Author’s Note: My thanks to Breathesgirl and to Ms Buffy. You are amazing and generous women!
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 searching for something at sea you plot out grids on a chart and then make assignments to those who are sailing with you. When seen from above, and well executed, it makes for an inspiring view of precision and seamanship.
Eric swung down the hallway, Charles moving swiftly behind him. Eric was making an effort to control his speed so he wouldn’t outstrip the guard, but his irritation was making it difficult. ‘Niall!’ Eric could see the face of the Fairy ruler, smug and condescending, as if their troubles were not pressing enough!
Relations between the Viking and the Prince had never been cordial. They had first met when Eric was still with his Maker. While the first encounter had not been unpleasant, the Viking was well aware of where the Prince placed him in any pecking order, and it wasn’t at the head of the line. Fae and vampires tolerated each other reasonably well, as long as the interactions were out of doors. In confined spaces and without some form of blocking magic, the scent of fairy mixed with vampire reminded Eric of a television show he had seen once on the effect of combining blood and sharks. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the Prince was able to control his scent and so they had never found themselves locked in mortal combat.
Of course Eric and the fairy prince had fought, sometimes against each other, but more recently on the same side. When Sookie was taken by Niall’s enemies, Eric had ignored his own boss’ orders, taking sides with the Sky Fae in what was a Fae conflict. It had been the final nail in the coffin between Victor Madden and himself. Eric and Victor had danced around each other after that, both feigning courtesy, but Eric knew that his actions in siding with Niall and saving his wife had signed a final death warrant. The Viking was happy that it had turned out to be Victor’s final death and not his own.
With the many twists and turns of his long life, being related by marriage to Niall had never entered his mind as a possibility. Eric couldn’t help the grim smile that tilted his lips. Of all the creatures he could have chosen as a father-in-law, the Fae Prince did not make the top twenty. Twisty and devious were words he associated with Niall. Who knew how a fairy thought? The Viking’s steps were besieged by woes: financial, personnel, infrastructure. Finding himself dogged now at each turn by the Prince’s agents made the entire enterprise unbearable. Eric realized he was growling when the elevator doors slid open.
Eric thought about this latest demonstration of the Prince’s interference. The Viking had met Finn in past. They had been on the same side of several trade deals, but their interaction had been brief. Rumors of Fae presence on the tall, red-headed King’s lands were longstanding. The connection between Nebraska and the Fae supposedly dated back to Finn’s origins in Ireland, but Eric had learned that without firsthand account, taking these stories at face value was a risky business. Eric couldn’t keep the sneer off his face. Only the Prince of the Sky Fae would have turned Nebraska into a messenger boy! His own choice of Sheriff, Jane, being revealed as some form of agent was more salt in the wound. Eric was still surprised at his forbearance. Jane should be finally dead. He couldn’t think what impulse had stayed his hand, and then he did. She was involved with Niall, Eric was now inextricably involved with Niall, and Sookie’s essential presence in his life involved a fairy price tag. Eric growled more loudly.
As they exited on the right floor, Eric was grinding his teeth. Owen took one look at the King’s face, moved the key to the lock, and swiftly twisted the handle.
The door swung open and the smell enveloped Eric, overwhelming all his defenses. His fangs dropped, his cock stiffened, and he was salivating. Fairy! He could see Sookie’s shocked face turning to him from her place on the sofa. She went pale when his instinctual reaction slammed through him, and then through the bond into her. It was everything he could do to pull himself back into the hall. “Slam the door,” he gasped. He leaned against the far wall and waited for his reaction to decrease.
Sookie slipped out the door after a minute; “Is it me?” she asked timidly and slowly walked closer. He sniffed quickly and then was able to relax.
“No, it must have been in the room,” and then his eyes narrowed, “Who was in there with you?” he hissed. On some level, Eric knew it was his instincts on overdrive that were doing the talking. That smell had triggered feeding, fucking, and now extreme possessiveness. On some level it frustrated him that his control could so easily be stripped by his nature, but the vampire part of him was strutting all his bad behaviors and he was having the devil’s own time slipping a leash back on it.
Sookie laid her hand against his chest, pushing calm and trust to him, “No one was with me. I was practicing a skill. It must be pretty potent. I’ve opened the slider to get some air moving. I am so sorry! I don’t smell it the way you do.” Sookie ignored the guards, the hallway, everything but the vampire standing before her. “I am here, with you,” she whispered, “There is no one else.” Eric could feel his inner turmoil calming, his need to stake his claim with fang and cock becoming less sharp. He dropped his head and she tilted her own head to lean against his chest. When he was calmer she asked, “Do you want to check and see if the scent has cleared out?” He nodded, walked across the hall, and opened the door just a crack. The breeze from the balcony blew past him and out into the hallway, and the crisis was past.
