Author’s Note: This is probably one of my longest chapters to date, and I hope it provides answers to the questions you’ve been asking. Of course, there will be a few more questions when it’s done, but you know how I enjoy tangled threads and slow reveals. I look forward to hearing from you and I thank you for your reading.
Thank you to Breathesgirl and to Ms Buffy. You ask the right questions and you catch my imperfect memory of things and names. I am so fortunate in you.
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: Port is the left side of the boat as you stand at the helm and face forward. It is signified by a red light. It is more common to pass to starboard, or on the right. When you pass to port, you may very well be tacking up and over to steal the other boat’s wind on the way. It can be slang for a sneaky maneuver.
“I am looking forward to seeing you, Pammie!” the Minnesota Queen boomed. “Don’t think you can just give me a European fly-by and it will ever be enough. I am putting everyone here on notice that I’m taking a full two weeks. The first week is going to be with you in New Orleans and the next week I’m splitting between your new place in Arkansas and the Clan Chief plus one, and if you’re smart, you’ll plan to come with me there too.”
Pam couldn’t help but grin. There was something about the take-no-prisoners enthusiasm of her friend that defeated any idea she had of refusing. “I’d love to see Jackson again,” she replied, “as if I’d trust you there on your own. Who else would save you from your fashion faux pas? I heard a rumor that Bartlett has been redecorating in some version of early 1960s. I suspect you’ll hate it.”
“As if I’d speak my mind!” Maude said archly.
“As if you wouldn’t!” Pam retorted.
“What the hell is early 1960’s anyway? Is that a style?”
“Think avocado green, harvest yellow, and burnt orange,” Pam replied, “Square furniture in shiny fabrics and metal tables.”
“You’re kidding me!” Maude cried out. “I’d rather sleep in the ground! How far are you from Jackson? Maybe I’d be better off staying the whole second week with you. You’re not redecorating, are you?”
“Don’t worry; I don’t have the money for it!” Pam snarked.
“Oh, so, one good thing that’s come out of your financial woes then!” and just the way Maude said it had both women laughing.
When they fell into a lull, Maude figured it was time to get around to just why her Pam had called. “Okay, Pamela mine, out with it! You never call for purely social reasons anymore and I don’t believe this is any different. What’s up?”
Pam could just about see her friend sitting in her oversized leather chair, her feet in her sensible shoes propped up on an ottoman. “Tell me you’re draped in some nasty blanket and wearing flannel,” Pam snipped.
“I make it look good,” Maude replied evenly, “And you’re avoiding the question which worries me.”
“Don’t be,” the Regent assured her, “I’m sure it’s nothing.” Pam twisted the necklace around her neck and stared out at the lights of the city. “Did you know my Sheriff, Jane, when she was at Phoebe’s Court?”
“The adventurer? I heard she was with you now. I met her a time or two. Fearless. Crackerjack lab assistant, especially with the special cases,” Maude responded. “I wondered if you might find common ground with her. She reminds me of some of the best aspects of you.”
Pam found herself feeling relieved. Maude didn’t warm up to people readily in spite of what appeared to be an easy going exterior. She had good instincts that were rarely wrong and she wouldn’t compliment unless she knew it was warranted. “If you mean aspects other than my amazing fashion sense and timeless elegance, well then I guess she might have those,” Pam smiled. “Did you hear about her getting involved with Fae? Trips to Nebraska?”
“Hmm,” Maude was taking her time. “No, not directly, but I was in Iowa recently and Phoebe more or less admitted that she’s been doing reproductive research for them, fairies, I mean. Oh!” the Queen exclaimed as if something just occurred to her, “and not just any fairies. She referred to Dermot and Niall by name, so I suppose these would be your… what? In-laws?”
Pam made a choking noise, “So if I should be fortunate enough to drain one dry that would be…”
“Fratricide?” Maude supplied.
“Tasty with benefits!” Pam responded. She took a deep breath, “I suppose they would be related to me somehow, but that doesn’t mean I trust them. So you think that Jane would have met them…”
“Through the lab? Absolutely! This kind of research doesn’t happen overnight and I had the distinct impression that this has been going on for some time.” Maude made a small sound herself, “I remember when I couldn’t go walking through the forest without running into the Fae. Now? I can’t think of the last time I saw or smelled anything even close.”
