Sookie’s mouth fell open. This was unexpected. Maude continued, “We are a proud race. There are those among us who see your continued existence in this form as a rejection of vampires. There are those who report that you have declared you would never be vampire. They say you do not respect us or our ways.” Sookie worried that the answer she would give might change how the Minnesota Queen felt about her. They had never talked about these differences.
Sookie covered her concern by walking back to the couch. She sat down, clenched her hands for a moment, and then looked up at the two women. “I am part Fae and I’m still figuring out what that means. One of the things I do know is that I can’t be turned.” Maude gasped when the words left Sookie’s mouth. The telepath nodded, “Because I’m Sky Fae, I need sun every day. If I were to be turned it would kill me.”
Maude was sitting next to her in an instant, taking her hand. “Oh my dear! I am so sorry. This must be such a disappointment to you!” Sookie had the good grace to keep her face carefully schooled and she bit her lip and nodded a little.
Phoebe walked into the room then. Her face was less stormy, and she sat down in the chair opposite. “It makes more sense,” she conceded. “With your limited time he would want to make the most of every minute,” Phoebe fixed Sookie with a sharp gaze, “I would ask that you stop practicing your magic in the house though. It makes you smell even better than usual.” Sookie blushed and saw Maude agreeing.
“Very toothsome,” Maude shrugged. “We do love Fae, you know.”
“I am sorry!” Sookie stammered. “I sure didn’t mean to make y’all uncomfortable. I was looking for a way to keep put so I wouldn’t make you crazy walking around during the day. I know that bothers you.” Phoebe sat back, took a deep breath and Sookie saw her relax for the first time since she had arrived.
“I suppose I have been hard on you,” the Iowa Queen shrugged. Sookie thought for a minute that they had turned the corner. Then the telepath saw something in the Iowa Queen’s eyes, something that flashed across her whole face. Phoebe turned toward her and Sookie thought that this was how a creature felt, caught in the gaze of a snake. “So, just how Fae are you, Sookie? We know there’s magic, and you are Sky Fae. How about your lifespan? Nice and long like your Uncle Dermot?”
“You know Dermot?” It tumbled from Sookie’s lips before she even thought, but she could see from the expression on the women’s faces that they thought she was dodging the question. Sookie took a bit of a breath, and then nodded. “Yes,” she confirmed, “I have been told that my lifespan will be pretty much the same as my Fae relatives.”
Maude leaned back then and Sookie worried that she may have inadvertently damaged her trust with the Minnesota monarch. As for Iowa, she cocked her head to one side and looked at Sookie through narrowed eyes. The telepath had the uncomfortable feeling of being placed under a spotlight with the Iowa Queen playing the role of the interrogator. “So, if that is the case, and you are ageless, why isn’t Northman doing what he needs to do?” Sookie knew that Phoebe could see her confusion because the Queen added, “Acting as a vampire should, like Sandy Seacrest has done.”
“You mean marry a vampire,” Sookie said in a flat voice.
“I mean make a strategic alliance that will safeguard his kingdom,” Phoebe corrected. “You really have no idea what it is to be vampire, do you?” Phoebe’s look wavered between something that could have been disdain and something that could have been pity. She leaned forward and spoke directly at the telepath, “We are taught from our first making if our Maker is good, that this gift that is our existence is for a greater purpose. Our own needs are secondary to the needs of vampire. We serve our Makers, we serve our sheriffs, and we serve our rulers. On our own we are nothing, a target awaiting a stake. Do you think when we bend a knee and pledge our fealty it is just pretty words? We pledge our existence! We promise to allow final death to take us if we fail.” Phoebe leaned back, her chin high. “I have over fifty vampires who have pledged to support me and my kingdom. If needed, they will fight to their final death. Their businesses are mine, their contacts and alliances are my contacts and alliances. In return, I will make whatever personal sacrifice is needed to help them succeed and survive. It is our pact. It is the pact Eric Northman made to the vampires of Louisiana and Arkansas.” Phoebe stood then. As she looked down at Sookie, Maude took the telepath’s hand. “So tell me, Sookie, are you his personal indulgence or are you furthering the vampires of your states?” The Iowa Queen walked to the door, but at the last moment she turned. “You are ageless. What is a hundred years to you? Do the right thing and free him to serve his kingdom,” and then Phoebe was gone.
Sookie didn’t know what to say. She looked at the hand Maude held for a long minute. When she looked up at the Minnesota Queen, she could still see friendship there and she felt grateful. “I don’t know what to say,” Sookie stammered.
“Phoebe is right. How you two behave, the fact of you not being vampire. It rubs against how we have been trained and what is expected, but I have told her and I will tell you, there is something about you and Eric Northman when you are together, something special. I can’t put my finger on it, but I know I am not the only one who sees it.”
