Author’s Notes: I thank each and every one of you who has offered an opinion, shared a suggestion, argued about the direction or shared your concern. It is amazing to see that the work touches you as it touches me. I am grateful that you are sharing this journey with me and are willing to chat along the way.
I also wish to publically thank my amazing beta readers. They give of themselves in a selfless way and the work you read shines because of them. Thank you Breathesgirl and Ms Buffy.
Nautical Note: Squalls are common at sea. If you are observant you can see them rapidly approach. If you read the signs correctly, you can go below decks and have your oilskins ready so that when it rushes overhead you won’t be soaked in the process. But if you are looking the wrong way, a squall can overtake you, lashing at you with rapid and impressive violence, and then depart just as quickly, leaving you drenched and shivering in its wake.
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.
“Déjà vu,” Sookie thought when they pulled up to the beautiful house in the suburbs. It had been years since Sookie had been to Alcide’s home.
Sookie found herself remembering the night she had come here with Jason to act as Shaman, the night that Appius Livius Ocella was made finally dead. The telepath couldn’t suppress a shiver. Everything had changed after that night. The spiral of death had escalated. The contract with Freyda had become known. The assassination of Victor Madden had been planned. Each step had seemed designed to move her further and further away from Eric.
Sookie remembered the way she’d found Eric that night. He’d been in his beautiful home surrounded by death and destruction. Pam had been badly injured. Felicia was finally dead and Bobby Burnham too. As she looked back it wasn’t the blood that she remembered, it was the hopeless look on Eric’s face and the way she had reacted once she found him. Perhaps it had been for the best, the way she had manhandled him into action, but amid all the messed up circumstances the one clear thing Eric had asked was about her. He had come to himself for a minute just so he could ask what she had been doing and whether she had been sick. She had been the most important thing to him and she just hadn’t seen it at all.
She thought about his face later at her home once everything was finished and his Maker was finally dead. In those moments before he left to sort out the mess, he had been almost vibrating with the power of Fae blood he had taken. She had known that it was helping to dampen the physical pain he was experiencing at Appius’ passing. He could have rejoiced in his own freedom. He could have talked of Pam, his future, and all the things that would now be possible, but he hadn’t. He had talked of coming back to her and making up for lost time. ‘He loved you,’ Sookie thought. ‘He called you his wife and he meant it. No politics. No agenda. Just you.’
Sookie closed her eyes as the car was slowing and opened her bond even though she knew she was too far away for him to feel her, she thought with all her heart, ‘I love you too, Eric Northman. I should have known that then, but I sure know it now.’ The car door opened and Alcide Herveaux was looking down at her. Sookie placed her hand in his and allowed herself to be pulled from the car. As she walked to the front door she thought, ‘One more step toward home.’
The place inside hadn’t changed much. Kandace stood in the entry hall and nodded her welcome. Sookie nodded back. She wondered if the kids were upstairs, but she thought that for something like this they would send them to stay with relatives. Alcide walked her straight through to the living room and then turned around, leaving her near a chair. Sookie looked around with surprise. This room hadn’t changed one bit. The animal heads still hung on the walls and the masculine furniture was in place. The bar was still positioned on the far wall. Sookie could see the patio outside through the garden doors. The patio furniture had changed, the cast iron was gone and replaced with something that held cushions, but the fountain was still there.
Sookie knew Alcide loved Kandace. She had seen his devotion in the way he had shown her pictures in the restaurant and how he had spoken of her. Still, there was something off-putting about walking into the house of married people and not seeing one trace of a woman’s touch. Sookie felt the hair on the back of her neck rise and she couldn’t stop herself from dipping into Alcide’s mind to look for signs of the Packmaster his being an abusive spouse.
Kandace walked up behind her and laid a hand on her shoulder. “Can I get you something? An iced tea or something from the bar?” Sookie turned toward her and found herself automatically dropping her eyes to the woman’s pregnant belly. Kandace followed her gaze and a smile broke across her face while she rubbed her bulge affectionately. “Yup, only a month or so to go. This one’s been a lot better than the other two.” Sookie could tell she was used to questions and had adopted that habit most pregnant women pick up of telling everyone about their pregnancy and not about themselves.
“Tea would be fine,” Sookie answered, and made an effort to look up and into Kandace’s eyes when she said it. She had heard from more than one pregnant woman that it became tiresome having conversations with people who spoke to their belly and not to them. Sookie resolved to try to be different, but as the Were walked back from the bar, the iced tea in hand, Sookie found her eyes drawn back to her pregnant belly again.
“Anything else I can get for you?” Kandace said above her and Sookie raised her eyes, her guilt plain on her face. Kandace rolled her own eyes in answer and there was a moment of understanding between them.
“No, I’m good,” Sookie waved her off.
Kandace looked over Sookie’s shoulder and the telepath turned to see Shari standing against the wall. “Look, it was nice to see you again, but I’m going to get going. My kids are staying with some friends down the street and I’m going to go hang out with them. You have Shari and Owen here,” Kandace jerked her chin toward them.“ I know you’ll be fine.”
The smile faded from Sookie’s face. She found herself looking about the room at the five men who were standing around. She noted for the first time how some seemed to be standing more apart than others. She dipped quickly into Kandace’s head and confirmed what she suspected. Alcide’s wife assumed that one or more of these people she knew well would be dead before the night ended. Sookie bit her lip and nodded. As Kandace walked out, Sookie found her eyes landing on Shari Decker.
