Author’s Notes: I have the privilege of publishing on several sites including Fanfiction, FictionPad, Archive of our Own, Fanfiction Affliction, The Writers Coffee Shop and my own WordPress site. As a result, not everyone gets to see my comments. As those who read and comment know, I respond to everyone, and especially enjoy chatting about the story and what’s to come. With the events I am attempting to capture I’ve either filled out existing characters or started from scratch. The next few chapters will introduce a few more original folks. Finn of Nebraska will play an important role, and will Eric’s new Sheriffs. Of course, we will also see some of our long-time favorites returning. I hope you enjoy seeing them come back to take their bows. I appreciate the enthusiasm of my readers and hope the story continues to entertain.
Thank you to Breathesgirl, my Canadian beta and fellow author and Ms Buffy, my Pittsburgh beta and cheerleader. Also, a shout out to American Android, whose banner is the image I look at when needing inspiration. She had returned to writing, and that is a wonderful thing!
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.
Nautical Note: When I first sailed I became familiar with books that described harbors and coastlines from a sailor’s perspective. I didn’t have true navigation, so when it was my turn at the wheel, I would site into something I could identify as being where I wanted to go, and then trim the sails and point into the wind until I could stay true to that fixed mark.
Sookie leaned against Eric’s shoulder on the drive home. Charles was in the passenger seat, Shari was driving, and no one was talking. Sookie had finished souvenir shopping at the Riverwalk, and then she and Eric had engaged in a testy conversation about whether the gifts should be shipped directly to Jason and his family or to the palace. The telepath had argued that she wouldn’t be deprived of the sight of her nephews’ faces when they opened their presents. Eric had responded that it meant that she would be spending more time away from him, and that she was looking for excuses.
As soon as the words left his mouth, Sookie knew they weren’t really arguing about gifts and travel. Something had happened, something more than the aggravation he had shown with Finn. She ended the topic by saying, “Fine, Eric Northman! If you feel the need to be attached at the hip, nothing could suit me better. You have a standing invitation to visit my brother and his wife, and I’m sure we could come up with suitable accommodations. You just let me know when you have a free night to spare for my family.”
Eric had apologized, but in a voice so low she really needed vampire hearing to make out the words and he’d been silent ever since. For her part, Sookie refused to treat him coldly. Damn it! She’d just had a nice evening out and about with her sweetie and she wasn’t going to let his pig-headedness ruin it.
When they pulled up to the resort, Charles jumped out and opened Eric’s door. Eric unfolded himself and stood looking straight ahead for a moment too long, leaving Sookie sitting in the car waiting for him to offer her his hand. When he did, she pushed him her annoyance and raised her eyebrows in the universal sign of ‘what’s your problem?’ Eric rolled his eyes and sent her contrition through their bond. “Yeah, you should be,” Sookie said in a low voice as she walked toward the doors. Behind the couple, Shari shot a look at Charles who shrugged in return.
As they stood in the lobby awaiting the elevator, Sookie slipped her hand into Eric’s. He looked surprised, but as he turned, he relaxed, his smile lighting up his face, and all was right with them again. Once on their floor, they walked ahead of the guards toward their room. James was positioned outside and he bowed at their approach.
“Did dinner arrive yet?” Eric asked him.
“Just now, Majesty,” he replied. “Steak, baked potato and some kind of chocolate dessert.” Sookie looked up at the vampire, the question clear on her face.
Eric smiled down at her, “You didn’t eat anything tonight,” he said simply. “You need your strength.”
“But, when?” Sookie asked.
“While we were driving here,” he told her. “I couldn’t let you starve so I texted ahead.” Sookie placed her hand on her Viking’s cheek, her love for him shining from her. Eric took that hand in his own, looked at itrunning his thumb across the back, and then turned it so he could kiss her palm, breathing in her scent in the process. James had the door open and Sookie turned to walk in first. As the door closed, Shari s ighed.
“They are a wonderful couple!” she said quietly.
“Yup, cute as can be,” James replied quickly, and then turned to Charles. “How’d it go?”
“You’re crazy,” Charles responded. “This is going to be the easiest twenty I ever made off you. They may be a little over the top, but I just don’t see them getting caught anywhere in public.”
“I didn’t say they had to be strutting for the world, just doing it outside of their room,” James smiled.
Shari shook her head, “You are both going to find yourselves in trouble. You saw him tonight. He was not exactly Mr. Nice. You keep playing this game, finding yourselves unemployed will be your best case scenario. You know what he’s capable of. Why poke a stick at that hornet’s nest?”
James shrugged, a wide grin splitting his face. Charles rolled his eyes, and then asked Shari, “Can you go check on Owen? If he’s ready, I could use some sleep.” Shari huffed out her disgust and headed down the corridor to bang on her partner’s door.
As she walked away, Shari could hear James ask Charles, “You’re sure?”
