Chapter 29 – Running the Gut

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.

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Nautical Note: A gut is a narrow passage through which water runs, usually between a harbor and the sea. There will be some geographic formation that will accelerate the flow of water, so that when the tides turn, the gut will transform into a sluice of types, the water kicking and foaming. If you hit the tide right, you can run the gut and make it to the other side without having to rely on wind. You trade the problems of tacking in a narrow place for the danger of hitting whatever may lie submerged below, but you may decide the reward outweighs the risk.

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Sookie loved the way her skirt swirled almost straight away from her legs and then, as she reached the end of the twirl, the cloth continued until it wrapped around her. She shimmied to the music and Eric pulled her back into his embrace and they were moving around the floor again. Dancing was the second best thing they did together and they were really good. People were stopping to watch them. When they did an improvised jitterbug, Sandy clapped and Stan cheered. When the music stopped, Eric had timed it just right and he dipped her over his arm and her hair hung down. His face was just over hers and for a minute, there was no one there but the two of them. Sookie pulled her hand free just to touch his face and he smiled that way that went all the way up to his eyes, that smile that was just for her. “Love you,” she mouthed and his grin rose on one side. Then he was straightening, bringing her with him, and all the noise returned.

It had been a nice ceremony if you didn’t mind the groom looking a little too happy and all the blood drinking. Eric had officiated and Sookie wondered who they would get to do the deed when it was their turn. Somewhere the folks at the hotel had found a long black cloak with a hood that hung down over her Viking’s face. Sookie knew Eric hadn’t packed something like this, so it either came with the bridal party or the hotel had found one. Quinn wasn’t around this time to play Master of Ceremonies, but it hadn’t looked like they really needed him.

The dais that held all the thrones the day before now held only two. Sandy stood in front of one of the thrones, wearing an ornate robe that was mostly green with silver and white embroidery. Rafe stood in front of the other. His robes were purple and grey with silver thread. Sookie thought he looked like something out of Harry Potter and it was hard not to giggle. Between the thrones stood a long table draped in a red cloth woven with gold symbols which shone in the light. Behind the table and set a little further back were two flaming braziers and a large golden ankh hanging on a black curtain suspended from the ceiling. Sookie was pretty sure the hotel wouldn’t be too happy to know they were using open flames, but then, who was going to complain in a room full of vampires?

A loud gong sound that came through the P.A. system was Eric’s signal to step out from behind a curtain to the left and mount the platform. When he reached the table, he flipped back his hood. The lighting was well placed and a single spotlight shone down on Eric’s wheat-colored hair that transformed his face into a study of shadow and light. “We are here to witness the joining of two kingdoms,” he intoned. “Sandra and Raffaelo have agreed, both verbally and by written covenant, to ally their states for a hundred years. For a hundred years, they may not marry any other. They may not form an alliance with any other, unless that alliance is mutually agreed upon and witnessed. Each must pay the other a conjugal visit at least once a year. The welfare of Sandra’s kingdom shall come second only to his own in Raffaelo’s sight, and the welfare of Raffaelo’s kingdom must come second only to her own in Sandra’s sight.” Eric’s eyes reached out into the crowd and Sookie felt them land on her.

The telepath knew Eric was thinking, as she was, that soon these words would be said for them. She wondered for a wild moment what kingdom she could pledge, and then she drew a deep breath. She wasn’t a Queen and wasn’t likely to be a Queen, at least not according to vampire custom, so it wouldn’t be the same words, but it would be pretty close. Then Eric started the vows and Sookie was distracted by an another overwhelming desire to giggle.

Eric had turned and asked, “Raffaelo of Kansas, do you agree to this covenant?”

“Yes, I do,” the King had answered with a broad smile. ‘Raffaelo?’ Sookie had repeated to herself and suddenly all she could think about was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and how the short King looked so much like his cartoon counterpart.

Then Eric had turned to Sandy and said, “Sandra Seacrest of Oklahoma, do you agree to this covenant?”

“I do,” she said politely.

A goblet was on the table and the monarchs had walked toward each other until they stood face to face before it. A young woman walked forward and picked up the goblet and then knelt, her back to the audience so that she had the goblet raised into position under the couple’s clasped hands. Eric’s movements were swift. Sookie didn’t even see the knife cut before the blood was flowing. When the wounds healed, Eric took the cup from the woman’s hands and held it first to Sandra, and then to Rafe. They drank and the sibilant sigh that was vampires signaling their approval started, followed by polite applause. The couple kissed a little awkwardly and then they moved to the side of the platform where two more vampires were waiting. They had what looked like a book held open by one of the vampires. The other handed Sandy a pen. When she signed, Sandy turned and handed the pen to Rafe, who was grinning from ear to ear. Once the King had signed the page as well, the book was slammed shut and Eric announced, “The marriage is sacred for a hundred years!”

The lights came up, the orchestra kicked in, and the couple proceeded down into the crowd to meet their well-wishers.

Sookie walked up onto the platform. Eric was standing very still, watching her approach. “You do this really well,” she smiled up at him. “Maybe you missed your calling. You could be a preacher.”

Eric’s lips twitched and his eyebrow rose, “If I were to become a member of the clergy, would you be my choir mistress? Would you come to rehearsal wearing only your robe and tempt me to sin?”

Sookie smiled archly, “Oh, I’d be thinking of all kinds of sins to tempt you with,” and Eric had sent her a wave of lust that almost made her knees buckle.

“Don’t play with fire unless you’re prepared to burn,” he whispered in her ear, and before she knew what was what, they were on the dance floor and he was grinding against her slow and hard. Fortunately for her panties and her dignity, the song ended and a faster number started. She and Eric moved apart and they shook their bon bons like tomorrow would never come. When the music turned a little livelier, Eric took Sandy for a spin and Sookie found herself dancing with Rafe. For some reason the theme from the Ninja Turtles television show kept running through the telepath’s head (‘Turtle Power!’) and it made it difficult to maintain much polite conversation, so she was relieved when Stan took her hand to twirl her into a two-step. Over the next hour she found herself handed around between monarchs and vampires she knew and some she didn’t. Finn was noticeably absent, and Sookie felt relieved. She didn’t think Eric would have been pleasant about her dancing with him, even though Nebraska had declared the Viking the better chess player last night.