Eric walked back into the sitting area, Sookie following him through the open door. When she was sure the room was clear, she turned and nodded to Owen who pulled the door shut. “What were you doing, Lover?” he asked, his voice strained.
“Scrying,” she looked abashed.
“Fortune telling? Why? Is the world we know not enough? Do you need to borrow trouble from the future too?”
Sookie huffed, “I thought maybe I’d get an answer or two,” she protested, crossing her arms over her chest.
“And you didn’t!” Eric snapped, “Fae parlor tricks never provide anything but more riddles!”
Sookie’s eyes narrowed, “Well, who crapped in your corn flakes, Eric?” she snipped angrily. “Is this nasty behavior personal to me or you just pissed off at my whole damn race?” The telepath knew she had made a mistake when she saw his eyes narrow to blue ice right back at her.
“Of course it is my fault!” he hissed, “You would have no way of knowing how being covered in Fae affects me. Why hesitate to flood our chambers with the stench of fae magic?” Eric pulled back then, crossing his own arms over his chest, “It is a good thing I hesitate to bring anyone into any space we share until I know what I’m walking into…”
“You bastard!” she yelled, her hand swinging to connect with his cheek. Her mouth was a shocked ‘O’ when she saw her handprint in red sharply outlined against the pallor of his skin, and she burst into tears. ‘You’re right! I didn’t think. If someone had been with you…” Sookie cried in ugly, hiccupping sobs.
The stiffness in Eric’s stance just dissolved as he stepped to her and folded her into his arms, “I am sorry, Lover. It has been a difficult evening. The scent caught me by surprise,” and then he said in a voice she had to strain to hear, “I was afraid I would hurt you,” he stroked her back, kissing the top of her head. Sookie clutched the front of his shirt and indulged herself in crying out all the nervous frustration of her day.
When she cried herself dry, reduced to heaving hiccups, she said, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking,” and she unclenched her hands so she could wrap them around his waist and pull him close. Sookie felt the minute Eric’s sentiments turned from comforting to needing. His thumbs moved up her sides, running along the curve of her breasts. Sookie turned her face up to him, “Are you sure you don’t want to talk first?” she asked.
He sighed, and then licked his lips, “I know what I should do, but I don’t think I will be able to concentrate…” and his words ended in a hiss as she ran her fingers along his hard length. It was all the permission he needed. He bent just enough to get his hands under her thighs and then lift her, wrapping her legs around him. He looked around quickly and then had her back against the nearest wall. “Hold on,” he rasped. Sookie heard and felt the ripping of her panties and she could feel the cool of air across her heated core followed by the cool hard of Eric. She barely had time to adjust before he was moving within her in a determined way. She looked up to see him straining, his face turned skyward, his fangs extended. She could feel his need to claim her and she thought as hard as she could ‘Come and get me!’ and he did.
They were lying naked on the couch. Sookie was draped across Eric’s lap, her head leaning on his shoulder, and they were looking at the hole he had knocked in the wall when he slapped his hand for balance just a little too hard. Sookie was pretty sure he’d broken a finger, but it had already healed. She sighed, “Well, that will be hard to explain!”
Eric stopped toying with her hair and chuckled. “People will assume I was threatening someone. It happens all the time. They just add the charge to the bill.”
Sookie let her head loll a bit, enjoying the way her body felt completely loose. “You feel better, Sweetie?” she asked.
“Sweetie?” Eric grimaced. “I think I like Buster better.”
Sookie smiled in a dreamy way, “Well, that’s too bad, because you are definitely my Sweetie now.”
“As long as I’m not your bitch…” Eric smirked.
“Nasty!” she protested, half-heartedly swatting him. Then she settled back, her smile widening, “I don’t know how you feel about it, but I definitely feel better about everything. There is something about a good, solid cry that just makes everything in me unwind.”
“Are you telling me that is how you relieve tension?” Eric felt wary but he also felt relieved. This answered something he had suspected; that his Intended’s crying was sometimes intentional and not just tied to sadness.
“Well, yeah, I guess it is, sometimes,” she shrugged. “Not as if I can go for a long walk or spar with Thalia. Where is Thalia, by the way? I expected her to be here.”
Eric sniffed the air, enjoying the scents that drifted from their bodies, “She offered to stay behind and work on your little project.”
“Which project would that be?” Sookie asked, not being able to think of what he might mean.