“Eric once told me that they used to number in the thousands here. Now they are in the hundreds and maybe not even that.”
Maude seemed to have come to a conclusion, “I don’t think she’ll lie. Ask Jane straight out and see what she says. If you don’t like the answer, send her back to Phoebe and use it as a favor owed for wasting your time. Don’t kill her. She’s too valuable to Golden and it would cause bad blood.”
‘Thanks,” Pam said. She settled back, “By the way, you seeing an uptick in spies?”
“Not spies!” Maude spat. “Saboteurs and almost all out of the East!”
“New York?” Pam prompted.
‘You too?” Maude threw her head back and sighed, “Damn it, he’s being reckless and the progeny are wandering everywhere. It’s like watching cockroaches streaming from under the sink. From what I’m hearing they are popping up in most of the northern kingdoms and I take it you’ve found a few.”
“Our second so far,” Pam acknowledged. “Thalia had him singing in no time at all.” Pam thought of the pile of sludge that would need cleaning in her dungeon room. “He was young, Maude. Not more than a few years old and out and about without a Maker. He was functioning and spying. The rumors I hear is that New York’s having humans trapped and turned on a grand scale – sometimes multiples a night. He has set up some kind of farm or another for the purpose?”
“I heard it’s in upstate New York, somewhere in the Adirondacks.”
“You are closer to Clan hierarchy. Is someone going to do something about it?” Pam asked. “This could hurt all of us. If someone doesn’t put an end to this soon…”
“It’s why I’m spending time with Bartlett and Russell. I’d assumed it hadn’t shown up that far south yet. Now it sounds like it has, but, I’m with you. I don’t think we can rely on Moshup to clean their house this time. The story out of Boston is grim. Almost as bad as a certain story I heard about Victor Madden,” and Maude waited for Pam to respond.
“Victor was not tortured,” Pam provided. “It was a clean kill. Akiro too.”
Maude seemed to be satisfied, “Well, then it’s better than what went down in Boston. My source was there. The torture went on for days. No one was spared.” Maude’s remarks told Pam that the Minnesota Queen had someone in the New York King’s court, someone well placed.
“Thalia wants to take action,” Pam said in a tone that was really a question.
“Thalia‘s always ready for action,” Maude replied reasonably. “She’s a one woman wrecking team. I can’t say I’m surprised. A fighter in an age of talking is never going to be able to relax. And that one? Every time I see a statue or picture of Nike I think of her – flaming sword in hand.”
“She may have posed for them,” Pam said drily, “but I don’t disagree. These kinds of things never improve with waiting. Mikhail will turn more humans and getting caught is just a matter of time.”
Maude sniffed and then seemed to make a decision when she said, “You may want to take a look at one of your other little acquisitions while you’re at it. You know both Thomas and Thierry came through New York. Now, I’ve maintained enough contact with Isaiah that I can vouch for Thomas. He has a nasty temper and a sick sense of humor but he has no love lost for New York. He came out of there running from something and he’s never looked back. But Thierry? There’s something off about that one.”
“In what way?” Pam asked. She had a sinking feeling. The French vampire was becoming central to many of Eric’s plans for the kingdom. While Eric hadn’t said as much, she knew he was leaning in Thierry’s direction as a possible second for himself when Thalia inevitably left him.
“For one thing my source says his name still comes up in general conversation in New York’s Court. For those who leave without permission, it’s like they are finally dead. That is the case for Jane and Thomas as well. They left with limbs intact but no welcome waiting if they want it.”
“You think he’s working for New York?” Pam asked outright.
“I don’t know,” Maude replied. “I’ll make some inquiries, but you may want to put some strings on him in the meantime.”
Pam and Maude talked about arrangements for the upcoming Coronation and Pam described her dress after which Maude snorted and described her own gown that sounded hideous, but Pam suspected her friend was just torturing her. When Pam finally hung up she glanced at the clock. It was late enough that she could call Eric and have a good chance he’d pick up without her having to leave a message.