When Sookie was waltzing in Thierry’s arms, Eric came and claimed her and he didn’t relinquish her again. Sookie was beginning to feel fatigued when the band struck up, “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.” Sookie looked quickly toward the musicians to see if Bubba was standing there, but he wasn’t. She hadn’t seen her friend since last night. Bubba had been frustrated with her because she couldn’t match his speed at the Star Trek pinball machine. Sookie had become so angry she had scolded him and Bubba had scolded her back, something he rarely did. They had both apologized but decided to call it a night. Sookie wondered if he had decided to move on to another location. It happened with Bubba, and he was welcome throughout the vampire community and protected wherever he went.

Eric drew her close, bringing her thoughts back to the moment. Sookie could hear her Viking singing the words to the song softly. When he got to the part that went, ‘take my hand, take my whole life too,’ Sookie realized they weren’t on the ground anymore. He lifted her just a little higher against him so that when he sang, ‘I can’t help falling in love with you,’ he was looking her right in the eyes. ‘Me too,’ she thought.

From across the floor, Jane moved to stand next to Thierry. “So, how was your night on the town?” she asked.

Thierry shrugged and said, “It wasn’t as fun as running with you and Thomas, but it had its moments. One of them has a piercing that is in the most interesting place.” He turned his head, making a point of looking around him.

“You have plans for later?” Jane asked. “I heard there was a place just outside of town…”

“Sorry,” Thierry smiled, shrugging with one shoulder, a lopsided grin on his face, “I have plans to be balls-deep in a certain kingdom,” and he winked and walked away. Jane watched the dark-haired Sheriff as he made his way across the dance floor. He bowed and when he did, Jane could see that he was kissing the hand that Nabila extended to him.

Later, as they lay in bed, Sookie snoring softly against his chest, Eric wondered what rabbit he could conjure now to save this reality. Without money, their situation would grow increasingly precarious. His would be yet another beggar kingdom, subject to those who were stronger around him and open to attack. He would not have the political strength to force the respect of others for his Intended. ‘I might fail,’ he thought and as quickly as the thought crept into his head he dismissed it. With a discipline built of long years, he swept away the doubt that came with that kind of negative thinking and started listing his assets. He arranged those things he knew and those things he was fairly sure of and then played out his options, one after the other, events moving through his mind like an ever-changing chess board.

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Little Rock

“Hardly satisfying,” Pam stated the obvious.

“He might have held out a little longer,” Thalia agreed, her fangs running out. “You would think that money would buy more loyalty, but these new vampires don’t have the same sense of honor we were raised with.”

Pam’s eyebrows rose, “Hey! I resemble that! That one wasn’t any older than me. You saying something?”

Thalia gave the blond Regent a sour look, “You were trained properly. The North Man understands the value of loyalty and discipline.” Her dark eyes flicked to the door that led to the lower levels, “That one must have been raised by wolves. He has no discipline. I barely extracted the fang before he was telling all!”

Pam steepled her fingers and leaned back, “It is shaping into an unpleasant picture,” she mused. Over the past few days they had found several additional vampires from Sookie’s list who had the markings of spies. Some of these were now confirmed. They had found one who was in Nabila’s pay. Neither Pam nor Thalia had been surprised based on what they knew. Eric had informed them of Carolina’s agenda. Pam and Eric had agreed that the Queen would likely play her best hand at the Coronation. Pam hoped that returning Nabila’s agent at that time, a little the worse for wear, would help tip any conditions in their favor.

The two spies Pam and Thalia had found first were sent from De Castro. After a few days they had revealed their part in the troubles that had plagued Area 5. They also revealed plans to start similar problems in Arkansas. All had been awaiting the signal from the West. Thalia had taken great pleasure in killing them, and then mailing their bloodied fangs along with their drivers licenses back to Las Vegas using surface mail. “Between the heat and time, that package should broadcast its purpose before it’s even opened,” the dark-haired vampire had grimly smiled.

The one they had finished questioning tonight was from New York. It wasn’t that they didn’t expect spies. It was that they had barely made a scratch in Sookie’s list and they had found so many. If things didn’t settle soon it would only be a matter of time before a takeover was attempted. “Should have known that handing him the kingdom was a mistake,” Thalia growled. When Pam’s eyes met hers, the Regent’s question clear, Thalia continued, “If he had taken the kingdom the usual way no one would be questioning his strength. By handing him the title, there are those who assume he was too weak to wrest it for himself.”

“It makes him a target,” Pam said thoughtfully.

“Especially now,” Thalia continued. “The Pythoness’ actions in San Antonio have signaled her unwillingness to interfere in our successions. It was fear of her retribution that kept most of the kingdoms in play. Without that threat we could find ourselves in for many more battles.” Thalia crossed her arms, her fangs dropping, “But then again, what happier times have I had than in the heat of battle?”

Pam’s smile grew, “There is something to be said about that moment when skill and fate allow you to be the one that survives! It almost makes me feel alive again!”

“I would think you were finding you had plenty of things to keep you busy, Regent,” Thalia said archly. “It is more than generous how you have allowed your Maker to use his Sheriffs as well as your own.”

“I will be happy to have Jane and Thomas in place,” Pam confirmed. “There are local issues that are being delayed because I don’t have the time. There is still no official census for Arkansas. I am receiving tithes but have suspended paying bills. If Eric doesn’t release them soon I will be borrowing Max. I still may!” Pam sat back, her lips set in a straight line. “Of course, my Maker pointed out that my trip to Europe last month was expensive, but it was Fangtasia business.”

“For immortal creatures, this process has involved more time than we have available,” Thalia smirked.

“More time than is available with the limited resources I have on hand,” Pam finished.

Thalia looked out the window at the lights of the city. Unlike the New Orleans palace, Pam’s official residence included light-tight glass. It gave the rooms a more spacious feel. “Do you have many pending requests from those who would be turned?” Thalia asked.

Pam started. Even after all these years, her memory of Miriam and the response that would have saved her lover’s life was still fresh. “I haven’t seen any, but who knows? The paperwork here is a disaster. This kind of organizing has never been my strong suit. Max tells me he was just able to start his Area’s backlogged business this past week. He created a website with a first-come/first-serve basis for his vassals to sign up for a hearing. The site crashed within hours under the volume of requests.”