“Your lists, Lover, the names you provided. Still, you are changing the subject. Your crying was not because you were injured? You cried because…”
“After the day I had? I needed it as a way to relieve pressure.”
“Oh?” Eric’s eyebrow arched upward as his hand stroked in a leisurely way between her legs, “and I didn’t help you enough?”
Sookie giggled, pushing at his hand, “You were a big help,” and she cupped his softened penis. When he leered, she leaned way back, stretching like a cat, and making a contented sound, “but sometimes, when I just feel overwhelmed? Crying my eyes out helps too.”
When he continued to look at her as if she was a specimen in a laboratory, Sookie huffed and stood up, “So, is Jane still just dead?”
“Are you asking if I killed her?” Eric remained seated, but made a point of watching appreciatively as Sookie walked around the room, bending over to pick up things and throwing away clothing that couldn’t be salvaged. She was bent over retrieving a sock when she looked past her legs to see the Viking’s fangs descending again.
“Enough of that! The official meet and greet is in a little over an hour and we both need to shower!” she laughed. “Yes! I am asking if you spared her.”
“Yes,” he told her, and then stood up in a fluid motion that included raising his hands and bending backward, the vertebrae of his back cracking and popping one by one.
Sookie waited until he straightened up and then leaned down to pick up part of his shirt to ask, “Why?”
“You really have become most bloodthirsty!” Eric widened his eyes, a look of approval on his face. ”I am so proud of you!” When Sookie’s expression didn’t change, he continued, “She claims to be tied to your Grandfather. I will wait until I understand that connection. If it is as she says and her actions were for our benefit, then I will have earned a favor. If this interference is not to our benefit, she will be dead,” the Viking shrugged, “In any event there was no advantage to ending her now.”
Sookie took the rags from Eric’s hands and turned to walk toward the bedroom, dropping the scraps in the wastebasket along the way, “Mr. Cataliades said something today about Grandfather being worried about his legacy, and then he got mysterious. I don’t know what to make of that!”
Eric had been following rather closely, but at the word ‘legacy’ stopped for a moment. “Sookie, when you were in Iowa, did Phoebe say anything to you about knowing Niall or Dermot?”
Sookie thought for a minute, her nose crinkling, and her eyes thoughtful, “No. She just gave me a boatload of shit for seducing you away from where you belonged.”
Eric smiled briefly, “Yes, you are a bad influence.” When Sookie stuck her tongue out at him, he leered, “Don’t offer what you aren’t prepared to use, Lover!”
Sookie walked into the bathroom and started the shower. She walked back to him and took his hand, a wide smile on her face as she tugged him toward her, “Well, you better be prepared for a long time of bad influencing from me. Karin showed up today…”
“I don’t want to hear her name, Sookie.” All trace of humor was gone from his face. He seemed to stand even taller than before and he had that odd appearance of stillness that most vampires affected, but Eric so rarely exhibited. Sookie thought it was why Eric appeared livelier and more engaged than others did.
Sookie shook her head, “Well, you are going to hear it!” As she was just about to say the words, the reality of what Karin had done and what it meant hit her. Sookie reached out and placed her hand on Eric’s bare chest. She looked up at him, and allowed her happiness and her hope to flow through her. Eric’s expression softened just a hair and that was what she needed. “Did you know there was a video of me? One that Sam took? Freyda had it.” Eric’s eyes narrowed. The anger he was feeling and his growling was all the answer she needed. “Somehow Karin had it. She gave it to Mr. Cataliades today so he could set me free,” Sookie nodded a little, “Eric, I’m going to get that divorce!”
Eric’s expression didn’t change. He raised his own hand to place over hers and pushed caution at her. “There have been many promises in past, Sookie. Do not count on this until we know for sure.”
She searched his face, “Are you having second thoughts?” she asked.
The Viking solemnly shook his head, “No, Älskade, but I will wait to make certain before I celebrate.”
Sookie couldn’t help feeling disappointed, “Yeah, I guess I see your point,” she said, biting her lip. Eric lifted her chin, running his thumb along the line of her lower lip.
“I am hopeful, Lover,” and he took her hand again, pulling her toward the shower.
Sookie stood her ground so that he turned back to her, “If this does the trick and I’m set free, will you reconsider freezing Karin out?”
Eric stilled, and Sookie could tell he was probing their bond. After a long moment he tilted his head, “It would please you if I were to reinstate her?”
“She is your progeny, Eric, your first! I don’t want to be the reason you lost each other,” Sookie pushed all her caring and sincerity towards him, hoping that he could feel it in the right measure.