Shari had been kind of distant since Sookie’s arrival. The telepath hadn’t really had time to ask her about it, but as she thought over the past day she got the feeling that there was something bothering the woman. As she started to focus on Shari, the guard surprised her by walking towards her quickly.
“I would appreciate it if you’d not look in my head right now,” Shari said, her words so rapid they spilled over each other. “I can tell you can do it, but I’ve had some bad news from my family and I’d just like to keep it to myself for a bit, if you don’t mind.”
Sookie felt the blush rush over her cheeks. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had called her out on peeking, and she felt all the old embarrassment return. “Sure, Shari,” she stammered, and she looked around quickly to see that several pairs of eyes were now staring at her in a less than friendly way. Sookie knew that with their hearing no one in the room had missed what her guard had said. Sookie could feel her cheeks flame more and she ducked her head to take a sip from her tea.
“Jeez, I’m sorry I blurted it out that way,” Shari gulped. “I should have said something in the car, but I didn’t think. I apologize, Mistress,” and the Were ducked her head in a bow.
“Don’t you worry about it, Shari,” Sookie said, trying to sound off hand. “It’s nothing. No need to apologize.” Sookie glanced around again and confirmed that most eyes remained staring warily in her direction. Shari walked back over to the side of the room where she had been standing before and Sookie figured it was probably a good station for her. The Were’s back was to the wall and she had access to exits both front and back as well as a clear line of sight. Sookie suddenly caught herself and wondered when she had started looking at rooms this way. She figured that it probably started when she was getting attacked so often. ‘One more of those survival skills Eric doesn’t think I have,’ she chuckled to herself. Owen walked over to join Shari against the wall and they were exchanging a look. Sookie figured that he was probably scolding her for acting the way she had.
Anyone could see that her guards had formed a friendship of sorts. ‘Who’s my partner?’ The question popped into Sookie’s head as she watched the two of them communicating without words. ‘Who knows me that well and has my back?’ but no sooner had the words formed than she knew the answer, and it made her feel warm.
Alcide walked back into the room from the hallway. Sookie assumed he had been saying goodbye to Kandace. The Packmaster glanced her way, his eyebrows raised. He didn’t need to say it; she knew he was asking if she was ready. Sookie nodded to him, and Alcide walked to the bar, and then turned around to address the room.
“You all know about the troubles we’ve been having lately,” he started. Sookie stared at him and then at the faces of the others. They had all turned their gaze to the Packmaster and stopped staring at her and Sookie felt relieved. She reached out telepathically to each and every one of the men that Alcide had invited, confirming for herself that she was able to dip into their heads and read them well. When she was satisfied, she turned her attention back to Alcide and settled back.
“Our wives are afraid to let our children walk to school,” Alcide was saying. His head was thrown back and he was standing under some lighting that threw shadows across his face. It made him look larger somehow and Sookie found herself having to admire a mind that would be this deliberate about creating staging in his own living room. “At first we all thought it was random, some passing rogues. But with the events of the past week, I think I speak for all of us when I say that we can no longer ignore the facts. Our homes and our Pack are under some kind of coordinated attack.” The heads around the room were nodding in agreement. “What we need to figure out is who is behind this,” when Alcide said this he shifted his stance so he was leaning forward, “and who in this room is helping them.” As soon as he said the last part his eyes shifted rapidly from one face to the other.
Sookie did a quick sweep as well. She could hear the surprise in each mind. For most, the surprise was followed by a sense of concern. For a couple, the surprise was followed by a sense of outrage. Sookie shifted back to Alcide and confirmed that he hadn’t seen anything that made him suspicious or that bothered him. At the moment one of the men who was standing closest to her, a Were named Tony, turned toward her and said, “What is she here for? Spying for the deaders?” Sookie knew she had her Crazy Sookie smile plastered all over her face and she started to work to change that. She saw Tony’s lip lift in a sneer as he said, “What says the vamps and their fangbangers aren’t behind this? Nothing they’d like better than having one up on us Weres.” There was some general shuffling and a few muttered, ‘Yeahs,’ and ‘Sure sounds like them, all right.’
Alcide crossed his arms and puffed his chest forward, “How does that explain the hits the deaders have taken? You all know that nest outside of town was burned out two days ago. There were four vampires living there and they were all wiped out along with their companions.”
This was news to Sookie. She found herself wondering if those lost were anyone she had met when she lived around here. The vampire community just wasn’t that big and this Area had been without a sheriff for a while. Eric had taken over some supervision and many of the locals had traveled to Fangtasia then to report and put in their hours. Eric had told her just last night that Thalia was in the Area to take a look around. He hadn’t mentioned casualties, but they hadn’t had that much time to talk. It had been late and he had pressed her to get some rest.
“Most of you know Indira, the new Area 5 Sheriff down at Fangtasia,” Alcide was saying. “You know how she operates. You’ve all met Rubio, the new Area 6 Sheriff. Most of you met him and his nest when they moved here from Minden. Can you really see any of them being involved in this? What is hurting us is hurting them worse. Think about it. We’ve had folks roughed up, but no one killed. They can’t say the same.”
Tony continued to look at Sookie in an accusatory way, but Sookie could tell that the other Weres were less inclined to jump to the same conclusion. “Now as for Sookie,” Alcide continued, “You know she was granted status as Friend of the Pack by Colonel Flood. She has stood by us any number of times. The folks in this room know what happened in Bon Temps with the guard detail we gave her. If anyone has a bone to pick it should be her, but she’s not here to voice any grievance against us. She has offered her services as our official Shaman. She won’t be living here as Pack, but she will make herself available.