Sookie walked over to the small table and removed the cover from her plate. She sank down in the chair and looked up at Eric. The Viking pulled one calla lily from the vase, walked to where she sat, and extended the flower to her.
Sookie accepted the stem and brought the bloom to her lips. She kissed it, her eyes never leaving his. As she set the flower down on the table, he took the seat opposite hers. “I love you, Eric Northman. I love you so hard it makes my teeth ache,” she told him, her eyes shining.
Eric ran his fangs out, “I can think of many ways to make my teeth ache,” he told her with a smirk. When she blushed he glanced down, “Eat your dinner, Älskare, before it smells old.”
Sookie picked up the utensils. Within two bites, she realized how hungry she was and made fast work of the potato and most of the steak. She sipped the bottled water that came with the tray, and then, to her embarrassment, burped loudly. “Oh, I am so sorry!” she stammered and Eric laughed. Sookie took another slow sip before asking, “Okay, Eric. What happened tonight?”
She saw the tightening around his eyes, which he immediately attempted to hide by broadening his smile into a grimace. “What?” he challenged, “Besides you attracting yet another male? Nothing much!”
Sookie’s eyes narrowed, “I hate it when you do this. You know I can smell it when you try to bullshit me so why do you keep doing it?” Eric was giving her that smooth, guileless look and Sookie could feel her irritation growing, but then she had an epiphany. She suddenly realized that he was irritating her on purpose. He had been poking her ever since his little chat with Nabila. He was trying to pick a fight! “Oh, my God! You are doing this on purpose, aren’t you? You want me to get all riled up so we can fight, and we can fuck, and you won’t have to tell me what Nabila had to say!” She felt it through the bond and she nodded her head at him, “I’m right and we both know it.”
Eric’s face became stormy. “It was another marriage proposal,” he said bluntly, not trying to deny her accusation. “Word of our financial woes is traveling. She feels herself in some danger and she is willing to trade protection for money.”
Sookie’s mouth dropped, “What is it about you vampires and this marriage thing? Can’t you just draft a contract and shake hands? Why does it have to involve a marriage?”
Eric looked off to the side and crossed his arms. Sookie could see his jaw moving and knew he was grinding his teeth. “That saying, ‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely?’ When the deal involves monarchs, the stakes are high. There are kingdoms and power inherent in the arrangement. A marriage, a royal marriage, ensures that at least once a year your partner will be naked before you, defenseless, and required to share blood. It is a kind of mutual deterrent. You will know in that moment if your partner is betraying you and you will be in best position to do something about it.”
Sookie snorted, “Sounds romantic!” When Eric didn’t say anything further, Sookie asked the question she had to, “And what did you say, Eric?”
His head turned back to her and her heart broke to see the world-weary look his face now wore. “I told her that I appreciated her faith in my abilities, but that for present I would try to right my problems through other channels.”
“We’re in big trouble, aren’t we?” Sookie asked, feeling her steak not sitting so well.
Eric’s face broke into a boyish grin, “Of course, Lover! Why would now be any different?” He pushed his hunger toward her and Sookie stood to walk around the table and sit in his lap.
“Well, feels as if someone else could use a little supper,” she smiled, running a finger along his fangs. Eric opened his mouth a bit more and tilted his head back to accommodate her. Sookie placed her finger in his mouth and he sucked it, running his tongue against her fingertip. His eyes turned dark, and then Sookie turned her head so he could lick and nibble and bite.
Later, as they lay in bed, Sookie sleeping and the remnants of the red lingerie scattered around her, Eric pulled out his phone. Pam answered on the second ring.
“Good evening, Eric,” Pam greeted him, “How is Texas? Bought a Stetson and pointy-toed boots yet?”
Eric smirked, “I could make it look good. Report.”
“Initial reports appear to be accurate. The trouble in Area 5 has calmed down. There have been no new attacks and no further reports of strangers. Alcide texted me, congratulating us on our swift action. I took full credit.”
Eric stood up, carefully draping Sookie’s arm over the pillow. Even so, she shifted and moaned a little in her sleep. “Just a minute,” he said softly, and then moved quickly into the other room closing the bedroom doors behind him. Once he was settled, he started booting up his laptop, “So we have no idea why the attacks have ceased?”
“No,” Pam replied, “Rubio has had two trackers investigating things and Indira has been canvassing every Supe she can round up. They just stopped.”
Eric shook his head, “I wish I could relax, but I worry that this was just the beginning. Have you heard anything about Tranh?”
“New England?” Pam asked. “Not directly, other than what everyone is hearing. The fighting is heating up. Mikhail has been sending soldiers into her territory. Rumor is he’s smuggling them in using the drug trails. With the reported casualties, he has to be trapping and turning humans at a reckless rate.”
“Fool!” Eric hissed. “If that’s true, he could be endangering us all.”