‘You are not,” he snapped sharply, but at her sad look, Eric allowed a small smile, “Your heart is too soft.”
“It’s not just me being sentimental! She killed Sam. I wanted to…” Sookie thought back to that day in Nashville, how she had studied the shifter from across the convention center and imagined how she would kill him. She thought of how she had her moment and she had frozen. He would have hurt her again and continued the nightmare if Karin hadn’t taken action. “I will owe her forever,” Sookie said solemnly. Eric nodded, and then moved to pull her with him into the large glass shower stall.
Eric turned her to face away from him and positioned her under the rain forest shower head. As he soaped her shoulders, he asked, “What prompted you to play with magic today, Lover?”
Sookie had her hands raised, holding her hair out of the way , her eyes closed, “Something the Ancient Pythoness said,” she sighed, feeling the knots in her muscles loosening under his skilled massage.
Eric’s hands stopped their motion, Sookie opened her eyes and turned her head to meet his considering stare, “You have certainly had a busy day, Sookie,” he said cautiously, “It seems there is much you haven’t told me.” Sookie dropped her hair and turned fully around. She held his eyes and took the soap from his hand. She soaped up both her hands and after placing the soap on the tray, started massaging the flat planes of his chest pressing hard. The Viking didn’t as much as sway under her hands. “Sookie?” Eric growled again, clearly waiting for her to explain.
The telepath exhaled noisily, “There isn’t much to tell. Diantha took me to see her. She remembered me from Rhodes. She was snarky and scary as hell, just like before.”
“Lover…” Eric growled.
“She didn’t tell me anything, Eric! She grabbed my hand. I’m pretty sure she got something from me but when I asked her, all she said was my path was more certain and if I wanted to know more I could find out myself.”
Eric placed both hands over hers to stop her movements, “She must have summoned you for a reason,” he said reasonably. “I think you are right. She got what she needed from her contact with you.” He tilted his head, his next words not really directed at her, “But why you, Älskade?” Having made a decision, he smiled briefly, lifted one hand to kiss it, and then placed the soap back in her other. At her raised eyebrows, he lifted his own arms above his head, placing his hands on the ceiling of the shower, “I am still very sticky, Sookie. You are not paying proper attention to your job!”
Her eyes narrowed, Sookie resumed washing. “You’re pretty sassy for a naked man!”
Eric stretched, smiled more broadly, and thrust his chest towards her, “Do your worst, my warrior!”
They were dressed and headed toward the meeting rooms for the official opening of the Summit when Sookie remembered something Eric had asked her. “Why did you ask about Phoebe? Why does it sound like maybe she knows my Grandfather and Uncle Dermot?” she asked.
Eric sent her a quick shot of caution through their bond and Sookie remembered that with their hearing and surrounded as they were, both vampires and Weres would be able to hear pretty much anything they said to each other now. Sookie remembered the long look the Nebraska King had given her and how he had asked if she could hear vampires too. ‘Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing,’ Sookie thought for the first time.
Thierry and Jane were waiting for them in the lobby outside of the main meeting room. They bowed. Sookie noticed that Jane was particularly subdued and Eric barely looked at her. The telepath also had the impression that Thierry knew all about the tension between the King and his fellow Sheriff and if he didn’t, he was particularly good at hiding any outward sign of curiosity.
Instead, he turned toward Sookie after completing his bow and said, “Thomas tells me you were helpful in Lafayette, Mistress. I am grateful for your making an extra effort. I am sure you were tired after your travel. It was très gentille, most kind.”
“Think nothing of it,” Sookie smiled back. “Happy to help.” Eric’s hand on her back pushed her forward and they were walking with purpose into the main hall. Sookie felt a moment of déjà vu. There were chairs set up in long rows and at the front of the room there was a low dais on which sat a row of thrones. She found herself remembering Nashville and her pride when she heard the words that pronounced Eric King.
There was one throne, taller than the rest, set in the middle of the row. It was more ornate and appeared to be set up on a small pedestal so that it was situated higher than those around it were. Sookie was wondering who would be sitting there when Eric leaned down and whispered, “It is for the Ancient Pythoness, Älskade.” Sookie’s eyes widened and she wondered if Eric could read her mind, but then she figured he’d just felt her curiosity and knew her well enough to have deduced the rest.
“Eric! Sookie!” The voice was warm with just a hint of nasal intonation and Stan came into view. He was looking much the same. His glasses weren’t taped this time, but they were still firmly placed on his nose as if he needed them, which he didn’t. His suit was well tailored and looked as if it fit him. “Everything okay so far? You have everything you need?”