“For a price,” Tony snapped.
“Sure, she had a fee, but we paid expenses and an annual stipend to our Shaman before. This is a better deal and we pay when we need her. There is a contract and any of you are welcome to see it,” Alcide paused and looked around the room, his chin held high. Sookie almost felt like giggling. He was looking like a wolf surveying his territory and she wondered if the Packmaster had practiced the move in a mirror.
“What happens if she doesn’t help?” Tony spit out, leaning toward her and showing teeth. “What happens if she uses this as a chance to screw us over? Feed us lies? What’s to keep her honest?”
“Like I said, it’s all in the contract,” Alcide said more quietly, but with gravity, “If she betrays our trust and the trust of the Pack, she will be under the same sentence any of us would. Sookie is Friend of the Pack, that makes her Pack, and she has to honor our laws.”
Sookie remembered how startled she had been when she first talked about this condition, this penalty of death should she be found guilty of treason, with Mr. Cataliades. It was one thing to see supernaturals live by these stakes, but it was the first time she had ever willingly agreed to have the same stakes apply to her. She was pretty sure that the lawyer had told Eric about it, but she had a quick thought about the word ‘assume’ and wondered. Of course, according to the terms of the contract, execution of a sentence in the case of conviction would not belong to the Pack. Mr. Cataliades had insisted that any sentencing be carried out by vampires by way of compromise and to assure the keeping of the peace. As the lawyer pointed out, Miss Stackhouse might be a Friend of the Pack, but she was bound to the vampires. Balance would need to be maintained.
Several faces turned toward her and Sookie nodded, letting them know that she had agreed to this. She also noticed that Owen was standing right in back of Tony. Sookie hadn’t seen her guard move, but she was glad that he was there. She could see Owen glance at Shari and she could tell that the female Were was also on guard and watching those around her. Sookie wondered how Shari would feel if things did go badly and she was called to defend the telepath against her own Pack. Sookie figured that the conflict Shari was feeling might be one of the reasons she didn’t want Sookie in her head right now. Sookie figured she should be worried about the contract, but she knew that the penalty for failure for Shari carried the same penalty that Sookie was facing. If Shari let anything happen to Sookie, Eric would kill her, sure as shooting, and the telepath doubted it would be quick or painless. ‘We sure are a killing kind of bunch,’ Sookie thought.
Alcide had paused and was looking around, his arms impressively crossed over his chest. He had puffed himself up and, Sookie had to admit, he looked every bit a Clan Chieftain. When he was satisfied that no one had anything more to say, he relaxed his shoulders before continuing to talk. “What has me convinced that there is something bigger going on is the way the attacks are happening. Each assault or attack on our businesses was perfectly timed. Someone seems to know when we are delivering money or merchandise, or when guards are moving to another area, and that’s when the attacks happens. It smacks of insider information, and the only ones who would have known enough to tell someone are right here, in this room, right now. That’s why I’ve asked our Shaman to come tonight. We need to ferret out the rat!” Alcide said the last word with more dramatic emphasis than maybe was necessary, but it had the right effect. The men sitting around all sat straighter and they started looking in a not so friendly way at each other and a few even threw Sookie a mean kind of look.
Sookie was confused. Usually by now she would have picked up some stray thoughts that would have pushed her in one direction or another. The telepath was hearing every one of the individuals in the room, and sometimes the strength and clarity of the thoughts would overlap, but she had yet to pick up one thought that had a tinge of guilt or deception.
Sookie leaned forward. She closed her eyes. She slowly moved mentally from left to right, one man, and then another, probing deep as she would if she suspected glamour. Nothing. She found herself remembering the night she had done this before, the night she drank that gold garbage that made her so sick. Identifying the guilty persons had been easy because she had been able to literally see each person’s aura. The color of the aura had pointed out who was relaxed and who was lying.
Minutes passed. Sookie could sense Alcide shifting. She could pick up his frustration and his mounting impatience. Sookie tried to dismiss any anxiety she felt and dug deep. She breathed evenly and forced herself to recall the feeling she had when she had been under the influence of the drug. She remembered how it felt to be seeing those colors and the way that the edges of things had appeared fuzzy and indistinct. She remembered how she could see things close up in sharp relief, but faces further away became blurry. She remembered how her legs had felt like they belonged to someone else and when she had moved she almost felt like she was floating. Sookie squinted her eyes and focused on Alcide. She looked hard and thought about his emotions, what he was feeling. All the sudden she saw it, the glow of dark red that shone around him, stronger than any other light. She looked to the man standing directly beside Alcide and she could see a halo of orange around him. Sookie took a steadying breath and kept her eyes relaxed while she rotated her head first one way and then the other, taking in each person in Alcide’s living room. Each had a halo, and the colors of their halos were different, but they were all shades of red, orange, or crimson. Even Owen and Shari had red-tinted glows. Sookie shook her head and looked again. Still red. Not one traitorous green among them.
Sookie turned to Alcide and shook her head. “Perhaps if you question each one?” she asked.
Alcide set up three seats in his office, just off the living room. Over the next two hours, one Were after another walked into the office and sat down next to Sookie. Knowing that sometimes she could see even more clearly with touch, she would take each man’s hand. Shari and Owen stood nearby and made sure she was kept supplied with water or tea. Alcide questioned each of his most trusted seconds and advisors. Even Sookie asked questions, but when she had finished questioning the last one she looked up at Alcide and said, “I’m sorry, but the good news is it’s not anyone here.”