“I had several conversations about New York with both Thierry and Thomas before you left,” Pam volunteered. “Of course I met the King when I opened Fangtasia Manhattan and the uptown club. He’s not the most attractive vampire, but he radiates power.
“Do we know who is Maker is?” Eric asked.
“No,” Pam replied, “And he’s not in Compton’s database.”
“How is that possible?” Eric wondered out out loud. “I thought all the monarchs were included.”
“Well, he isn’t. According to Thierry he’s old, but not as old as you. Misha wanted to talk about your Maker, Eric. He claims they were friends.”
“I’ve heard that story too,” Eric confirmed, “Although not from Appius. Pam, see what you can find out. Nabila is here. She told me that Tranh is finally dead and New England has already been given to one of Misha’s puppets.”
“Fuck a zombie, Eric! What the hell is going on?”
“What do you mean?” Eric asked.
“Karin was here….” Pam started.
Eric growled, “Do not speak her name. I have not forbidden you from seeing her, but you know there are boundaries. She is finally dead to me and I do not wish to remember that I made such a mistake.”
“I apologize,” Pam said, her voice sounding suitably chastened. “There is news, my Maker,” she began again, “News from the West. Robert of California has gone missing. His subjects have not seen him in several days.”
Eric felt the hand of premonition creep up his back, “Surely he has gone underground before,” he said cautiously.
“There are rumors that his disappearance and Portia’s accident are related,” Pam added.
“Who is the source of your rumors,” Eric asked.
“Sandy Seacrest,” Pam told him. Eric was not surprised to hear that Sandy had maintained some of her contacts. If she thought this, it was likely to be true. “Trouble is coming,” Pam said out loud.
Eric thought through the possibilities. “I want you to make sure there are contingency plans in place,” he told her. “Warn the Packs. Ask them to warn the shifters and other supes in our kingdom. Set up border patrols. Oh, and Pam?” he waited until she acknowledged his question before continuing, “Warn Stackhouse. Make sure he and his family have an exit plan ready.”
“Surely it wouldn’t come to that,” Pam said skeptically. “New York and California are a long ways away. We are surrounded by friends both in Amun and Zeus. How bad could it get? And why would anyone be interested in our kingdom?” Before Eric could respond, Pam filled in the blank, “De Castro?”
“It is the logical conclusion,” the Viking agreed. “He is one of the only vampires subtle enough to be able to orchestrate something similar to this.”
“What do you think the Ancient Pythoness will have to say?” Pam asked thoughtfully. “Surely she will put an end to this. Sandy told me she is there to arbitrate the Oregon succession.”
“I am unsure of her willingness to interfere,” Eric said. He didn’t know how to explain it. He had seen the A.P. involve herself in some disputes, but remain neutral in others. His instincts told him that they could expect no help from that quarter. “If she does adjudicate this matter, then things will settle, but plan accordingly. Contact Max and have him identify those who have the kind of training we will need. Do the same in Arkansas. There have to be vampires who know how to fight.”
“It will be as you say, Master,” Pam said.
“Thank you, Pam,” Eric told her. “Tell them this is not an aggressive action. I wish only to defend our borders and our own. We have put too much work into our plans to have them disrupted now.” Eric glanced at the bedroom, ‘I have too much to lose, now,’ he thought. ‘I will have stability.’ He gave Pam a minute and then switched to a more business-like tone, “How goes your investigation into the status of our accounts?”
Pam sensed that the topic was finished, “Well, Eric, Max and I have been in touch with every bank that holds our accounts. The forensic people are telling us that the leaching of your personal accounts stopped several months ago. They will continue to look for the source, but they are not holding out great hopes.”
“Nabila knew about our weakness,” Eric stated.
“I am not surprised,” Pam agreed. “With this many people answering questions, it was bound to get out into the market. It won’t make our ability to find loans any easier.” When Eric didn’t say anything more, Pam asked the obvious question, “What did Nabila offer for you?”
Eric chuckled mirthlessly, “Money, of course. Everyone seems interested in buying me, or at least the services I can provide.”
“What is wrong?” Pam asked. “You know how this goes. She is asking, which means you can set the terms. How hard could this be? Fuck her and be done with it!” When Eric didn’t respond, she asked, “Did you refuse her outright?”
Eric glanced at the bedroom door again, his chest aching. “No. I told her I would consider the offer, but I was not inclined. I asked if there was a different arrangement that might suit, but she was not enthusiastic.”
“This is about Sookie,” Pam said flatly.
“This is about maintaining my freedom to choose,” Eric snapped.
Pam sighed, “Eric, we need the money. You know this. If Nabila knows, Stan will also know. He will let you talk, but in the end he will not honor his agreements without collateral. You know you won’t be able to bluff through this.”