“Is this why Lydia isn’t with her Robert anymore?” Sookie asked.
“I suspect it is,” the Minnesota Queen confirmed. “I do know it was Lydia who left him. I don’t believe he would have left her. But that is the lot of women, to make the stronger choices.”
“Do you think I should leave him?” Sookie found herself asking, and just saying the words was like a sword through her breast.
“No,” Maude shook her head. “I don’t think you should be apart, but you may want to consider using the rules of vampires to assure your survival.” Maude sat back then and pulled the telepath with her. She put her arm around Sookie and positioned the woman’s head on her shoulder, in the same way a mother would embrace her older child. When Sookie relaxed in her arms, she asked, “Do you know the difference between a consort and a queen?” Sookie shook her head and Maude smiled above her, “No, I didn’t think you did,” she soothed.
“A consort has no right to succession. Your Eric was a consort to Freyda. When she met her final death, he had no right to succeed her as King. Do you follow me?” Sookie nodded and Maude stroked her hair. “Good. Now as consort, he was entitled to her bed, a place in her Court, and her company. He had rights and duties, but usually there is no contract. A vampire who enters into a royal marriage must have a contract and if they violate any condition, the penalty is almost always final death.”
“Eric had a contract,” Sookie interrupted. “I never saw it, but he told me about it.”
Maude stroked Sookie’s hair as she said, “Eric’s situation was unusual. His Maker had made the arrangement, which meant that Appius was going to get something as well. It isn’t done much anymore, but in those circumstances it is not surprising there was a contract. To be a consort implies choice in our world. I don’t believe from what I’ve heard that choice entered into the marriage with Freyda.”
Sookie thought about what the Queen was telling her. “Is it a rule that only vampires can be Kings or Queens?”
Maude stilled. “That is an interesting question. You know? I’m not sure. I know it’s the way it has always been done. I also know that just declaring someone a King or Queen doesn’t make it so. I was approved by my entire Clan, as was Eric. Phoebe was appointed by the Ancient Pythoness.”
Sookie started, “You know I met her once in Rhodes?”
Maude smiled above her, “What did you think of our Great Lady?” she asked.
“She scared the tar out of me!” Sookie said.
“I’d imagine she would. As I was saying, it isn’t enough to declare someone a ruler, they need to have someone with authority proclaim them. Without a proclamation from the right source, vampires would assume that the person making the claim meant it as an insult, and they would band together to kill the imposter as a lesson to others.”
Sookie nodded. “You’re not married to some ruler,” she said. “Neither is Phoebe.”
“I was,” Maude told her. “When my kingdom was young and I needed to build capital and safeguard myself against the Dakotas king, I married Isaiah. He was a good choice and both our kingdoms benefitted from the alliance. As for Phoebe? She has always been strong, as long as I’ve known her. Her strength allows her the privilege of turning down offers, but if she had a need, she would do what was necessary for her kingdom. In spite of what you might think based on Russell and Bartlett, a royal marriage is about strength, not desire. You understand?” Sookie nodded again.
Maude nodded, and then squeezed her friend a little, offering support before she continued. “Here is something you may not know. A ruler can have a consort and a royal marriage at the same time.” Sookie heard the words and she was pretty sure she wasn’t going to like where this was going.
Sookie drew a deep breath, and then said the thing that now hung between them. “Are you telling me that I should encourage Eric to marry a vampire?”
Maude didn’t need a bond to understand how the words must have stuck in Sookie’s throat. “I am not telling you to encourage him in that direction,” she soothed. “I am saying that if things do not right themselves, if the problems of the kingdom threaten your safety, there is an option that would allow you to stay together. Like every option, there would be a price, but with the right partner, that price might be bearable.”
“Well, let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that,” Sookie said as strongly as she could. Sookie knew that it was her choice to have linked her life with vampires, but at this exact moment, she was pretty sure she had had enough of fangs for the time being.
The deal was at last finalized and Sookie was set to catch an afternoon plane that would put her in Shreveport within two hours. This time the Queens insisted she fly Annubis and Sookie found herself grateful to be welcomed aboard in such a personal way. The plane was fairly small and within no time they were in the air and landing at their destination.
Shari Decker was standing on the tarmac waiting for them. She bowed to Sookie and stepped forward to collect luggage. Owen walked with Sookie to open the door of the waiting car. Everything had been arranged. Jason and Michele were at their house awaiting her. Shari, who was better rested, would stay overnight in Bon Temps and comb the woods while she slept. Owen would return to spend the night here in Shreveport at Alcide Herveaux’s residence in anticipation of tomorrow night.