Thalia nodded. She had heard stories through her guard network. “Of course, that is New Orleans. The numbers are making it clear that we probably host more vampires than any other city in this country.”

“New York may have more,” Pam said dryly.

“Yes,” Thalia’s voice was flat. “That may be so.” The dark-haired vampire’s eyes narrowed, “Someone is going to have to kill Misha.”

“I expect you’re right,” Pam agreed.

“He is living so far beyond what is acceptable to any of us. If half of what we heard tonight is accurate, it is only a matter of time before this all becomes public. Once that happens we will likely be running for our lives like the old days. We will have been proven to be the monsters in the closet all over again.”

“That might be a best outcome,” Pam said morosely. “We almost found ourselves herded into bureaus like unwanted aliens when we revealed ourselves. If we should be discovered to be preying on them, the human government will be forced to do something drastic. We could find ourselves condemned as too dangerous to live. Conditions here could become like some places in the Middle East or Africa.” Vampires in some countries in those areas were viewed as unholy and killed on principle.

“This was always one of the conditions of the Revelation. No wanton turning, even for money, no wholesale glamouring, and no selling of blood. I’m surprised the mayhem in Boston didn’t trigger a reaction. With the number of dead I would have thought there would be been stronger measures.”

Pam shook her head, “No humans have been involved so far. No Weres. Only vampires, and the local police are either paid or incented to declare them victimless crimes. After all, who cares when the clean-up involves turning on a hydrant and stepping back?” Pam’s voice was bitter. It was hard to accept that their lives, even undead as they were, counted for so little among humans.

Thalia nodded, “It has always been this way, but there is no point in worrying about what may happen in another Clan. When does Jane return?”

“She should arrive tomorrow night,” Pam looked straight at Thalia, “Did Eric mention anything to you about that little complication?”

Thalia returned the Regent’s steady stare, “Brigant and your Sheriff? I have heard from multiple sources.”

“I have a call into Maude,” Pam said levelly. “She has maintained strong relations with Phoebe Golden. If this alliance was formed while Jane worked for Phoebe in Iowa, it’s probable someone will have additional information. Even I’ve heard the rumors of riding across Nebraska. If there is an even closer association, it’s not possible that someone wasn’t talking.”

Thalia shrugged, “If I had been there I would have ended her just to be safe.”

Pam’s smile was not pleasant, “You may yet get your chance. I plan on having her report here first. When Thomas becomes available I will have both of them travel to her Area to organize. With any luck he will be available to assist her within the month. He is finishing his work in Area 2 and he is slated to be in Area 5 by next week.” Pam was consulting her calendar.

“Do you trust Thomas?” Thalia asked. Pam returned the vampire’s steady stare. In the end she lifted one shoulder and let it drop. Thalia raised her eyebrows and continued, “Indira has maintained your previous records. Thomas should not need to spend any time other than to convert the systems to whatever census software they decided to use.”

Pam nodded, “That’s my assessment too, but then he goes to Rubio Hermosa. Indira has been working there, so Thomas wouldn’t be starting from scratch. With any luck he’ll be wrapped up in two to three weeks, and then I can bring him here to help organize the state. According to Max he has mad skills.”

Thalia leaned back, crossing her arms over her flat chest, “So he organizes things and hands them over. Then what for Thomas? Upstate Arkansas? Of course there is some development there, but how long do you think that rascal will be happy in the wilderness?”

Pam shrugged, “Not more than a year. I think Eric is looking at the same problem with Thierry. They are sophisticated. Burying them in the country is bound to bore them.”

“Recipe for disaster,” Thalia agreed morosely.

“I will speak with Eric. Perhaps there is a way to organize their duties so that they can have long term projects that take them to cities on a regular basis,” Pam looked out the window, but turned her gaze back when Thalia chuckled. Pam’s eyes widened, “What?”

“Speaking of heading to the big city, I understand the North Man is having dinner with the breather’s family.”

Pam’s eyes crinkled, “He and Sookie are staying at one of my safe houses. They are scheduled to arrive tonight, and then they will be heading out to break bread with Sookie’s brother and his Daisy Mae wife.”

Thalia shrugged, “I recall the brother. He was handsome.”

“True,” Pam said. “I might have done him if he’d been willing to keep his mouth shut. He is a mouth breather…”

“Knuckle dragger?” Thalia volunteered.

“Rocks for brains!” Pam smiled. “So I thought I should get Eric some props so he fits in.” Thalia’s eyebrow lifted. Pam scrolled to some photos on her phone and flipped the screen to show the dark-haired vampire. “Here is his new shirt for the evening. It’s a kind of sleeveless tank top that’s cut open down the sides almost all the way to the waist. That way he can show off his best assets when he lifts his beer. Of course, it would be best paired with a tool belt and camouflage, but since this is evening, I’m not sure humans work after dark.” She flipped to another photo which she also showed Thalia, “And here are his custom fishing lures. See how they carry all America beer labels? That should help him fit in. I understand night fishing involving flashlights and dynamite is popular.”

“And you left these…”

“…On the table in the safe house, of course. There is a card that explains that they are part of his redneck costume so he doesn’t have to worry about blending,” Pam was laughing openly. Thalia smiled grimly and shook her head. She was happy she wouldn’t be there to see the Viking’s expression.

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Sookie was looking at the small box of fishing lures. They were colorful and cleverly done to include the logos from a number of domestic beers. “Oh my gosh! Jason would love these!” she said.

Eric was standing to the side, a large t-shirt in his hand, reading the card that had been propped beside the items. He looked at Sookie and his eyebrow rose, “Well, perhaps it would be an appropriate gift for allowing us to come for dinner,” he said carefully.

“That’s a good idea,” Sookie agreed, “and we could stop along the way and pick up some flowers for Michele. I just can’t believe that I’m showing up empty handed!” Sookie turned to check herself in the mirror one more time. She wore a yellow sundress and sneakers. She picked up a light sweater and then shook her head and set it back down across the chair. “I don’t know whether I should bring it or not. It’s going to be hot as heck with their air conditioning broken down, but you never know. Sometimes the breeze picks up…”

Eric set down the shirt he was holding and picked up her sweater, “We can leave it in the car,” he said reasonably.