“If there is one thing my long life has taught me,” Eric told his Child, “It is that fate will provide what is necessary when it is needed. For now, I will hope.”
Once the call disconnected, Pam turned to Thalia. She knew Eric’s second had heard the entire conversation.
“He didn’t ask about the spies once,” the dark vampire observed.
“He must focus on his most immediate problem,” Pam replied. “Even he can only juggle so many balls at once.”
“There are other things he didn’t mention,” Thalia continued. “My guards report that the Mistress received a message from her fairy kin through Finn.”
“Nebraska? That must have made Eric happy,” Pam sniped with a roll of her eyes.
Thalia’s mouth quirked, “Which part?”
“Name it,” Pam drawled. “The new stud talking with his fairy obsession, interference from the in-laws… any idea what was said?”
“Niall invited her to the fairy realm. He has a place for her.”
“Of course he does! She wouldn’t make all our lives easier and go…” Pam smiled, but when she saw Thalia’s scowl her face became serious and she added, “Joking! We both know he can’t let go of her now.”
Thalia agreed, “Nor do I think he should. There is something at work here. There have been too many opportunities for them to part, but each has given way to making their bond stronger. I have lived too long to deny Fate when I see it. I don’t know if she is his salvation or his doom, but I accept that their lives are joined.”
Pam nodded, and then shuffled some papers on her desk, “I was successful in tracking down the names you sent. There is a man here, Ryan, who is an excellent tracker. I’ll give you his information. He welcomed the opportunity to prove his worth and seems anxious to please. Two of the five were harmless. One is finally dead and we updated the roster. The other two are undoubtedly spies.”
“You secured them?” Thalia asked.
“Of course,” Pam smiled broadly. “They are downstairs in my guest quarters. Rita didn’t do much to improve the place, but neither did she let it run to ruin. Peter Threadgill was one imaginative bastard, and his guest quarters are first rate.” Thalia smiled tightly. She knew that Pam was talking about the torture chambers in the lower level.
“Well, we should be proper hostesses,” the small, dark fighter said smoothly, “and see to their entertainment.”
The clock read two o’clock when Sookie finally opened her eyes. During her sleep she had shifted until she was draped over Eric. For his part, he had thrown a leg over, capturing her own. He was heavy, and shifting out from under him took some doing. Sookie showered, taking special care to wash herself, and then liberally lotioning all parts of her with a scent she knew Eric preferred.
She dried her hair, keeping the curls intact, and applied just a little light blush. She leaned down to kiss the sleeping vampire’s forehead, and then headed for the hall. She was sure there was a restaurant downstairs that would be catering to the non-vampire guests and she was hungry enough to eat her way through some serious Tex-Mex food. Owen and James nodded as she exited and Owen fell into step behind her while she headed for the elevators.
“You sleep okay?” Sookie asked over her shoulder.
“Like a top,” her guard replied. They had to wait for a couple elevators before they were presented with an empty car. When they were riding to the lobby, Owen held out an envelope with her name on it. “This was dropped off earlier,” he told her.
“Who brought it?” Sookie asked, slipping her finger under the flap.
“A young lady,” he said, not meeting her eyes.
The card was thick and had the wide border she had come to identify with her attorney, Mr. Cataliades, but the script was decidedly feminine. “Diantha!” Sookie said aloud. She looked up at Owen, her face wreathed in smiles, “How did she look?”
“Colorful,” the Were answered, and Sookie giggled.
The doors opened and Owen gestured toward the restaurant entrance. Sookie asked to be seated outside. The day was already warm and there were misters positioned on the deck to help keep the diners comfortable. Owen declined her offer to sit with her. “I can see more if I’m standing,” he explained. Sookie took a deep breath and settled back in the leather chair, looking out over the green of the golf course. It was a beautiful day, and just being in the late afternoon sun lifted her mood. She thought about the message she had received last night from her Great Grandfather and wondered how he had known she would be in Texas. She found herself looking around, almost expecting him to walk up and join her. Sookie laughed at herself and was just settling back to sip her coffee when she felt a presence behind her. She whipped her head around expecting to see a familiar cane, but instead she found herself looking at Twy.
“Mind if I join you?” the publicist asked in her pinched accent.
“Suit yourself!” Sookie replied and made herself smile to show she had nice manners, but inside she was wilting. Sookie didn’t need to poke into Twy’s head to know that she was in for a lecture, and Twy didn’t disappoint.
“I take it the matter of the divorce is settled?” she asked in a tone that said she was well aware it was not.
“Nope,” Sookie said breezily. “Not yet!”
“So,” Twy breathed out, her lips thin and her eyes narrowed, “you and the Northman are committing social suicide?”
Sookie could feel her own mouth turning down, “Eric and I are tired of hiding. Our not being public about our relationship is creating all kinds of problems for us. Besides, based on the questions you were feeding that television guy, I figured you were pretty well on board.”