“Stan, you are looking just fine!” Sookie smiled and laced her hand through Eric’s arm, standing close to her King in a way that was a signal to the vampires who stood around them. “I understand you had a hand in arranging everything. It is really wonderful!” Sookie looked over Stan’s shoulder and saw Twy speaking with a group of people in hotel uniforms. Sookie remembered hearing that Twy was doing work for Stan too.
Stan beamed his appreciation, “It was a challenge, but it does look like it was worth it. Not every Summit attracts the Ancient Pythoness! And there are a number of visiting monarchs. Yourself,” and he bowed briefly to Eric, “Nabila is here. Of course there’s the Oregon contingent. Funny about Robert…” and he let the question hang in the air.
“What about Robert?” Eric asked, his brow wrinkled.
“Oh,” Stan said, his eyes wide, “You haven’t heard? There is a rumor that he’s finally dead.”
Sookie knew with a certainty there were talking about the California King. She thought about Karin’s words, that there would be news coming from the west and that Felipe was moving again. “Has that been confirmed?” Eric asked just a shade too quickly to pass off the remark as being nothing more than a disinterested observer.
“There is a team there now. Remains were found,” Stan nodded sagely. “Unsettled times. Tranh is dead in the East, and now Robert in the West. Sure makes those of us holding the middle look to our borders.” Stan looked toward the door, drawing their attention to the tall figure of Finn walking into the ballroom with his entourage. “Excuse me,” Stan grinned, and moved away toward Nebraska.
“Can’t wait to suck up, can he?” Sandy asked from behind them. Sookie grinned from ear to ear and was just able to hold back from launching herself at Oklahoma and wrapping her into a hug. The gray-haired vampire bowed and her prospective bridegroom, Kansas, bowed as well. Sookie found herself looking over Ralph from head to toe. The last time she had seen him he was well dressed but in a way that almost looked as if he was masquerading as a King. Sookie couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but he looked different, more majestic somehow. “You remember Rafe?” Sandy offered.
Sookie remembered the King’s name being pronounced differently, but she smiled broadly, bobbed her head, and said “So nice to see you again!” Eric was standing stiffly, perhaps a little too stiffly, beside her and she thought as hard as she could, ‘Cut it out!’ Eric shifted and allowed his shoulders to drop a little.
For his part, Kansas smiled thinly in what he clearly hoped was a charming way. “It is pleasant to see you both again. He turned to Sandy, “I see Gus,” and with an “excuse me,” he moved toward someone who looked like another king.
Sandy’s eyes followed him and when the other man’s eyes’ acknowledged her, she bowed briefly while saying, “Wyoming. I think this may be the first time almost every monarch in Zeus had attended one of these at the same time.” The thoughtful look dropped from her eyes, replaced by a pleasant smile, “It is good to see both of you again.”
Eric visibly warmed. Sookie could feel his affection and respect for the woman flowing freely, “And you. I was surprised to hear of your plans, but seeing the improvements, perhaps not.”
Sandy’s eyes narrowed, “Perhaps you were mistaken in your initial assessment. Remember that my Intended was under some strain in Nashville. With things in his borders now settled, he is able to better relax and be himself.”
“Of course having a genius to assist him in his work must also be a great comfort,” Eric said smoothly, and Sandy visibly preened. Sookie realized that there was a change in Oklahoma’s appearance as well. She looked less like a book-keeper and more like a Queen. Sookie glanced over towards Rafe who was talking in a rather animated way, his hands waving. The telepath wouldn’t have thought it in Nashville, but there was something that clicked with them.
Sookie realized that both Eric and Sandy were looking at her, and she felt she needed to hold up her end of the conversation, “Seems as if everyone here is treating this like a long-lost family reunion. Forgive my asking, but do the rulers in this Clan get to see each other often? Seems like most of us in Amun visit pretty regular.”
“We are all different,” Sandy acknowledged. “Of course, I am new to this Clan so my views are based on what I saw in Narayana, which is a smaller Clan.” She glanced around the room. Some of the rulers were headed toward the dais and she turned, indicating that Eric and Sookie should follow. “Perhaps it is the geography, or the number of states that fall within the territory. I visit with Texas, but I have a long-standing alliance with Stan that predates my time here. Rafe and I plan to visit regularly with some kingdoms, those with which we have trade arrangements,” Sandy glanced at Eric. “When you were consort in Zeus, what was your experience?”