“Do you think we should pick something up for dessert? I mean, it just seems wrong to not bring anything… but there wasn’t any time to make something and there’s no pans or anything here anyway…”

Eric walked forward and placed his hands on her shoulders, forcing her to still and then pushing his will toward her until she lifted her eyes to his. He saw the way she was chewing her lip and he felt her nerves jangling through their bond. “Lover, what is it?” he asked.

Sookie shook her head but when he pushed harder she said, “I guess I just want them to like… us.”

Eric stood stock still for a minute. It had never occurred to him that his Intended would be nervous about his spending time with her family. “Are you worried they will embarrass you?” he asked, and then his eyes widened when her face flushed. “You are worried that I’ll embarrass you,” He said it as a statement and he could feel that he had hit close to the mark.

Eric pulled back as Sookie faltered, “No, no, of course not! It’s just that… well… you can be pretty intimidating, and the kids will be there and… oh shit, Eric! I don’t know what I’m saying! Let’s just go,” and Sookie headed to the door.

When they were settled in the back of the car Sookie turned to him and asked, “What was that shirt?”

“Something Pam picked out,” Eric replied. He didn’t tell her that the shirt and lures had been meant as a joke. “She thought it might be cooler for the temperature, but I wanted to make sure I made the right impression,” and Eric looked out the window. He could see Sookie checking out his jeans and button-down Oxford again, too nervous to pick up the note of sarcasm in his voice. Eric wasn’t sure whether to feel sorry for her or be genuinely aggravated by her lack of faith.

They stopped for flowers at the Piggly Wiggly and then finished the drive down the long road that led to Sookie’s childhood home. As they pulled up, the front door of the house swung open and Jason came bounding down the stairs. He was wearing jeans and a t-shirt that looked identical to the one that Pam had left. Eric had barely stepped clear of the car when Jason had his hand extended, “Welcome!” he exclaimed, his smile so open and genuine that Eric found himself smiling back and shaking Stackhouse’s hand. When Jason let go he swung around to face Sookie, wrapping his arms around her, he lifted her bodily and swung her all the way around, “And you sure are looking good, little sis!”

Michele appeared on the front porch, holding Bit. Sookie brushed her skirt self-consciously and walking up the porch stairs, extended the flowers in her hand. The telepath locked eyes with the small boy and said, “You suppose you could come to your Aunt Sookie so your momma can take her flowers?”

The small boy nodded, all big eyes, and held his arms out. Sookie deftly handed off flowers for boy, shifted Bit onto her hip, and asked Michele how she was feeling. The women were talking a mile a minute as they turned and walked back into the house.

From the driveway, Jason and Eric stood side by side, watching their women, and then Jason turned to Eric and said, “This is usually the time I offer my guest a beer or ten, but seeing as you’re not a fan,” and he shrugged. “Michele was so excited you were coming she went all the way into Shreveport and bought some fancy blood. Royalty something? I don’t have any idea what you folks prefer, but even if you have to dump out a bottle or two, you need to make a fuss for her sake, okay?”

Eric’s eyebrows lifted. Royalty was not easy to find and it wasn’t inexpensive, “It was most considerate of your wife. I appreciate it,” and Eric smiled.

“Well that’s great!” Jason let loose his breath. “Why don’t we head into the house and we can get ourselves set up. We’re doing pulled pork tonight. Sookie explained that you don’t eat, but she said it wouldn’t bother you none to sit with us.”

“No bother at all,” Eric agreed and he followed the shorter man into the house. Eric noticed the way the furnishings were older, but somehow seemed to combine in a way that made him feel immediately comfortable. He couldn’t explain it, but he knew that their quarters in New Orleans, even the room he had created as their retreat didn’t have this same effect. As they walked through the living room and toward the kitchen, a young man started running down the stairs. He hit the landing, and then he stopped dead, his mouth hanging open and he stared at Eric.

Jason looked from his son’s shocked face to Eric’s and then back again. “JC, where are your manners? This is your Uncle Eric. Come on down here and get introduced!”

The boy walked slowly down the stairs and over the floor until he stood close enough to shake hands. He licked his lips as he looked up and up. His hand started forward and then Eric saw him shake his head quickly like he was scolding himself. He squared his shoulders, put a faint smile on his face, and bowed low enough to be appropriate for a King. He stood up and said, “Pleased to meet you.”

Eric’s smile broadened, “It is my pleasure also. You must be young Jason…”

“JC,” the boy corrected quickly. “Yeah,” and he looked tentatively up, shot a look at his dad who was watching him closely. “So… is it true you’re a King or something?” Jason huffed and JC looked quickly down at his shoes. Suddenly Eric found himself remembering a time he was being bold with a visiting dignitary in his own father’s hall. He remembered the mix of fear and courage he felt as he asserted himself as a man with a right to ask his own questions.

The Viking looked at the boy’s squared shoulders and uncertain smile and he found himself laughing. It was a laugh that was created of memory, comfort, and the realization that here he need only be himself. Sookie popped out of the kitchen, a question in her eyes and Michele was right behind her saying, “JC, what did you say this time?” but Eric held up his hand and assured them that everything was fine.

He turned back to the boy who was turning a bright shade of red, “I am a King among vampires,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean much among humans like you.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” JC replied, his face shining as he realized that this adult was going to take him seriously. “There’s all kinds of stuff written about you and how you’re the top guy in New Orleans and how you’re going to be asked to host one of the Mardi Gras Krewes. Most of my friends saw you on TV a couple times. You know… there’s some stuff I was wondering…”

Sookie walked forward, a bottle in her hand wrapped in a towel. She handed it to Eric with a small shrug. “Thank you, Älskade,” Eric told her. When he turned back he could see JC’s eyes were fastened on the bottle. “Perhaps you would like to sit down?” Eric suggested.

“Why don’t we take this to the back yard?” Jason said with a swing of his head. “It’s a little cooler out there and I can get some corn going on the grill.” JC was grinning from ear to ear and he ran through the kitchen calling out to his mother, “My friends aren’t going to believe this….” Eric met Sookie’s eyes as he walked through the room headed for the back door and she beamed her approval and encouragement his way. Of course as soon as the men were out, Sookie stood up and drifted over to watch them through the window that was set over the sink. Michele walked up behind her, following her gaze.