“That’s impossible!” Alcide growled. “It has to be one of them. They are the only ones that knew enough for any of this to make sense. One of them has to be in on it.” Alcide was all for going back through the questioning again when Sookie had a stray thought. She found herself looking around the office.
“Do you do most of your business right here?” she asked.
“Sure,” Alcide answered, his voice bitter. “I don’t have a nightclub with a private office or a big palace like some folks, so I have to take care of my responsibilities from my house.” Sookie tried to look cheerful, but she found herself remembering another time when there had been information leaked. Sookie had been in Dallas to help with a job involving missing vampires. She had been in Stan’s house with Bill and Eric. It had been the time she was almost killed by the Fellowship of the Sun.
“When’s the last time you swept your house for bugs?” Sookie asked.
“Bugs?” Alcide asked, and his face was one solid block of disbelief. “Like listening devices? You’re going to try to blame your failure on me?”
Owen stepped forward and growled deep in his throat, but Sookie held up her hand. When she spoke she couldn’t keep the anger from her voice. “Don’t you even go there with me, Alcide! I read every one of your people. You chose them! I didn’t! And not one of them is the one, so don’t go pointing your finger in this direction. I asked a question and I want an answer. Did you ever check this room?” Sookie stood up, her chin forward and her hands fisted at her hips. Owen had a hard time keeping the smile from his face. He had seen this woman looking the same way facing down the King on more than one occasion. He didn’t want to be in the Packmaster’s boots if she really got going.
Alcide’s face took on a hard look and Sookie could hear him thinking that she had really screwed up. He was convinced she had misled him about her abilities. He was trying to figure out how to get this wrapped up without looking like a fool in front of his Pack, and then he was going to demand his money back. Sookie couldn’t believe it! She could feel her face getting hotter and hotter. “Don’t you think that I don’t know what you’re thinking, Alcide Herveaux! If I’m right and it turns out that the reason everyone knows when to hit you is because of something that’s right in this room, and I missed a night at home for no reason, I am really going to be mad!”
“Sure,” Alcide snarled, squaring off against her, “Of course you’d like to blame me. How would some stranger get access? Someone is always here. There is no way someone would be able to spend enough time in my house to plant something without one of us noticing something strange.”
“You really have days you ain’t thinking, Alcide Herveaux, and today is one of them!” Sookie growled back. “You assume it would be some stranger? You’re all ready to accuse one of your own of selling you out, why wouldn’t that same person plant a bug? Or what if it was someone who had business here anyway? A mailman or a florist? How about the cable guy or an appliance repairman? There are all kinds of people who have the right uniform to get access to someone’s home. The only way to know for sure is to check.”
Sookie could hear the beginning of worry forming in Alcide’s mind. He was starting to wonder whom Kandace would have let into the house given that he was certain he wouldn’t have made that kind of mistake.What if we don’t find anything?” Alcide asked. “What then? You going to blame someone or something else? I told you we should have found some more of that Shaman serum. It could be that you just can’t really read us, like before.”
Sookie’s lip was curling and she could feel her mad coming on. “You listen to me, Wolf Boy,” she snapped. “I can read you loud and clear. You just go ahead and think something. Test me all you want, because I can tell you what you’re thinking, clear as a bell! God damn, Alcide! You are so stubborn!”
Alcide’s temper was up too. He was breathing through his mouth and the hair on his head was raised. The Packmaster fixed Sookie with a nasty stare and a curl of his lip. “No!” Shari called, but it was too late. Alcide sent a clear thought. He remembered everything Emil Touissant had told him about the culling of the donor pool at the palace. Emil had told him about Eric’s arrangements and the offer to glamour guards. Emil had told him about that night and what the guards had heard and seen afterwards. Alcide filled in his own details and he sent all those thoughts at Sookie.
Then he thought about how when he had told Emil that it would be the end of the telepath’s adventure with the bloodsuckers, the New Orleans Packmaster had told him that he was wrong. Emil had told him that he was assured that Sookie knew all about it. According to the story the guards at the Palace had heard from the King, it had been the telepath who had given the whole massacre the green light. Alcide was thinking that Sookie used to be a nice girl, but he wouldn’t touch her vampire-loving ass with a ten foot pole right now, and he was lucky that fate had given him a nice girl like Kandace instead.
Sookie heard every word as if they were being said through her own mouth. She saw the images the Packmaster had conjured of dead and cooling bodies, and she felt the ground open up under her. The next thing she knew she was sitting down and Shari had a cool cloth on the back of her neck. Alcide was squatting in front of her and Sookie could feel his regret. “I’m sorry, Cher. That was plain mean of me. You didn’t deserve that.”
Behind her Owen growled. “The King will not be happy that you bullied her,” he snarled.
Sookie looked at Alcide and she took a deep breath, “We both kind of lost our tempers,” she said. “Promise me you’ll get a sweep done, okay?”
Alcide nodded, and he squeezed her hand, “I promise,” he nodded, “I really am sorry, Sookie. I shouldn’t have.”