“Then you would be wrong!” Twy snapped back. “Fortunately for you both, I make it a point to anticipate the stupid moves my clients will make. Watching the two of you circle in on each other over the past few weeks, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to predict that he was going to stake his claim. It would have been smarter though if you had figured a way out of the phantom marriage first.”
Sookie shrugged as nonchalantly as she could manage, and stood up to help herself from the buffet table. Twy trailed her, making comments and critiques of the offerings. Sookie loaded her plate with enchiladas, roasted vegetables, and chicken meat in soft taco shells. Twy followed her back to the table with her own plate on which sat things that had been placed on the buffet table as garnishes. Sookie pasted her smile in place and proceeded to eat. Twy seemed to watch every forkful that traveled to her mouth until Sookie was so self-conscious she lost her appetite. Twy tilted her head and said, “You either have an amazing metabolism or your horizontal cardio is first class.” Sookie was thinking about just slapping the redhead when Twy sat back and said, “At least I have the presence of mind to get the Hollywood angle going. WIth luck, the media will pick it up and there will be so much interest in the real life aspects of your romance that they let your less savory issues alone, at least for now.” Twy stood and waved her hand. Sookie looked to see Sonder who had been standing near Owen. At her boss’ gesture the assistant said something to the Were and then walked forward to join her boss. “Get the divorce settled,” Twy said sharply. “Get your attorney to look into doing it in another country. It may not be recognized by Louisiana but at least it would give you some cover for what you’re doing!” With one last huff and an eyeroll, Twy walked back into the hotel, leaving her half-nibbled lettuce leaf and untouched parsley behind.
Sookie shook her head at her uneaten breakfast. After watching the publicist she felt all kinds of fat. She was just about to give up and leave when she found Owen standing behind her. “Sonder told me that your New York friend wasn’t hungry this morning because she had half a bottle of gin and about 2 pounds of chocolate last night. Guess she doesn’t know much about eating healthy, does she, Mistress?” Sookie smiled gratefully when Owen lifted her coffee cup and said, “Why don’t I go refresh this?” Sookie realized her appetite had returned.
As Sookie walked into the hotel lobby, she recognized the familiar face of Mr. Cataliades. He was standing next to a slight woman with short pink hair. As soon as he saw her, his round face broke into a smile, “My dear Miss Stackhouse,” he called out to her. “This is a pleasant surprise!”
“Hihowyadoing?” Diantha asked. The paisley print of her short dress matched her hair almost perfectly. Sookie thought the white go-go boots showed a certain style. Sookie noticed Twy standing near the front windows talking on her cell phone. The publicist paused, turned, and looked approvingly. Sookie was worried that the publicist would walk back in their direction, but Mr. Cataliades turned to look at Twy as well. Sookie couldn’t see what Mr. C. did, but the tall red-head looked startled and then almost scared when she turned away and walked out front doors.
“I’m doing fine,” Sookie told the young demon. “You look well. Working for the Ancient Pythoness must suit you.”
“She’sbusythat’sforsure,” the younger woman answered in her rushed way, and then smiled with a mouth full of very white, very pointy teeth.
Mr. Cataliades gestured toward a seating area that resembled a gentlemen’s club. There was a gas fire in the fireplace and bookcases lining the walls. He led them to a small sofa and a couple chairs. Sookie noticed they had the space all to themselves.
Sookie thought about last night and the appearance of the Nebraska King. “What do you know about Finn, Mr. Cataliades?”
“I assume you are referring to the King?” the attorney asked, and when she nodded, he added, “and you want information specific to his relationship with your Great Grandfather?” Sookie had a moment of surprise and then smiled.
“Assuming you picked that out of my head, but yes, I met him last night and he told me Grandfather wants me in the Fae Realm?” The lawyer glanced briefly at his niece who returned his look with interest. ‘Wonder what that’s about?’ Sookie thought.
“I am not surprised your Grandfather decided to take a more direct route,” the attorney said with a slightly apologetic smile. “You have not spent as much time with the elf as either of us would have anticipated.” The attorney’s look became sharper, “Are you not interested in developing your skills?”
Sookie was just about to protest that she was when she realized that maybe she wasn’t. There was something frightening about her wild magic. She had become adept at calling things to her and sending them away, and she could read Weres as easily as she read humans. She hadn’t tried scrying since that day in Bon Temps when Bellenos had told her about her Gran. She thought about the other things the elf had expected her to demonstrate, cloaking her smell or appearance and actually changing how she looked. She wasn’t sure how she felt about those skills. They seemed sneaky and all the things she liked least about supes in general. Then she thought about how not knowing how to control them could be a problem too. “I guess it does give me pause,” she said softly. “Truth be told, I don’t even know what my gifts might be, but maybe the ones I’ve heard about are it.”