“They’re fine,” Michele said out loud. The women watched JC leaning forward, his face animated as he was talking with Eric. “He’s got a real fanboy out there. JC has been just about out of his mind having a celebrity in the house.” Michele did jerk a little when they watched Eric drop his fangs and JC step in to get a good look. “Course, that’s not something you see every day,” she said, her voice wavering just a bit.

“He’s really enjoying himself,” Sookie said, her voice equally uncertain. She could feel a kind of simple happiness from Eric. It was unexpected.

“How do you know?” Michele asked.

“I can feel him,” Sookie said, her eyes never leaving her vampire.

“For real?” Michele asked in a way that drew Sookie back into the present. The telepath turned to face her sister-in-law.

“It’s a vampire thing. Well, actually, it might be a Fae thing too,” Sookie said carefully. “We can feel what the other person is feeling. So, if I’m sad, he knows it, or if he’s angry, I know that.”

Michele looked skeptical, “Hungry?”

Sookie nodded, “Yup, we know.”

Michele’s eyes sparkled, “Horny?”

Sookie smirked back, “Oh, hell yeah!” Sookie looked back outside. Jason had an annoyed expression on his face and Eric was looking puzzled, but JC was talking a mile a minute. Sookie sent her concern and Eric glanced her way and shook his head slightly.

“You just did something now?” Michele asked, “Can you read his mind?”

Sookie turned away from the window and walked back to the table. She picked up her iced tea, “No, I can’t read vampire minds. I could feel he was kind of puzzled so I sort of sent him a question, like ‘are you all right?’ and he picked that up. That’s what you just saw. It’s not all that specific, but we seem to do okay.”

Michele walked to the table and sat down heavily. She held her iced tea up to her forehead. “I can’t believe that the first time you all come over here we have no air conditioning in the house. Jason says the repairman will be here tomorrow.” Sookie had lived for most of her life without ‘box air’ and when Jason had told her their situation she assured him she could make due for one night. Now as she sat, her skin prickling with heat, she was disgusted with how quickly she had become spoiled by living in places where climate control was always available.

“I am sorry,” Michele said sadly, “I wish it was cooler for your first couple’s visit.”

“No big thing,” Sookie assured her. “It’s not like it bothers Eric one little bit. Could be standing in the middle of the Sahara and he’d still be cool.” When Michele gave her a skeptical look, Sookie shrugged. “Vampire thing.”

Almost on cue, Bit walked into the kitchen, his blond hair plastered to his flushed forehead, “Mama? I’m hot!” he whined.

“Not surprised, sitting here in the house in front of the television,” Michele scolded him. “You go turn off that heat box and come on back. You can take your daddy out a beer and put your feet in the pond. That’ll cool you off.”

The youngster trotted back toward the living room and then returned a minute later. He walked over to the refrigerator and waited while his mother picked out a green bottle. When she handed it to him, Bit pressed the bottle to his head and sighed. He had the screen door pushed wide open when his head lifted and he caught sight of Eric standing next to his brother. The vampire and the boy were side by side, looking as if they were doing some kind of dance move or fight move, Sookie couldn’t tell. Bit took one look and froze exactly as he was, door wide open and sweating beer in hand.

“Son,” Michele called from behind him, “I know you aren’t going to keep your daddy waiting when he’s standing near a hot grill.” When Bit looked over his shoulder, clearly considering keeping his daddy waiting for as long as possible, Michele chided, “I know you aren’t afraid of Uncle Eric. Just look at JC! He’s getting all kinds of cool stuff out there and you aren’t because you didn’t get out there soon enough. I’d hurry up if I was you so you don’t miss out any more than you already have!”

The young boy looked back outside, then at his mother. Sookie could see the minute he dug deep, walking forward in a determined way. She turned her eyes back toward Michele who was laughing.

“What was that all about?” the telepath asked.

“It’s me being a really bad mom!” Michele told her. When Sookie showed her disbelief, her sister-in-law shook her head, laughing harder, “It’s true! I’m going straight to hell! You know how shy Bit’s been? Well, about a week ago Andy Bellefleur was talking with JC. Andy gave JC an old detective badge he had lying around. Well, Bit took one look at that badge and wanted it in the worst way. Andy wouldn’t give him one, and told him if he was going to be a scaredy cat he needed to get used to missing out. Well, Bit got really mad and I’ve been using it ever since.” Sookie glanced back outside through the screen door. Eric had sat down on a folding lawn chair. Bit was handing his father the beer while keeping one eye on what his brother was doing. Bit started walking back toward the house when his brother spun around, hitting him. Bit stumbled and would have fallen had Eric not grabbed his arm. The look of shock on the young boy’s face was crystal clear. “Uh oh, here we go,” Michele mumbled and started to push herself up from the table, but to her surprise, and probably to his own, Bit latched onto the Viking’s hand and didn’t let go. As Michele watched, her son proceeded to climb right up into Eric’s lap and curled against his chest. Jason, who was watching with his mouth hanging open, resumed talking and the whole group carried on as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. “Well, will you look at that?” Michele said, her voice full of wonder. “You don’t think he glamoured him, do you?”

“No way!” Sookie exclaimed. “Eric would never do that to a child! I can tell you he’s just as surprised as we are,” and Sookie shrugged.

“Well, might as well get everything ready to take outside,” and Michele and Sookie pulled together paper plates, silverware, and napkins on a tray. Sookie shuttled things from the inside to the long table set up on the lawn. JC was sent to help. After her second trip, Eric rose and in a surprisingly graceful move, lifted Bit onto his shoulders. The small boy wrapped his arms around Eric’s forehead and the vampire walked to the back door to take the tray of salads from Sookie. With just one more trip that included a tray carried from the grill, they were all ready to sit down. Eric took Bit and lifted him straight over his head and then flipped him end over end until he set him right side up on the ground. Sookie found herself wondering where her Viking would have learned that move, and then she had a sad suspicion that it had been with his children from his human days, the children he had lost the night Appius took him. Eric gave her a curious look, and Sookie took his hand and squeezed it. They were just about to sit down when Bit inserted himself between them, pushing and jostling for the seat next to Eric.

“Bit!” his brother scolded.