Sookie didn’t ask what he was sorry about. It could have been any number of things. Sookie looked at Shari and said, “I want to go to the hotel now.” Shari nodded and stood up. When Sookie stood she stumbled a bit. Owen came around swiftly then and picked her up as if she was no more than a feather, and then carried her, bridal style toward the door. Shari opened the house door and they moved swiftly to the car. Within minutes they were on the road. “I’ve called Mr. Cataliades,” Shari told her from the front seat, “He’s at the hotel already. He’ll meet us when we get there.”
As they pulled around to the hotel entrance, Sookie said, “You both knew, didn’t you?” She didn’t need to hear their answers. Their auras flickered green.
Sookie hadn’t said anything in the past hour. She sat, looking out the window at the night time sky. Eric had texted her, and then called her. She hadn’t answered it. Mr. Cataliades had walked her into the hotel and when he opened her room door had followed her in, sat her down, and poured her a glass of water. The water sat untouched on the table and Mr. Cataliades had retreated to the small desk. He was working, but every once in a while he would look up.
The telepath’s mind was in a whirl. She tried to remember the faces of the donors she had seen but found she was having trouble. She wondered what they thought, if they thought, as death found them. She wondered about Eric and how he could have made promises to her and then broken them so easily. She had trusted him. He knew how she felt about killing. She also knew with a certainty that Alcide had shown her a truth. This bad thing had happened.
“Are you hungry?” the attorney asked. Sookie looked at him and shook her head. She looked at the water, but then looked at her hands again. The attorney sighed and stood up. He sat next to her and laid his hand over hers.
“Did you know?” Sookie asked him.
“No,” he said simply. “I have been here and engaged with my business. I can see in your mind what you think you know.”
“Don’t know why I’m confused,” Sookie said, a note of hysterical laughter in her voice, “Folks are dead. Seems to happen a lot around vampires.”
Mr. Cataliades squeezed her hands until she looked up in his eyes. “Not just around vampires, Miss Stackhouse. I seem to recall a certain body count that had more to do with a telepath than a vampire. Am I wrong?”
Sookie felt her cheeks start to burn, “I’m not really sure it’s the same thing at all,” Sookie stammered.
“Debbie Pelt?” the attorney prompted.
“She was going to shoot me!” Sookie exclaimed.
“Siegbert?” Mr. Cataliades nudged.
“He was going to kill Eric and Felipe!” Sookie exclaimed again.
“Murry?” the attorney pressed.
“Definitely going to kill me!” Sookie claimed. “Look, I’m not exactly peaches and cream here, but when I did it, I did it for a good reason.”
“Is there ever a good reason to kill, according to human rules?” the demon asked quietly, his eyes now more gentle, his thumbs rubbing the backs of her hands. When Sookie shook her head and tears finally started to fall, he sighed. “I have made clear that I am your guardian first. I have separated myself from Mr. Northman in many ways, but I think you need to consider all the facts before you jump to judgement.”
Sookie was nodding when there was a knock on the door. Sookie looked across, surprised, and Mr. Cataliades said, “I have invited Thalia to come.”
“I don’t know,” Sookie whispered and she took a deep breath. “I’m not sure there is anything more to say.”
The lawyer gave her a hard look, “There is always something to say, Miss Stackhouse,” and the demon opened the door.
Thalia stalked in, “Where is she?” she demanded, and then her eyes swept immediately to Sookie. “Why aren’t you answering his calls?” she demanded. “He is frantic. He thinks the dogs have done something to you.” Thalia was pushing buttons on her phone. “Talk with him now before he starts a war.”
Sookie looked at the phone being thrust at her and the anger so clearly evident in Thalia’s eyes. With a sigh, she took the phone. “Have you found her?” Eric’s voice demanded. Sookie thought she could hear an edge of desperation in the way he spoke and she felt her heart clench.
“It’s me,” she whispered. “I’m okay.” Sookie knew he would start asking questions, so she cleared her throat and said, “I can’t talk now. I’m afraid if I talk with you any more I’m going to say something I’ll regret.”
“Sookie….” She heard Eric say as she pressed the button to end the connection.
“That is the first wise thing you’ve said, Miss Stackhouse,” the attorney nodded, and then he walked back to the desk and sat down.
Thalia was giving Sookie a look that was both sour and angry. The phone in her hand was buzzing again and she answered it, talking quickly in a low hissing voice. When she ended the call, she stalked back to the telepath and she actually looked confused, which would have made Sookie laugh at any other time. “What’s going on?” the vampire demanded.
“The Packmaster informed Miss Stackhouse that there was a change made involving donors at the palace, a change involving some violence,” Mr. Cataliades supplied from his seat. “He told her in a brutal way and made it part of a test of her ability.”
Thalia growled menacingly, “He will pay for that,” the vampire snarled.
Sookie looked up at her and shook her head, “No,” she said, her voice weary, “just don’t. Don’t do anything else.”
Thalia’s expression sharpened and she stared closely at Sookie. “You are upset by the way the Packmaster told you?” she asked.
Sookie knew that her face showed every bit of how unsettled she felt. She realized she was angry that she needed to explain this to anyone, “I’m upset that all those people are dead!”
Thalia looked even more confused, “I don’t understand, breather,” she said. “You discussed this with the North Man. He told me…”
“Discussed what?” Sookie interrupted.
“The change in the donor pool,” Thalia said in a reasonable voice. “He said you called him from Jackson to suggest it.”
Sookie’s mouth fell open, “Changing to that Registry? Sure, I told him I thought it was a good idea.”
Thalia’s mouth settled into a straight line. Her eyes became hard. “The Viking said you talked about donor pools and how they are managed. Procurement. Maintenance. I know he shared his history with you. Surely he told you of his time in Russia and his duties.”