Mr. Cataliades sighed. “It is possible there are more, but what is important to your Grandfather is that he sent a trainer and you have not made that part of yourself a priority.” The attorney smiled ruefully, “I suppose he was hoping that if you became more aware of your heritage, you would find yourself tempted by the possibilities of Fae. I have explained to him that you have made your choice now and will not change your mind. I suspect his sending Finn was a test.”
Sookie was puzzled, “Why would Grandfather doubt you?” she asked.
“Uncleistoofondofya,” Diantha supplied. “ItmakesthePrincequestionhisneutrality.”
“Oh,” Sookie said, “well, I’m real fond of your Uncle too.” Sookie turned to the attorney and leaned over to place her hand on his. “I want to thank you for everything. I know I haven’t said it enough, but I am so happy and I know I have you to thank.”
“It is nothing, Miss Stackhouse,” the demon lawyer tutted, “Although I would be happier myself if the matter of your divorce was behind you. I assure you I have made every effort, but find myself humbled by the bureaucracy of the human Court system.”
“I know you have, Mr. Cataliades… Desmond. I wish it was over too, for all kinds of reasons,” Sookie thought about her conversation with Twy just that morning. Sookie bit her lip a bit, and then another question came to her, “Finn mentioned that Grandfather is in Nebraska. Is that true?”
“I have heard there is a Portal there, one that is guarded on this side by friends of the Fae. The Nebraska King is one of those friends. I don’t know Finn well. He keeps to himself, even among vampires. This is the first Summit he has attended in my memory.” Sookie knew that the attorney was many hundreds of years old. “Since I have not seen his name on any agenda, I assume he came here specifically to deliver the Prince’s message and to provide the Prince another first-hand account of your situation.”
“Why wouldn’t Grandfather just call me?” Sookie asked and then she smiled, “I guess he never was much of one to pick up a phone or send an email.”
The attorney smiled as well. “I believe it is a matter of principle with him. He might have simply presented himself, but you are now surrounded by unknown vampires and that would serve as a deterrent.”
Sookie snickered, “Yup, I could see that, but why now? Why is he suddenly so interested?”
The lawyer and his niece exchanged another quick look. “I believe,” the attorney said slowly, “The Prince is becoming worried about his legacy.”
Sookie was puzzled. “What are you saying?” she asked directly.
“I am not sure,” Mr. Cataliades demurred, and then looked to his niece. “I believe you had something you wished to show Sookie before all the meetings start?”
Diantha jumped up, “It’sinmyroom. Comewithme?” and the slight demon started gliding swiftly toward the elevator, not looking back. Sookie stood, gave one last, frustrated huff at the attorney, and followed. Neither woman spoke during the short ride to the demon’s floor. At the door, Diantha turned, “Itreallyisgoodtoseeya!” she said.
Sookie walked in ahead of the demon and didn’t realize that Diantha wasn’t behind her until the door closed. Sookie took two more steps into a sitting area identical to the one upstairs in the suite she shared with Eric. The lighting was low, but she couldn’t miss the thin figure sitting in the chair near the windows, white, wild hair framing her face. “Well, Woman, are you going to greet me?” the crone asked.
Sookie gulped. It had been many years since she had seen the Ancient Pythoness in Rhodes. There had been so many things in play then, her initial bonding, the trial of Queen Sophie-Anne, and the bombing of the hotel. Seeing the blind eyes, unfocused and looking in her direction brought it all back. “It’s nice to see you again, Ma’am,” Sookie stumbled, her Gran’s training saving her. The telepath wondered if she should make mention of the Pythoness’ appearance, which was still pretty haggard, and decided against it.
“Not so quick to speak this time, I see,” the older vampire observed, proving she was still as sarcastic as Sookie remembered. “No great revelations to share? No proofs to lay down before me?”
Sookie stared at her shoes and then figured in for a penny, “Can I get you anything?” she offered.
The crone’s lips stretched mirthlessly, “Always so polite. I can see why there are those who think well of you.” Her narrow nostrils flared briefly, “Including the VIking, it would appear. You were bonded to him the last time we met, but not like this. You have permanently tied him to you with your magic. It must be strong because even I have trouble smelling your presence.” Sookie gulped, not sure what she should do when the Pythoness gestured towards an empty chair. “Sit, Fairy,” she commanded.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Sookie replied and walked slowly forward. She sat very straight in the chair the Pythoness offered, crossing her ankles as if she was in church.
Beside her the Pythoness was chuckling, “They tell me you are a killer; that you have ended many of my kind, and yet you sit beside an old, crippled woman reeking of fear. So what is it, Fairy? Are you afraid of an old blind woman?”
“Yes Ma’am, yes I am,” Sookie said, a lump forming in her throat.