The boy looked up, not the least bit ashamed, “But he’s cool, JC!” and the young boy slapped his body up against Eric’s. Sookie could feel Eric’s surprise and then an odd sense of embarrassment. She met his eyes, not sure what to say, while between them Bit was running his forehead along Eric’s arm. Then Sookie started laughing and Eric did the same. Michele chuckled and JC laughed, although he didn’t quite get what was so funny.

Eric found that dinner with the Stackhouses was a pleasant affair and he was almost sorry when the appointed hour arrived. He signaled Sookie that it was time to leave. They had a fairy to meet in the cemetery on Hummingbird Lane.

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The ride to the cemetery had been faster than Sookie would have liked. She was nervous about seeing Niall again. It had been so many years and the goings on lately had put her on edge. Owen had driven them, having changed back into human form and dressed in the woods at Jason’s house.

Instead of pulling all the way through to the ruined homestead, Owen parked the car near the iron gate that marked the entrance to the old burial ground. The moon was full overhead, casting a silvery light that was almost as bright as the sun on a cloudy day. It didn’t look as if the caretaker had mowed in a week or so and the grass was over Sookie’s ankles as she walked into the cemetery. There were fireflies thick in the woods and grasses surrounding the graveyard, and there was the occasional blink of light among the stones as well. Sookie walked confidently down the paths until she came to the tree and the bench that marked her Gran’s grave. The moon seemed to pass behind a cloud and she found her eyes drawn to it. When the cloud cleared and the light shone bright again, the grave markers casting shadows on the ground, she looked back to see the bench now had an occupant. Niall, Prince of the Sky Fae hadn’t changed at all. He wore a light colored suit and he had his cane with the hook-shaped inlaid handle turning under his hand. His long, fair hair loose around his face hung straight down over his shoulders. Sookie could have sworn his eyes glowed in the dark like a cat’s.

“Great-granddaughter,” he greeted her, his voice like honey to her ears, and he stood with a grace that had a hint of something wild. It was like seeing an animal run across your path and knowing instinctively if what you were seeing was a house cat or something feral and free. There was nothing domesticated about Niall.

“Great-grandfather!” she found herself responding and she walked over to him and then into the arms he opened for her. The Prince kissed her forehead and then leaned back enough to look her full in the face. Just having him touch her made her feel amazing, as if someone had taken a soft cloth and polished everything about her to a fine luster. “I missed you,” she said simply.

The Prince’s smile broadened, which made his slanted eyes tilt even further. Sookie knew she still wasn’t seeing him as he really was, but he seemed to be taking less care to hide his true nature than usual. She figured he must have his scent shield in place though, because Eric wasn’t feeling that kind of crazy she had felt from him in San Antonio the night she flooded their room with Fae magic. “And I have missed you, Great-granddaughter.” He pulled her to the bench and they sat down side by side. Sookie saw his nostrils flare and a look flickered across his face as if he smelled something bad. Sookie found herself checking her own hygiene and hoping it wasn’t a lack of cleanliness, but just as quickly his placid expression returned and his lips smiled even if his eyes were calculating. “I see that you have chosen to bind yourself to the vampire.”

“Yes, Eric and I are bonded,” Sookie confirmed, allowing her voice to take on a slightly scolding tone. “We are bonded and I hope you are happy for us.”

Niall looked over her shoulder and Sookie could see his expression change. The telepath turned around to see Eric staring coldly back at the Prince. Without breaking eye contact, Niall said, “Thank you for bringing my great-granddaughter, Eric. I will call you when we are finished.”

“Grandfather,” Sookie took the Prince’s hand and willed him to look back at her, “I would prefer Eric stay. He is my Intended and there is no reason he shouldn’t share in our conversation.” Sookie saw something flicker in the deep green of her great-grandfather’s eyes, and then suddenly they were standing side by side near the open foundation of what had been her house. Sookie looked around, disoriented for a moment, and took a step back. “How…”

“If you were practicing your skills as you should, you wouldn’t be surprised,” the fairy said dryly. Then he looked around him, a smile lighting his face, “This always was such a pleasant place. I can understand how this would have called to Fintan.” Then he walked close to Sookie, whose mouth was opening and closing like a fish, and laid his hand on her cheek, “You look very much as your grandmother did at your age, the same beauty.”

“Grandfather! I can’t believe you just took me away!” There was a rustle behind them and Eric emerged from the bushes. He stopped at the treeline. Sookie glanced at him, “I’m fine, really,” she said out loud and she could feel her vampire relax a bit. Then something strange happened. It was as if Eric went into down time. He was standing, looking right at her but his whole being and everything he was sending her muted. Sookie swung back to Niall, “What did you do?”

“I wish to speak with you alone,” the Prince said reasonably. “You seem to be connected with the dark one at a deeper level than I anticipated, although I was warned,” he was speaking as if he were having half the conversation with himself and Sookie huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. The Prince’s eyes narrowed; and Sookie saw that same sharp-toothed, feral face she saw flow under her own skin when she felt her temper rise, but unlike herself, the look was only a flicker across the Prince’s face before he was looking apologetic and cordial again. “I will not harm you or your vampire. But please,” he gestured with his arm toward the overgrown rose bushes, “indulge me with a short walk. You will be within sight of him,” and Niall lifted his chin and glanced at Eric, “at all times. Of course, if you have reconsidered and don’t wish to see me, I will leave now.”

“No, no…” Sookie conceded, “I do want to see you. You just startled me, that’s all.”

Niall smiled then and gestured that Sookie should precede him. They walked under the moonlight and as they reached the far side of the rose bushes it seemed the moon became brighter and they were surrounded in the soft light of fireflies. Sookie couldn’t help but sigh at the sheer beauty of it. “It is lovely, isn’t it?” her grandfather asked. “And were you to embrace your gifts, you would be able to summon such beauty at any time.” He sighed, looking up at the skies, and it seemed the starlight focused on his face, bathing him in silver and shadow. “As Sky Fae your heritage gives you dominion over all things of the air. The weather, the light of sun and moon, the breath of wind? All these things would answer to you if you choose to embrace that part of yourself.”

“You really think I could do that?” Sookie asked doubtfully.