“Yeah,” Sookie swallowed and nodded her head. “Eric told me he was in charge of a pool, once a long time ago, and how he didn’t like it.”
“The North Man told you that donors can’t be released, didn’t he?” Thalia pressed. “They have no skills. They are helpless in the world.”
“He said they would starve….” Sookie’s voice started to falter and she had a sinking feeling in her chest.
Thalia gave Sookie a look then that told her without words that the vampire was disgusted with her. “I told him you would have this reaction; that it would be Madden all over again. The North Man told me he asked you whether you understood, you told him you had thought about it and wanted it done before you returned.”
Sookie opened her mouth, and then there it was. Sookie could see with total clarity how she and Eric had talked about the same thing at the same time and still spoke in different languages. “Fuck a zombie!” Sookie sighed. “This is my fault! Those people are dead because of me.”
Sookie couldn’t help but notice that Thalia looked less hostile. “You live among us, but you still don’t understand what it means to be vampire,” Thalia said with a shake of her head. She squared her shoulders and then tilted her head as if considering whether to say more. When she did, Sookie realized it must have been a concession on the part of Thalia because she spat the words as if they tasted bad, “If it matters, the Viking didn’t have a hand in it. He was careful in arrangements to make it quick and painless.” Sookie nodded, and then looked back out the window, her heart hammering in her chest.
When she looked back at the vampire, Thalia was looking at her like she was lower than pond scum. Sookie bit her lip and said, “If it makes you feel any better, I pretty well hate myself right now.”
Thalia shook her head, and then turned towards the door, “You do not understand us and your ignorance will get him killed,” she said, never stopping. When the door closed behind her, Sookie turned to Mr. Cataliades.
The attorney was pushing his papers together. “I would suggest we get a late start tomorrow. Sleep in. There will be much to be done at the palace with the Zeus Summit so close. I expect you will be busy.” Sookie was surprised that he appeared so certain she would still be here in the morning, but then again, maybe she wasn’t. In the old days she would have flown off the handle, cursing Eric up one side and down the other and blamed him for everything. She would have stomped out of his life and sworn off vampires all over again until the next time. ‘I’ve changed,’ she realized.
Once the door was closed, Sookie stood up and walked into the bathroom. She washed her face and started to get ready for bed when she realized she was expecting her period. She had been feeling low and crampy all day and waking up with a mess was the last thing she needed.. ‘Perfect ending to a perfect day,’ she thought morosely and she leaned against the vanity. She caught sight of her flushed face and gave herself a quick mental slap. ‘Stop being a big bawl baby!’ Of course she didn’t have anything she needed, so she walked into the room and put her shoes back on. She grabbed a jacket and her wallet, and headed outside to find Owen standing just outside her door. It hadn’t occurred to her that her guards had duty round the clock now, even in hotels. It just reminded her how much about this world she just didn’t understand and she could feel the urge to cry tightening the back of her throat. She forced it back, sniffed once, and squared her shoulders. “We need to find a drug store,” she said flatly.
“Do you want me to make the run for you?” Owen asked.
Sookie actually thought about it, but then felt her cheeks heat up just thinking about explaining what she needed. She could see teasing the guard sometime, he seemed like a good guy, but after everything else today she couldn’t see her way to putting herself out any more. “No, I could use the air,” she told him. “Think you can find one nearby on your GPS thingy?”
Owen nodded and did some tapping on his phone. “There is a 24-hour pharmacy a couple blocks away,” he told her. Then he looked her in the eye, “You okay, Mistress?”
Sookie nodded, “Yeah, I’m okay. Owen? Can you do me a favor and just call me Sookie? It would mean a lot, even if it’s just for tonight.”
Owen nodded, “Sure, Sookie. I can do that, but tomorrow back to normal.” The Were stepped aside so she could go first and when they reached the elevator he pushed the button. Owen smiled at her and she smiled back as they both got into the elevator and rode it down to the lobby.
Once they were on the street, Owen naturally fell into step behind her shoulder. She thought it was probably easier to keep an eye on what was around them from that position, but it made it awkward to have a conversation. Sookie walked in the direction he indicated. As she passed storefronts and office buildings she thought about Thalia’s words. The vampire was right. There was something about all of this that smacked of that night with Victor Madden.
Sookie remembered the first time she had turned to Pam all those years ago and said that Victor Madden needed to die. She recalled how surprised Pam had been, and pleased. Sookie had felt serious when she repeated the same thing to others. When Victor had made things so unpleasant for all of them, Sookie had been the one to get all the conspirators together. It had been her plan that was used to kill Victor Madden. Now, looking back on it, Sookie realized that she had been the one to push all the others into action. Eric may have struck the final blow, but Sookie knew with a sad certainty that it had been her hand that had pushed him.
She remembered how Eric and Pam had been surprised by her ferocity. Eric had also been pleased and proud of her. Pam had praised her. Then had come the actual event. Neither Eric nor Pam had been all that thrilled with her after that. For all her pushing and planning, Sookie had not been prepared for the reality. She remembered how sickened she felt and how angry she had been. Eric had called her a hypocrite, and Sookie knew he was right. ‘That’s what it is to be a vampire,’ Sookie thought, looking at her reflection in the storefront glass, ‘It’s not shooting your mouth off about how you wish someone was dead. It’s about saying something and meaning it. It’s taking care of your troubles by killing them. Dead men don’t talk and finally dead men don’t come back to try to kill you later.’