“Good!” the crone hissed, “You should be! The future should never be approached lightly. Now give me your hand,” the Ancient Pythoness held out her own gnarled hand flat. Sookie swallowed one more time, took a deep breath, and then placed her hand, palm down on the other woman’s. The Pythoness moved with the speed of her namesake, grabbing hold of the telepath’s hand with surprising strength and pulling Sookie almost out of her seat. “You may have one sight, telepath, but I have another.” She brought her other bony hand forward and grabbed Sookie’s wrist, locking her in place, and then the Ancient Pythoness seemed to relax. Her jaw dropped slightly open and her eyes seemed to focus on something far away. Sookie was amazed at the change. The seer was no longer frail or disoriented. It was as though everything in the room and around her ancient form was suddenly nothing more than a lens through which she came into sharper focus. She held Sookie’s hand, totally still, for what seemed to be ages, but was probably only a minute or so, and then she exhaled, her breath dry. She released the hand she held and almost seemed to recoil herself back into her chair. Sookie swallowed again and waited.
Time passed and Sookie was wondering if it was possible the older vampire had gone into down time with her eyes wide open. Finally, she couldn’t stand it anymore. “What did you see?” she asked.
The Pythoness rotated her head so that she was facing in Sookie’s direction, “You are curious about your future?” she asked. “Be sure you want to know, because knowing could change it.”
“Well, is it good?” Sookie couldn’t help but ask.
The Pythoness laughed, “How do you define ‘good’ Fairy?” It was not a friendly laugh and Sookie wondered if she should just leave, but her curiosity was so strong she could almost taste it.
“Well, can you tell me one thing?” she said, her voice less sure.
The Ancient Pythoness turned her head a little, her hair seeming to lift and drift around her sunken features. “Yes, I can tell you one thing,” she smiled. “You had many paths before you. Now there are only a few,” and she sat back, seemingly satisfied.
Sookie recognized she was being dismissed. She stood up and started shuffling toward the door, but with each step she took it got harder. She had to know! She turned around to find the Pythoness standing directly behind her and she jumped almost out of her skin. The old woman leaned forward, her yellow fangs inches from Sookie’s face. “You want more, Fae? You have skills, use them, but beware. You can see many futures. Be sure you know which the right one is.” Sookie gulped, turned and bolted for the door, leaving the Ancient Pythoness standing in the middle of the room. When Sookie thought back to this time, she would remember that the Pythoness was taller than Sookie had thought.
Diantha was standing in the hall when she practically ran out the door. “Youdoingokay?” the demon asked. “Comeon. I’lltakeyoutoUncle,” and she turned and just about sprinted back down the hall to the elevators. By the time Sookie got there, the car was waiting. Diantha took Sookie back downstairs and then out onto the same patio where she had eaten earlier. The waiters were lighting candles on the tables and the sun was fully set. She walked Sookie to a table that was set on the edge of the area. Sookie recognized the attorney, but didn’t recognize the blond woman beside him. He was speaking in an animated manner, his smile broad, and he bowed his head to the woman. As Diantha and Sookie approached, the woman turned. It was Karin the Slaughterer.
“Hello, Sookie,” Karin greeted her, and she stood, walked over to the shocked telepath, and gathered her into a hug. “It is good to see you looking well.”
Sookie wasn’t sure what she should do. She knew Eric was not speaking with Karin. In fact, he had disowned her, and here she was with Mr. Cataliades practically beaming behind her.
“I’m not sure I should be speaking with you, Karin,” Sookie said, but in spite of herself, she hugged the vampire right back. “I don’t know exactly what happened between you and Eric, but whatever it is, I am so sorry for both of you.”
“It was my fault,” Karin said dryly. “I would have harmed you and destroyed your relationship with my Maker. It was a mistake. I see that now.” Karin stepped back, Sookie walked to the table, and with a forced smile, sat down, and then gestured to the empty chair, inviting Karin to do the same.
“You watched over me for a whole year,” Sookie said with a small nod and a tremble to her lip, “and during that whole year my life felt pretty good.” Sookie leaned forward and took Karin’s hand in hers, “And you killed Sam for me. I will owe you for that for the rest of my life.”
Mr. Cataliades spoke up from across the table, “You can now add a divorce to the things you owe Karin.” He held up a flash drive. Sookie turned to Karin, her questions clear on her face.
“Sam Merlotte made videos of you and he sent them to Freyda.”
Sookie’s mouth fell open and a breathy, “Oh!” escaped her. She reached toward the flash drive, her hand shaking.
“No!” Karin said firmly. “There is no reason you should ever re-live any part of that. Trust your attorney. He will make this right, and I will have made some small part of my wrong right with it.” Karin stood then, “I wish you well, Sookie Stackhouse. I know you and Eric will be wonderful together.”
“Will I see you again?” Sookie asked.