“I know it,” the Prince told her smoothly. “Why, already you are outstripping your teacher. You summon and then you send back which is a far more difficult skill. Bellenos tells me you came into that magic on your own. Why, Sookie, when I was young it took me many years to master what you achieved with no direction at all. And look at how the light gathers around you! Every time you allow your magic to surface, you will pull more of your essential spark to you. Magic attracts magic, dearest one.” The Prince ran his hand over a branch of the rose bush and before her eyes, buds formed, swelled and broke open in lush, perfumed blossoms. “Your Grandmother would have loved to see the bounty of this place,” the Prince said and then looked up at Sookie. There was something about how he was looking at her combined with the heady perfume that now soaked the air that made Sookie feel heavy-eyed.

She shook her head to clear it, “What would you like me to do, Grandfather?” Sookie asked.

Rather than answer her, Niall stepped into the clearing that stretched between the woods and where the house had stood. “This land is where you were formed, Granddaughter. It carries both promise and blessing. Your Grandmother understood that,” Niall turned back to her, his eyes glowing a soft green. “I will rebuild your house here. If you spend time in this place and open yourself to it, you would find that your magic would grow.”

Sookie found it difficult to take her eyes from him, his ethereal beauty outlined in silver starlight. “Why is this so important to you? My life isn’t here anymore. My life is in New Orleans with Eric, or wherever he goes.”

The Prince smiled, “Do you remember the night we had dinner?”

Sookie swallowed and licked her lips, “Yes, I remember.”

“I thought you were in love with your creature then, but I was mistaken.”

Sookie felt like a bird being stalked by a cat. She didn’t know why. Her Grandfather hadn’t moved forward or made any threatening gesture, but there was something in how he refused to answer her questions and the strange stillness of Eric, seemingly frozen on the other side of the yard that was making her increasingly nervous. “I don’t know, I think maybe you were right then, but I just couldn’t accept it.”

Niall turned his head a little, a smile playing on his lips. “Your Grandmother once told me that children are the proof of her God’s love. Do you believe that?”

Sookie didn’t feel dreamy anymore. She felt energized in a way she didn’t understand. “I know Finn told us that you were going to use the cluviel dor to give us a child.”

“Look at how hopeful you are, standing there. You love him that much that you would bear his children if you could?” Sookie’s breath caught. Would she?

“Finn said that with the cluviel dor gone that it’s not possible,” and Sookie licked her lips and tried to look less hopeful, but her heart was hammering.

“Anything is possible, Sookie,” and the Prince stepped forward and took her hand. She saw how the starlight that seemed to outline his form now outlined her own. “A cluviel dor is a love gift. It can only be made by one who has both the craft and the desire to give such a wonder to their heart’s mate. If you were to practice your skills, it is possible that you could create such a thing,” and the Prince smiled quickly before adding, “if that is what you wish.”

Sookie wasn’t sure what to say. Anything she could think of as a response didn’t seem adequate. Niall smiled again, “The house will be built for you. I will send word when it is completed. If you come here once a month, even for a few days, it will be made yours in a year’s time. If you choose not to come, I will have it destroyed, and I will not make this offer to you again.” The Prince’s tone told her he was serious. “If you accept your heritage, Sookie, I will replace your teacher with another who has more advanced skills, someone who can help you discover your unique magics in addition to those skills we all share,” He glanced toward Eric who was still standing stock still, faintly glowing against the dark of the woods. “I will honor your mate’s sensitivities and make your next instructor a female,” and the Prince smiled thinly again. “They are very possessive creatures. It must satisfy some need within you to wish to attach yourself to one.”

“I love him,” Sookie replied. To her way of thinking there really was nothing else to say.

“I hope for all our sakes that you love him enough, grand-daughter,” Niall smiled. He pulled her forward and kissed her, his lips like feathers against her cheek. There was a blink of soft light and he was gone. Sookie turned toward Eric who seemed to wake up. He moved to her at vamp speed and then took her hand.

“What did he say, Lover?” Eric asked.

“A lot,” Sookie replied. “Let’s head back to the house and I’ll tell you.” As they walked through the cemetery and towards the waiting car, Sookie found herself wondering about Eric’s reaction to everything Niall had said and hinted. She remembered how he had told her that children for them would be a commotion, that it could be dangerous. ‘Don’t be silly,’ Sookie thought to herself. ‘You shouldn’t get all worked up because you’ll never be strong enough to really make a cluviel dor!’ Sookie took Eric’s hand in hers and he drew her hand through his elbow. Once she was settled in the car he walked around to his side. As he was about to climb in he put his hand in his back pocket. There was a piece of paper which Eric didn’t remember. He pulled it out and unfolded it. In bold letters were the words, “Return here tomorrow night. We should talk” and it was signed “Niall.”

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Author’s Note: My thanks to Breathesgirl and to Ms Buffy. I am beholden to you and thank you from the bottom of my heart for your generosity! You are the best betas out there, bar none!

Thank you to my readers! There were a number of comments after this last chapter and I’m happy to see that we are sharing our enthusiasm for the direction this is headed. Of course there will be some ‘thrills and spills’ along the way. What worthwhile ever comes without some difficulty? There is something in the earning that makes the having all the sweeter. (And yes, I do write some short stories where it’s just fluff and light…heat…. light. Finishing one right now for one of the summer challenges. You should see it in another 30 days or so)

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23 thoughts on “Chapter 29 – Running the Gut

  1. Another great chapter. Dinner with the family was great. I’m glad Eric felt comfortable and won over the kids, even as a substitute air conditioner.
    Interesting information Pam and Thalia have got. This is a part of the AP’s big picture, I’m sure, uncovering the bad seeds. How they are dealt with will be interesting. I think Sookie’s renewed commitment to Eric must have opened new paths for the AP to see, and I would assume they are favourable to her plans. It remains to be seen if it is in Sookie and Eric’s interests.
    I can almost see Niall offering Eric a financial life raft in exchange for his firstborn. I hope he only wants Eric to ensure that Sookie works on her magic and it’s nothing too Grimm. The only chance of Eric being able to keep Sookie and any potential fae heirs safe is him being in the most powerful position as possible. I can see Niall backing him in exchange for a possible heir.
    Thalia is such a strong character. She will prove to be invaluable many more times in both perspective and brutality. She also seems to be very well connected and a great source of information. Eric is wise to keep her and her counsel.
    Thanks again for writing and sharing with us.
    Blessings

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thinking about that first dinner meeting the family was so much fun. Of course they knew of each other but never spent much time together. Throw In a couple boys… I don’t think they will ever be totally comfortable. They are too different and come from different places but there is some fondness. As for Niall? He is working to his benefit and theirs- as long as their goals align. If Sookie’s and Eric should decide not to play I think he’d press any favor-don’t you?