Tomorrow, the Pack would gather and Sookie would be expected to preside at a questioning just after 5PM. Sookie wasn’t pleased about the time, but Alcide pointed out that most Pack members had to work during the day to support families. After a lengthy debate, it was decided that Sookie would spend the night in Shreveport, staying in a hotel at the expense of the Packmaster. She would leave for New Orleans the next day so she could be reunited with Eric in time for his rising. Mr. Cataliades would drive back to New Orleans with her and from there he expected to travel on to see his niece, Diantha, who was already in San Antonio. She had arrived in advance for the Zeus Summit, which was now only a week away.
There was dinner with Jason, Michele, and both their boys. Bit and JC peppered Shari with questions. Sookie found herself smiling, but unable to join into the conversation. She realized she was mentally exhausted. The work in Iowa had been draining, and the strain of being in the Iowa palace even more so. She realized on the flight home she had been making lists for herself of each time that a vampire seemed to treat her differently because she wasn’t a vampire. Part of her head was yelling at her, reminding her that it was crazy to expect them to treat her like them.
Sookie had been surprised by the Minnesota Queen’s words of sympathy when the telepath had confided she couldn’t be turned. It hadn’t really occurred to Sookie that anyone might view that as a calamity. It made Sookie wonder about something of which Eric had once accused her. He had accused her of not really accepting vampires.
Sookie went to bed early and dreamed of Eric. It was a good dream and she woke early, the sun slanting in almost solid bands of mote-filled gold into the windows of her bedroom. Birds were singing outside the window and Sookie arose with a light heart. She ran downstairs to find Shari already in the kitchen and breakfast on the table. Once the meal was over and dishes cleaned, Sookie asked Shari to drive her over to the cemetery so she could visit her Gran’s grave.
Shari agreed to wait by the car, and as Sookie walked to the place where her Gran rested she could see there had been a change. There was a little bench near the grave now. It was a soft looking grey stone and beautifully carved. As Sookie sat down, she wondered where Jason had found the money for it.
“Hi, Gran,” Sookie said softly. “I sure wish you were here.” Sookie looked at her Gran’s gravestone and suddenly the distance was too much. Sookie walked over and sank down to the ground so she could lean against the upright marker. “I wish I could tell you everything that’s happened. I sure wonder what you would have made of all this,” Sookie took a deep breath and plucked at a piece of grass. “Why did you do it, Gran? Why did you love one man and sleep with another?”
“I know the answer to that,” said a voice behind her. Sookie just about jumped out of her skin as she rose and twirled toward the voice. There was a long, thin knife in her hand that almost looked like a sword and she was raising that hand to strike when she saw what her mind knew had to be an illusion, but her heart leaped to cry, “Eric?”
Standing in front of her, the sun shining in a way that made a halo of his golden hair, was her Eric. His blue eyes sparkled and his mischievous smile revealed just the tips of his fangs. He was dressed in jeans, a soft t-shirt, and the sun seemed to make his pale skin glow golden. “Sookie!” he said softly and opened his arms.
Sookie had an overwhelming desire to throw herself into those arms, but there was some rational part of her that held her back. This wasn’t possible. Eric would never be able to stand in the sun. He was resting somewhere in a dark room in New Orleans. He would not be here at her Grandmother’s grave in Bon Temps, no matter how much she wished it. Sookie clamped down on herself hard and strengthened her stance. “Okay, you’ve had your fun,” she said and wished her voice sounded stronger than it did. “Who are you?”
“Very good, Sister,” the Eric doppelganger said, and there was a funny blur in the air and she was looking at Bellenos. He walked closer to her and sniffed the air in a way that looked more animal than human. “Mmm,” he sighed, “You’ve been practicing. You are growing. That is good.” When Sookie didn’t lower the knife, Bellenos shrugged a little and turned his back to her. He walked over and sat on the bench. “Do you like this?” he asked, gesturing at the seat. “A gift from the Prince.”
Sookie took another deep breath and willed the weapon away. Bellenos’ eyebrows raised and he smiled toothily. “Very good! That is much more advanced than I would have thought possible at this stage of your growth. You figured that out on your own?”
“Well, yeah,” Sookie huffed, and sat down on the bench next to the elf. “Don’t do that again.” When Bellenos looked at her with no apparent understanding, she added, “Don’t pretend to be Eric. I don’t like it.”
Bellenos looked toward the grave his eyebrow cocked, “She found it to be useful,” he said in a sing song kind of voice.
Sookie looked back at Gran’s grave and she remembered what Bellenos/Eric had said before he scared the pants off her. “You said you knew why she cheated?”
“How funny humans are,” Bellenos laughed. “Cheated? Such a funny word. I wouldn’t call it that, not what she did or what she gave up. Your grandmother was an exceptional woman. She had the heart of a warrior, like you.” Sookie looked hard at the elf, her impatience clearly etched on her face. “All right,” he smiled. “I believe the reason you still have not figured it out is because as her granddaughter, or should I say as their granddaughter, you assume too much about who they were.”