Sookie started. She had forgotten, or perhaps it was that she wanted to forget that this had been Eric’s Clan. He was looking ahead, moving purposely forward, “Freyda had some interest in visiting, but rarely left her state. While I was with her Court few monarchs visited.” There was a grim smile on his face, “She was not pleasant company.” Sookie squeezed his arm and he looked down as if just realizing she was there and covered her hand with his own, his smile becoming warmer.
Sandy nodded, “This Summit is the first time many of us have seen Finn, and he’s just over the border from Rafe.” All three looked back at the same time to see Nebraska. The tall man was looking pointedly in their direction. Eric glanced behind him and motioned to Jane. The Sheriff nodded in return and headed toward Finn to invite him to speak with them. Sookie watched Jane say something. Sandy and Eric’s reaction told Sookie they had heard every word of the exchange. The King turned toward them again and started walking in their direction. When they were within polite distance, Jane resumed her place behind Eric and beside Thierry. Finn bowed, and Sookie, Eric, and Sandy returned the gesture.
“Northman, if you would be so kind as to introduce me to Oklahoma,” Finn said, all smiles. Eric was just completing the courtesies when Rafe and the other monarch joined them. The introductions were expanded to include Gus, the King of Wyoming. Sookie found her cheeks were starting to hurt. She was not exactly nervous, but the stares being pointed their way by those around the room were becoming more and more noticeable. The monarchs turned together as a group and continued their journey towards the thrones, making small talk about the accommodations and the idea of golf for vampires (Rafe was set to try it after meetings tonight and invited them all to join him). As they arrived, Rafe and Gus joined the other monarchs in heading to the small set of steps up onto the raised platform. Sandy stepped back and laid her hand on Eric’s arm, gesturing with her eyes that she wished to ask him something in private. Sookie released his arm and stepped back, standing between Thierry and Jane. She hadn’t realized that Finn was still there until he spoke.
“I have no particular meetings this evening after the business presentations. I was wondering if I might impose upon you later.” Thierry’s eyes narrowed but Jane’s turned to her in obvious support of the idea.
Sookie chafed to think she had to ‘ask permission’ of Eric, but then she scolded herself. She didn’t know what Eric’s plans might be and she could feel his concern from across the room. Whatever Sandy was telling him, it was not sitting well. “If you could wait just a minute,” Sookie smiled. “I’m not sure if Eric has plans, and it would be much more enjoyable if we were all together.” She could see Thierry’s quick smile of approval and Jane’s short nod out of the corner of her eye.
“How diplomatically you put it, Princess,” Finn smiled. He stood easily, his hands resting on his hips. “You know, you have the look of your kin,” he tilted, his head turning. “It’s in the eyes and the cheeks. I can see Fintan.”
“So Grandfather and you..” Sookie left the phrase hanging.
“Are friends,” Finn offered. “I’ve known the Fae since before my turning. I saw them in my youth in Ireland. I would steal away from my cottage on full moons and lie atop a hill that overlooked the far hills, hoping for a sight of them riding break neck across the fields. Sometimes I’d lie there all night. My mother knew what I was up to and she’d box my ears if she caught me. She was worried, you see. She was afraid the Fair Folk would take me and she’d never see me again.” Sookie found herself caught in the King’s accent and his turn of phrase. She felt she could listen to anything this vampire had to tell her. It wasn’t glamour, just a natural charm.
“And did they? Catch you, I mean?” The King smiled, the dimple beside his cheek deepening.
“No, but I was foolish to think they didn’t notice. I owe your Grandfather a debt, you see,” Finn continued. “I was a young man, much as you see now, and was walking back from watching the ride stream past me one Beltane night when the vampire caught me. He was old, my Maker, an ancient one who had lived long in secret in my land. He found me attractive and it was for more than my mother I was crying by the time he drained me and brought me over.” Sookie gulped, nodding at the story that seemed so familiar. “I didn’t have any idea what had happened to me when I dug myself out that first night and the crafty bastard used that against me. Cruel, he was. I could have been in for a devil of a time, but I looked up over his shoulder to see a shiny light that descended down the hill. He was fast, your Grand-da, and by the time I realized what I was seeing, my Maker’s head was rolling on the ground past me. I figured, well sure enough, this boy-o was going to meet his final death too, but the Prince stayed his hand,” Finn lifted his eyes, his easy smile turned fully on Eric who walked up to stand beside Sookie. “You see, the Prince remembered another vampire he had met well before me who had been sent by a cruel Maker. Seems that vampire did him a bit of a good turn and the Prince never forgot it, so he passed that good turn on to me,” Eric’s eyes narrowed.