“I don’t think so,” Karin told her. When Sookie looked as if she was going to say something, Karin shook her head. “I am on my way to kill a friend. You will hear news about events in the west soon. Be careful, Sookie. De Castro is up to his old schemes.”
“You could come back,” Sookie said reasonably, “I’ll talk with Eric. There has to be a way to make this right between you.”
“I don’t expect to live through this,” Karin said with a shrug. “He’s good. Better than me.” She smiled a little, “Tell Eric that I was never better than when I made him proud,” and Karin was gone.
Mr. Cataliades looked at the telepath, his eyes understanding, “You have had a trying afternoon,” he said evenly.
Sookie’s laugh resembled a bark. “Sure have, and now it’s full dark, and I’m sure Eric is wondering where in the world I am.”
“Not to worry,” the attorney smiled, patting her hand, “I texted him and he will be expecting you to join him in your rooms for dinner.” Sookie took a deep breath and stood up. She thought about everything that had happened and wondered how she was going to make enough sense of it to tell Eric.
“Who do you work for?” Eric growled.
Jane kept her face turned to her shoes, “I am loyal to you and to the Regent, Majesty. I did deliver a message for Niall, but that was to your benefit.”
“Explain,” the King hissed, his fangs exposed.
Jane knew that if her explanation was not convincing the King could and would end her. “I come from Phoebe’s Court,” she started, “and I worked to help in the genetics laboratory at the university. That is how I came to meet the Prince.” She glanced at Eric quickly and then continued, “He submitted himself for testing along with his hybrid offspring…”
“Dermot?” Eric asked.
“Yes,” Jane confirmed. “They were searching for a way to reproduce. It really is very sad. They have lived for thousands of years but the conditions here have damaged them. The Prince hoped that since his son was a hybrid, something could be done, but he was too Fae and had lived here too closely exposed to contaminants. They were still trying when I left, but things were not looking promising. Anyway, we became friends,” and Jane peeked up at the King again.
“Go on,” Eric said coldly.
“I traveled to Nebraska. I met Finn. There is a portal there. Finn and his guards watch it. On full moons the Prince and his people come through and they ride over the prairie under the moonlight. It’s beautiful.”
“I’ve seen it,” Eric told her.
Jane nodded, “When this opportunity came up, I mentioned to the Prince that I would be leaving to serve in your Court. The Prince was very interested. He told me about the Mistress and their relationship. He begged my help to make sure that she was with you of her own free will.”
Jane cringed a little as Eric hissed and surged forward, “And you reported?” he demanded.
“Yes, I reported that she was devoted to you. I told him the bond was permanent and she would not leave you unless under compulsion. He asked a proof and I manufactured it…”
“The letter,” Eric snarled.
“Yes, Lord. That was me, but it served its purpose. Niall sent Finn whom he trusts almost as a son. It was as you saw. Finn will confirm what I have said, and you will have the support of the Fae Prince in all your endeavors.” Jane looked up now, her face composed, “Kill me if you desire. My life is pledged to you and I serve at your pleasure, but know that I have done you a great service in this,” and she waited.
Eric fought his urge to rip her head from her shoulders. She had not been open with him. As her pledged liege she should have told him all of this from the beginning. What she did was not exactly treason, but neither did it fulfill her contract.
“We have meetings tonight. Your conduct in support of the kingdom will be viewed and judged. I will discuss this matter with Pam. You live for tonight,” and Eric swung around and left. He knew his face told the extent of his rage when Charles took a step backward before swinging forward to follow him down the hall.
Sookie decided to take a shower while she waited for Eric’s return. James had told her the King had asked if she could wait dinner until his return. Sookie’s head was whirling. What to say and how to say it? The warm water of the shower helped her to calm her thoughts. She kept returning to the cryptic conversation with the Pythoness. Sookie stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself in a towel. She looked at the sink and remembered the old crone’s words. ‘I could take a peek if I wanted,’ she thought.
Sookie walked into the sitting room and looked around. She found a reading lamp with a flexible neck that she unplugged it and took into the bathroom. She filled the sink and then plugged in the lamp turning the head against the wall so that the room was mostly in shadow. The water in the sink reflected the light fixture above it. Sookie stood over it and allowed her vision to slip into the reflection. It felt as if she was reaching just below the surface of the water and then the reflection changed.
Sookie saw herself looking around a crowded room. She could see Eric, resplendent, some distance in front of her standing on a dais surrounded by thrones. Pam stood by him and they were smiling at each other. She was standing below in the crowd and she seemed to be wearing a heavy dress. She was turning, looking for something; and through the crowd a small boy ran to her and threw his arms around her and she realized he was hugging her pregnant belly. “Mama!” he smiled up at her, his snub nose identical to Jason’s at that age.
Sookie took a step back, the breath knocked out of her and the vision gone. She swallowed painfully. What could it mean? The Pythoness’ words came back to her, ‘Be sure you know which the right one is.’