“What do you mean?” Sookie asked. “I knew my grandmother pretty well. I never knew Fintan at all.”
“You knew your grandmother when she was older. Life changes humans as they age. If they choose, and your grandmother did, they can become very different people. Mellower, perhaps is a good word for it, and I didn’t mean Fintan. I meant your grandfather.”
“My Grandpa Mitchell was a good man too. I don’t remember him too well, but I know that he and Gran were happy together. No one ever said it, but I think my parents dying the way they did killed him.”
Bellenos nodded. “He never recovered from the deaths of his children. After your aunt was diagnosed with terminal cancer, that was the last blow. His heart just gave out.”
“I don’t know how Gran made it through. I guess I’ll never have children, but to raise them and watch them pass before you? I can’t think of anything more painful,” Sookie sighed.
“Never say never, Sister,” Bellenos shoulder bumped her. Then before she could say anything more, he said, “It was even more painful for him because in their faces, he saw the face of the great love of his life,” and Bellenos turned to Sookie and let what he had said sink in.
Sookie could see that she was supposed to understand something, and then slowly, a thought started to take shape. “You’re telling me that Grandpa Mitchell and Fintan….”
“Mitchell was enthralled. Adele was beautiful, much as you, and Mitchell was strong and clean limbed. He had never entertained that part of himself; few did in the South in those days. Yet Fintan was something else, and he discovered a new world where he found he belonged,” Bellenos looked away, his eyes distant. “The tragedy was that Fintan was also in love, but with your Grandmother, Adele, and she was in love with him. She loved your Grandfather and they treated each other well. They were friends and a good match, but passion? Passion was something that she found with my Lord, and he found his heart’s mate with her.” Bellenos shrugged. “Your Grandfather was open to the idea of the three of them having children. It would mean that Fintan would be in their lives, but your Grandmother could see that ultimately the path they were on would lead to problems,” Bellenos looked around. “They lived out here and it was isolated enough that rumors of what was going on didn’t get started. From time to time, a neighbor would drop by and Fintan would assume your Grandfather’s appearance. That way no one had to explain why there was a strange man living in the house with them.”
Sookie shook her head, “I don’t know what to say. That just doesn’t sound like the good Christian woman my Gran was. You’re describing… well… I don’t know what to call it.”
“Youth?” Bellenos offered. “They were young and innocent in many ways. When your father was born they were thrilled. For Fintan, it was a dream come true. He had not been able to reproduce and this, even with a human, was a gift. Your Grandfather saw his lover in the face of their child. Your Grandmother saw the same. Your father and your aunt were adored by three people who loved them. What more could any child wish?”
Sookie nodded. “So what happened?” she asked.
“Your Grandfather. After the birth of your Aunt Linda, he could see that he was not first with Fintan. It had been there all along, but as he watched the two of them with the children, he grew jealous. Your Grandmother saw it first, and she told Fintan it was time for him to leave.”
“But why?” Sookie asked. She knew, and she knew what the elf would say, but she still needed to hear it.
“In the end, your Grandmother was a wise woman. She knew what she was and where she belonged. She knew that your Grandfather would pine for Fintan for the rest of his life, but they would have his children to share between them. If Fintan remained, the life that they had would be gone, destroyed, so she had him reject them both.”
“Still he gave her a cluviel dor,” Sookie said to the air.
“Yes,” Bellenos said, “He hoped that one day she would use it to join him. She never did.”
“How could she?” Sookie sighed. “She grew older, and then there were Jason and me. She wouldn’t have left us.”
“It wasn’t because of you,” Bellenos told her gently. “Adele had made her choice and she would not look back. I like to think they found each other in the Summerlands, the three of them.”
Sookie thought about that conversation for a long time. She had Shari drive her back to Jason’s house, walked up onto the porch and sat on the swing. She chatted with Michele and asked about her pregnancy. She admired JC’s cosplay costume, listening to him ramble on about some game with which he was currently involved, clearly thrilled to have someone willing to pay attention. She accepted the frog that Bit offered her and sent him off to find another. Sookie wondered about the choices her Gran had made. Was it worth it, that simple life with all its known problems and concerns in exchange for the life Sookie now lived, a supernatural life?
That evening as Sookie prepared for her trip to Shreveport, she found herself thinking once more about the strength of women. She wondered what it was that gave a woman her capability to face harsh realities and to make tough choices. Why was it that a woman seemed to have the ability to sacrifice herself for those around her? Sookie wondered about herself. Could she choose to give up her fire and that part of herself that was so passionate if it meant that others she loved could live their lives more fully? Could she fight to keep herself and her life as her own, even if it meant she might lose several of those she loved?
“Who am I fooling?” Sookie asked herself as she picked up her bag and headed to the upstairs hallway. “I’ve already made my choice,” and she walked to the door, her head held high to see what the Long Tooth Packmaster had in store.