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  2. I really enjoyed the intereaction between Eric and Jason’s kids!
    I’m wondering what is Naill’s real agenda! That talk with Sookie got me suspicious…now I’m understanding your reply on my last review!
    Can’t wait for the next chapter…please update soon!
    Jackie69

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  3. I got behind again but the awesome part of that is having so many banked chapters to read!
    It’s a little off topic this chapter but I’m wondering if Karin’s ‘job’ which she doesn’t expect to return from will be the (no pun intended) lifeline Eric and Co. need. It’s been said Karin has A LOT of $$$$$, money Eric would never accept from her with the riff between them. But if it came to her maker thru inheritance..?
    OTOH, while I think Karin made some massive blunders I still hate If she dies, yet I can’t come up with any other way for Eric to pull the money rabbit out of the hat with so many working to block him.
    In a strange way I feel Karins character represents and gives voice to me as a reader – the reader who is prone to be leery of Sookies flip flopping and at times judges her by her past actions/lack of action; I can understand where Karin is coming from. However, her acting upon assumptions and subsequent betrayals I’m obviously not on board with.
    Maybe that’s what Niall will offer -$$$, yet it’s hard to believe Eric will take from the twisty self serving putz knowing what he’s capable of – and already tried!
    Exciting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The way I see it there are three problems one of which looks to be making progress. The divorce, money and Sookie’s future place in Eric’s world. Of course there are new problems but if these don’t resolve the new ones could get much worse.
      Karin was never developed well in the original. You got a sense she was possessive and fiercer than Pam but not much else. I also find her approachable. But Coronation is on my laptop along with final writing on my exchange story.

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  4. Pam an Thalia dealing with spies was brilliant and hope they keep going as they are likely to discover a conspiracy or two…. All thanks to Sookie’s research btw!

    Great dinner at the stackhouses!

    But if course Niall had to come and be an ass and create discord…. He doesn’t truly respect Sookie’s choice nor her mate so there he goes trying to make them keep secrets from each other…. I hope Eric and Sookie have learnt their lesson and tell each other everything? What would niall’s intention be towards a child of Sookie’s if he/she carried the spark? Become a Fae heir?

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    1. Thalia and Pam are the pair to watch. They will be having their own brand of cooking for a while but don’t look for Betty Crocker!!
      You are right about Sookie’s too! She was always smarter than she gave herself credit for.
      Niall’s been out of touch for a while. He does seem to be laboring under some old beliefs.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I just knew Eric was going to get along great with his new nephews. It’s like my ovaries are bursting just thinking about him and those kids☺️ I’m not sure what to think of Niall. Right now I don’t trust him. I’m going to reserve final judgement for now. Can’t wait to hear what he has to say to Eric!

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    1. Eric is just good at so much. He is also a pragmatist. I sometimes think he fought against his feelings because being is love was not logical. It does put a chink in his invulnerable shield but he’ll learn that it’s risking and sometimes losing that makes you the strongest of all.
      Yeah-strong man and children!😍

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  6. Excellent. Pam and Thalia have been rooting out spies and gaining information. Thalia has a point that killing the previous monarch would have made Eric look stronger than having it handed to him. I like that he is not perfect. He has to struggle to succeed just like other people. The dinner with Jason and his family was great. I kept expecting one of the boys to exhibit telepathy. I love how they took to Eric. Niall is cryptic as always. The idea that Sookie could someday craft a cluviel dor is intriguing. I wonder what he wants to talk about with Eric.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If vampires held all the cards, they wouldn’t have to get along with humans at all. I figure it says something about them that they are willing to make the effort – like there are no other real options for them. I remember reading a fanfic where Sookie makes the point that vampires are more dependent on humans than they like to admit, and it was a concept that stuck with me. Jason’s kids and telepathy? Nope – short end of the gene pool on that one! As for kids loving him? He may not think so, but kids will, and that will give Pam and some others plenty of ammunition once he is a little more secure on his throne.
      Niall is Niall. In a world where Eric is old, Niall is infinitely older. Probably older than the A.P. I think that kind of experience makes you think that everyone and everything around you is disposable. The only thing that matters are those who are your family.
      I won’t leave you wondering – Eric’s chat with Niall is in the next chapter – although fair warning – the chapter is a long one.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I had a lot of fun thinking about Eric’s time with the kids. I had an uncle who was outlandishly tall, very handsome, and looked younger than most of those around him. He had a wicked sense of humor and enjoyed poking fun at his peers, among them his sister, who was my mother. We adored him. He would play tricks on us the same way he would prank adults. He would give us airplane rides and hang us upside down. He was the tickle monster, but he was never goofy. He just treated us like we were his play toys and in some ways we were. We would tag after him, begging him to torture us. When I thought about Eric – a guy who needs to blow off steam with Pam every once in a while, and who had lots of steam right now, it all just came together.

      And Niall? Just think older than dirt and has seen more and lost more than any other sentient creature. He lives by his own rules because, in the end, he will outlive you and so he wins anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It was good to see the fun side of Pam again! If only she could have seen him with Bit glued to him lol. Kids make great ice breakers, and there is always something lovely about imagining Eric interacting with children. I think it’s the eternal child in him that calls out for simple things. I actually just saw things from Niall’s point of view – regardless of Sookie’s happiness he is responsible for a whole supernatural race. It puts things in a different perspective so I think they will need to come to some sort of agreement with him. He was most certainly using the allure of children when he suggested she could create her own cluviel dor – just as manipulative as Vamps! He wants Sookie to come into all of her powers and he’s going to get that anyway he can. I just hope Eric can still be around her considering the scent created when she was scrying.

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    1. I’m sure there was some element of awkward with the kids. I see why you would say that about Eric. I think there’s something about the juxtaposition of warrior with the gentleness children require that appeals.
      Niall is not wholly bad. As you point out he is facing a start reality both on behalf of himself and his people.

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