“You would have me believe that you were taken in by the Fae?” the Viking said coldly.
“I wouldn’t have you believe any such thing. A vampire living with the Sidhe! Whist! Hell freezing over is what I think that would be, but I know I am beholden to whatever favor you did Niall. I believe my existence was made easier by the freeing I had,” and Finn smiled back toward Sookie.
Recognizing her cue, the telepath turned to Eric, “Do we have commitments later? Finn would like to stop by and visit after business tonight.”
Eric looked indulgently at his Intended’s upturned face, “If you wish it,” and it was decided.
From behind them, Stan made a noise. Sandy and Finn proceeded up the steps and then moved to take their places. “How do they know which throne is theirs?” Sookie asked Eric. The Viking was steering his group to the chairs set to the immediate right of the stage. One of the uniformed hotel employees directed them to sit in the first row. The Sheriffs stepped in followed by Sookie. Eric sat on the aisle. Eric didn’t answer her question, instead he grabbed her hand and pulled her upright. There was a banging that sounded like a staff being struck against the ground and the Ancient Pythoness appeared from the area behind the thrones. She was led by Diantha and another woman Sookie hadn’t met. Unlike the modern clothes she had worn in the hotel room earlier when Sookie had seen her, she was dressed in a long robe that looked like a fashion from a bygone era. She was carefully positioned in front of her throne and then the two women held her arms to assist her as she lowered herself carefully into the seat.
When she was seated, she looked in Stan’s direction and nodded. The Texas King turned to the vampires who now filled the meeting room. Sookie glanced in back of her. There were many vampires she had never seen before. She recognized Nabila seated a couple rows behind them. She could also see their guards who were standing with other guards in loose groups around the back of the room.
Stan walked to the edge of the stage, “Welcome, my fellow monarchs,” he nodded toward the almost full set of thrones, then turned to face the vampires seated in the chairs in front of the dais “and to my fellow members of Clan Zeus.” Like all vampire events, the room was eerily silent. Sookie was used to events where these kinds of speeches were designed to whip the audience into a cheering, hooting mob. At a minimum she would have expected polite applause, but vampire assemblies were clearly different. She glanced around again, but then felt Eric’s hand squeeze her own. She looked up at him and then followed his gaze to see the Ancient Pythoness staring right at her. Stan was talking about everyone sharing a kindred spirit in this exciting time of new possibilities. There was piped-in music and there was a short film playing. It used a slides interspersed with video clips displayed on screens positioned throughout the room. It was a real multi-media extravaganza, but Sookie couldn’t stop staring back at the sightless crone who had her pinned. As time passed, a general murmuring was building around them as others began to realize what was happening.
“Eric?” Sookie said softly.
“Do not look at her, Lover,” he whispered back. “Look at Stan. Focus on his words.” Sookie nodded, but she felt cold all over. The whispering around them was increasing, the sound like a soft hiss that buzzed in a way that felt like an electric current, audible over the music. At one point, Eric shifted in his seat, sitting straighter and leaning forward. He glanced at her. Sookie’s eyes questioned, but he shook his head quickly and seemed to be forcing himself to sit back.
Finally the formal opening was over. The monarchs stood and Eric likewise rose, pulling Sookie with him. He brought her behind him. Thierry and Jane slid into line behind her. Eric led the way toward the middle of the dais to be formally presented along with his retinue as a visiting King of Amun Clan to the Zeus Summit. Stan walked to the center of the stage, standing in front of the Ancient Pythoness. As Eric stopped and began his bow, the crone began to laugh. It was a high, dry cackle and just hearing it made Sookie’s hair stand on end. Stan turned, and then stepped back so that the Pythoness was facing the Viking.
“Welcome back before me, North Man!” she grated. “It seems that the order of things has been reversed since we last met.”
“How so?” Eric asked politely.
“The last time it was you who followed your little fairy to talk with me. Now you would have Brigant’s get follow you. How tricksy you are, trying to hide her.”
“I hide no one, Ancient One. I merely walk in the way that ceremony prescribes,” Eric answered reasonably. Then he turned and held out his hand. Sookie placed her own in his, and the Viking pulled her to stand beside him. “Is this what you prefer, My Lady?” he asked.
“Yes, just so!” she chortled, “Yes, this is what I see!” She pulled her lips back baring long yellowed fangs. “So little fairy, did you try to see your future? I can see that you did! What did you think, eh?”
Sookie swallowed and took a deep breath. Eric sent her courage and she found herself standing more firmly, “I don’t know what to think,” she heard herself say levelly. “I think you were right and I don’t know which vision is the right one.”