Sookie wished she could be angry. She wished she could shake her fist and yell and it would make it better. She walked into the store, picked up what she needed, and walked to the counter. She looked up to see Owen standing near the door, guarding her from the murder and mayhem that was now her world. She found herself thinking of the training exercise with Thalia in Jackson where the knife had appeared in her hand and she had stabbed the vampire over and over. ‘Who protects folks from me?’ she thought. As she walked past Owen she said, “Let’s get back.”
“Sure, Sookie,” he said and he gave her a little smile before falling back into step behind her.
‘Better you stay behind me,’ she thought. ‘Better to trail killers than stand in front of them.’
When they got back to her room, Sookie turned toward the Were. “I guess folks are pretty upset about all this,” she said tentatively. Owen looked at the telepath with some confusion, and then she could see the moment he understood.
“For the old timers at the palace it wasn’t the first time they’ve seen it. You know Weres and vampires generally don’t get along. How vampires treat humans has been a part of it. I’m not going to tell you that Weres are exactly okay with the whole mixing of the species thing all the time either. Hell, we wouldn’t even allow Pack to intermarry with them until about twenty years ago, but we are definitely more enlightened than vamps.” Owen shrugged, “I don’t want you to think I have any particular problem with it, though. The King is going with this Registry thing. That puts him head and shoulders above a lot of the rulers. From what I hear most still maintain their blood slaves.”
“But still…” Sookie began. Owen gave her a stern look.
“Look, Sookie,” he said sternly, “I can see you want to make yourself miserable about this. If you didn’t know anything about supernaturals I guess I could understand that, but you need to know there wasn’t really any choice. If one of those had been picked up and their story figured out, it would have been bad for all of us. Hell, I could write that book myself. You think we had trouble with the Fellowship? Just let one of those blood slaves get picked up. There won’t be anywhere left for any of us to hide. We Weres aren’t stupid. People won’t stop at blaming vampires. It’ll be a witch hunt for every supernatural. Hell, vampires wouldn’t have come out in the first place if it wasn’t for TruBlood.”
“But couldn’t they just have been glamoured?” Sookie asked.
Owen shook his head, “Maybe twenty years ago. You watch television. You have to see all the crime shows. If one of them were brought in like a John or Jane Doe, someone would run their DNA. They are probably on some missing persons file. It wouldn’t take long for some alert to flash somewhere and the investigation to start. I know you’ve met those law types. The trail would lead back somewhere and that would need too much explaining.”
Sookie looked down at her hand on the key card, “Then why are there still pools being kept?” she asked.
Owen snorted, “Because royalty is as royalty does. No one was supposed to keep blood slaves, but they figured the rules shouldn’t apply to them. Guess they’re like rich people everywhere,” Owen shook his head. “Always some folks who think that power makes them more equal than others. I’m not saying it’s exactly against our laws, but for the most part we’ve agreed to abide by human laws too.”
Sookie nodded, “Thanks, Owen,” she said, “and good night.” She let herself into her room and locked the door behind her.
Sookie put on her pajamas and brushed her hair before climbing onto bed. She leaned over her knees, resting her cheek against her hands, and said to the walls around her, “This is what it means to live as a vampire,” Sookie’s chest felt tight. Saying this truth out loud didn’t help. ‘If only I could talk with someone about this, someone who could help me to understand.’ Sookie reached over to the table and picked up her phone. She quickly scrolled through the contacts, found Lydia’s number, and hit the call button. She listened to the ringing, her hand finding its way to rub at the ache in her chest. The ringing went on for a long time and then the voice mail clicked on. Sookie left a message asking Lydia to call her. She glanced at the clock. It wasn’t even nine at night. She wondered why Lydia hadn’t answered, but then she dismissed it. ‘Sure,’ she thought, ‘like someone as important as her has nothing to do but wait for your whiny call at all hours.’
Sookie held the phone in her hand and lay down on the bed. She curled into a ball on her side and lay still, eyes open. She found herself thinking about all the conversations she had had with Lydia about Robert. Sookie admired Lydia. The healer had made something important of her life. She helped others. Everyone she met spoke of Lydia with respect and admiration. Lydia had also made a choice and walked away from this great love of her life. She avoided him. Sookie wondered if Lydia had found herself one night laying on a bed, just like Sookie was now, wondering if she was able to live with the reality of the vampire world. Images ran through Sookie’s head; staking Bruno on the side of the road, the battle at Sophie-Anne’s monastery, the blood on the ground outside her own house the night Eric’s Maker was finally killed. Vampires were killers. Sookie knew this, but knowing and seeing seemed miles apart. “Eric is right,” Sookie said to the phone in her hand, “I am a hypocrite.”
An hour passed and when Lydia didn’t call Sookie thought about calling Tara, but just as quickly dismissed the thought. ‘Tara would never understand this,’ Sookie said to herself. She thought about Jason and Michele. She had a sinking feeling that Jason would understand and that made her feel worse. The conversation with Bellenos came back to her. She really hadn’t been able to process what he had told her about her Gran, Grandpa Mitchell, and Fintan, the whole thing seemed so foreign to everything she had believed. In her memory her grandparents had always been older and kind of soft around the edges. They had never had passions that burned like hers did, or needs that pushed them hard. She had seen their lives as being in service to her own and she realized with a start that all children probably had that view of their parents. They saw the caregiver, but rarely the person who had grown up with all the same challenges and adventures that they themselves now faced.
“You made a hard choice too, didn’t you Gran?” Sookie said to no one. “You chose normal.” Sookie thought of her Gran’s life. It had not been easy. ‘I wonder if you ever regretted that choice,’ Sookie thought. ‘No, I suppose you didn’t,’ she concluded, ‘it wasn’t in you to regret. You made a choice and your backbone carried you through, come hell or high water.’
Sookie found herself thinking about walking away and living a normal life but then she caught herself, ‘You really have come full circle,’ she scolded herself. Sookie had walked away before. She had run to her normal and it had not brought her happiness. It had almost cost her life and Eric’s in the bargain.
So, Sookie thought now of Eric. She thought of how they had spent their time together in Jackson. She thought of his happiness when she had accepted his ring and accepted their bond. She remembered how proud he had been when he had managed to cook for her. She remembered the countless times he had called her Lover and let her know how much she meant to him. She remembered the way he opened himself to her and trusted her with all his secrets and how, in the process, he healed her own heart. She thought of the way Pam and Thalia and others warned her that his devotion to her was a weakness that could cost him his life. She knew that Eric was aware of his actions and how they were perceived, and still he was willing to risk everything just to make her happy.
‘I need to go home’ she told herself, and she knew that home could only be one place. Sookie saw the hour on the bedside clock click over to 4 and the next thing she knew, the light was pouring through her windows and there was a knock on the door from housekeeping.
It was mid-afternoon by the time they were on the road. The drive to New Orleans seemed to take a long time. Mr. Cataliades had finished the contract that would loan money from Sookie’s accounts to the kingdom for the coronation celebration. He offered it to her for signature, his eyebrows raised. Sookie took the pen and signed, not meeting his eyes. “He’s good for it,” she mumbled. There were texts from Alcide. The first was apologizing, and then another from later on confirming they had found not one but three listening devices planted in his home. One was very old. Sookie read the messages and turned her phone off.
As they started the last hundred miles to the palace, the sun dipped down over the horizon and the lights started to glow around them. As Sookie looked out the window she found her mental debate continued. One minute she knew that returning was the only answer, but in the next she would remember the choices the women she admired had made, and wondered if that was a message she should consider. It was night and Sookie felt mentally drained by the time they turned into their neighborhood. The guards out front opened the barricades and the limo glided to the front entrance. Mr. Cataliades startled her by leaning over and placing his hand over hers. “You have made the right decision,” he told her and he gave her a smile of encouragement.
Sookie nodded but found she just felt confused. ‘Did I decide?’ she asked herself.
Sookie noticed the crowds around the palace were larger than usual. There seemed to be a lot of young women and some had fan signs with Eric’s name or picture on them. There were more photographers and there was a television news truck. Sookie noticed tour groups, and not just the usual Dead Tours that always featured supernatural places. She could feel their thoughts around her and many were pressing toward her, wondering if she was the Vampire King. Sookie remembered the footage she had seen of Eric’s time in Los Angeles. It seemed so long ago, but it had really just been a matter of months. Eric had developed a fanbase then, but it seemed to have died down. Now it would appear that his short interview on the local talk show had re-ignited public interest. Sookie wondered what these folks would think if they really knew what happened behind the walls.
Her car door was opened and it was Titus that handed her out. Sookie smiled automatically at him, noting that she hadn’t seen him in some time, not since her initial arrival. ‘Nice to see you, Mistress,” he said with a quick duck of his head. Sookie ducked her head as well and then turned towards the Palace. She took her first step on the carpet that led to the wide stone steps and double doors before she raised her head. He was there, standing outlined in the doorway. He had not quite exited the building and the light from the interior shone, outlining him. Sookie could see the blond of his hair but his face was in shadow.
She stopped then and wondered how it was; with as terrible as she felt, she could feel happier just seeing him. She remembered so many times in her past when feeling this happiness would have made her angry, but now she found it comforting. Sookie knew it was the bond and she opened up her side so that she could truly feel him with her.
What she found was nothing. Eric was silent, his feelings absent, and she knew then he had shut his side down from her. She wondered if he could feel her regret or confusion, or if being bonded as they were now meant that they both needed to open themselves if they were to experience each other’s feelings. Sookie realized with a stab of conscience that this was just another thing she didn’t know about vampires. Looking at him, standing there so still, Sookie was suddenly afraid that she had finally overstepped and Eric was done with her. Just as she found her courage deserting her though, he took one step toward her. The light from the street reached him now and she could see his face. His expression was carefully neutral. He stopped again just outside the door, not making any movement towards her, nothing betraying his state of mind. He almost looked a stranger.
The crowd had spotted him and there was general screaming from all around them. There were flashes of light that were reflected dully against the sides of the building and people were yelling, “Eric! Eric, this way!”
‘What is he waiting for?’ she thought, and then she knew right down to her backbone. ‘Mr. Cataliades knows me well,’ she thought briefly as she lifted her chin high and deliberately smiled. Sookie started walking toward him and, as she did, Eric lifted his arms to allow her to slip within them. Without hesitation, she stepped into his embrace. Sookie wrapped her arms around Eric and laid her cheek against his chest. Her heart was singing, her blood was pounding in her ears. ‘I’m home,’ every part of her body seemed to sing. Still, she couldn’t miss that it took him a while to wrap his arms around her and return her embrace. Sookie could tell that home had become just a little colder and a little less welcoming than when she’d left.