The Pythoness stopped laughing. She sat back suddenly, her face thoughtful as though she were listening to someone far away. The whole room was silent. Finally, the crone leaned forward again, “I will see you again, North Man, you, and your mate. But now it is time for me to leave.” Just like that she stood up and gestured with her arms. Diantha and the other woman came running from behind her, took her seeking hands, and then guided her away.
Stan’s face was shocked. There was a hissing all around them. Sookie found she felt as if she was nailed to her spot. It took Eric just about lifting her by the arm for the shock to break and for her to start walking with him back down the aisle past the others who were waiting their turn to be presented. As they passed Nabila, the Queen smiled, “Leave it to you to cause a stir, Eric!” and then her eyes passed over Sookie in a way that was coldly assessing.
Behind her, Thierry hissed. When the Queen shot him a look he said, “My pardon, Majesty. I thought I saw someone disrespecting my King,” and he bowed low. Eric swept both his Sheriffs with a cold look. Fortunately the line moved forward and the moment was over. They walked as a group to the back of the room.
“You are ready?” Eric asked them. The pair was due to present their proposals for energy development in the New Business meeting. Both Texas and Oklahoma were attending. The hope was that there would be others in the room that would support the venture and might approach them afterwards with pledges of capital in return for profits. Eric was not holding out great hope. Without the solid backing of a bank the entire venture was vulnerable. Tip their hand too far without financial backing and they would risk losing control to a wealthier investor. The only ace Eric had in hand was undisputed ownership of the lands where the operations would be located.
“We know what to do,” Jane replied. “We are ready.”
Thierry bowed as well, “You will be there, Majesty?” Eric glanced at Sookie and she could feel his concern.
As Eric was about to speak, there was a familiar voice from behind them, “Miss Sookie?” He was wearing a cowboy outfit. It had a rhinestone belt and his boots were white leather with silver conchas and fringe.
“Bubba? How wonderful to see you!” and Sookie didn’t hesitate to throw her arms around her friend.
“Well, you look just fine, Miss Sookie!” Then the dark haired vampire turned his open, guileless blue eyes towards Eric. “And you too, Mr. Eric! It’s feels as if it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the both of you. You still playing games with Mr. Bill? He sure is mad at you!”
Sookie laid her hand on her friend’s arm, “Oh, we’re not trying to make Bill mad, are we Eric?” and she turned to Eric, her eyes asking him to confirm what she was saying.
“Oh, it’s okay to fun around every once in a while!” Bubba laughed, “And old Mr. Bill, well, he might just be inviting some of it with the way he’s fussin’.” Bubba’s face took on a different look as though something had just occurred to him, “Do you like games, Miss Sookie? Would you like to come and play with me? Mr. Stan set me up with a room here that’s just full of pinball machines. He turned the noise down a little so they don’t hurt my ears too much, but, boy, are they fun!” He turned to Eric, his face wreathed in smiles, “Can she come with me, Mr. Eric? I’ll take good care of her. You know I will!”
Sookie smiled, “Sounds like fun to me!” She turned to Eric who couldn’t hide the relief he was feeling, knowing he would be able to focus all his attention on business without the distraction of explaining what had passed between the Ancient Pythoness and his Intended with her standing beside him. “You do good and I’ll be waiting,” Sookie told him.
It was hard not to notice the interested looks of those who walked by them. Eric looked over her shoulder and jerked his chin. Sookie turned to see Owen and Shari walking toward them. “Have fun, Lover. I will send word as soon as we are finished.”
Sookie smiled, making it as big and carefree as she could, “You know I will!” and she pulled his hand so he would lean down and she could kiss him on the cheek. She rubbed the lipstick stain away, but he pulled her back.
Eric ran his thumb across her lip, staining it with her lipstick. He watched her, his eyes dark as he turned down the waistband of his pants and rubbed his thumb on his shirt tail somewhere south of decent. “For luck,” he smirked.
“Looks like a promise to me,” she whispered back, feeling the heat of her blush all the way down to her lady parts.
Neither Sookie nor Eric noticed the look that James and Charles exchanged.
End Note: As I bring this arc to conclusion, the pace and style of the story has changed. You will see less focus on the personal and emotional landscape and more focus on the story that will drive to the next part. I hope that you don’t find the change too jarring. Speaking for myself, I find that my ‘go to’ in terms of writing leans easily toward plot-driven storytelling. I thank you for reading and welcome the opportunity to chat about the story. Looking forward to your reviews and comments! Also – thank you to the reader who suggested the name change for Ralph/Rafe! Great idea!