As they drove from the cemetery to Pam’s house near Shreveport, Eric could feel Sookie’s turmoil. “Your Grandfather doesn’t approve of your being bonded to me,” he said without looking at her.
“I don’t think it’s you in particular,” Sookie answered. “He told me in the past that he thought pretty well of you. I think it’s that you’re not Fae. Although I will say, he has a heck of a nerve thinking he has any right to say anything. When I really needed him he was gone and now that everything is going better, he decides to waltz in and stir the shit pot.”
Eric glanced at his woman, “Even if he hadn’t called me a creature, your feelings now are all I need to prove that he is here to cause trouble. But there is more.” Eric passed Sookie the note he had found in his pocket. He could feel her simmering turmoil turn to boiling anger and she turned to him, words forming on her lips. Eric grabbed her hand and pushed caution at her. Sookie looked up at him and he cut his eyes toward Owen in the front seat. Sookie couldn’t believe how quickly she had slid into a false sense of security, forgetting the guard was even there. She blushed and looked up at Eric and nodded, silently signaling they would talk more about this when they arrived back at Pam’s house.
Eric glanced at her as he shifted to sprawl against the seat, “I have some local business associates I should meet with tomorrow night, Lover. Would you like to spend some more time with your family? You may not get another chance to see them before the Coronation.”
Sookie forced a smile. She understood that this was Eric’s plan to place her closer to his meeting place. It also meant Eric was going to meet Niall without guards, and that was unsettling. “Sure, I’ll text them and see if that’s okay,” She pulled out her phone and tapped in a message. He could feel that she was worrying about why he seemed uncertain with Owen and it was a mood swiftly progressing to all out paranoia. Eric took her hand, smiled broadly, and shook his head. He hoped she understood he was just being cautious, that there was no real danger. He could feel her emotions even out again, and she said, “You sure were a hit with Jason’s family. I didn’t think Bit was going to let you go.”
Eric huffed, “I was flattered until I realized he was using me as his personal cooling unit.”
“It was really cute,” Sookie teased. “You may be hearing from Pam about it.”
“Why would Pam be asking me?” Eric knew immediately what Sookie had done. “You sent her a picture, Lover?” he asked, not bothering to hide his annoyance.
“Oh no!” Sookie said contritely, “I couldn’t deny Pam the full pleasure of the moment. I took a video of you trying the clear the table and Bit hanging off your leg like a little Cling-on!” There was a muffled snort from the front seat and Eric turned to the telepath, his eyebrow raised, and a distinct “I told you so” on his face.
Sookie’s phone pinged and she smiled as she texted her response. “Michele said come on over and have dinner. She’s inviting Tara DuRone to come too. Oh, and their air conditioning is back, so if you get a big sticky greeting from Bit you’ll know it isn’t just your physical attributes that makes him like you,” and Sookie poked Eric in the leg.
Eric allowed his fangs to drop, “You don’t mind using me for my physical attributes,” he smirked.
Sookie blushed and glanced forward, all too aware now that they weren’t alone, “Just hush!” she whispered. “We can talk more about that when we get back to Pam’s!” Eric laughed, wrapped his arm around her, and pulled her close. It had been a trying evening. Eric was still angry at how casually the Prince had frozen him in place. If the Prince had meant to abduct Sookie or cause him any real harm, there was nothing he would have been able to do about it, but Eric was sure that that was exactly the message the Prince meant him to receive. Niall wanted them to know that he had all the power, yet he had done nothing to injure either of them.
The car pulled up to the two story colonial. Owen jumped out to open the car door while at the same time Charles opened the door to the house itself. As Eric walked through the door he said, “I would appreciate your both patrolling the perimeter for the next hour,” and then placed his arm around Sookie’s waist, pulling her toward the stairs.
Charles nodded and stepped outside, pulling the door shut behind him. Owen was grinning beside him. “You should have seen the Stackhouse kids fawning all over the King!” he guffawed.
Charles looked skeptical, “How did he handle it? Can’t imagine he’s all that comfortable around children.”
“Well, surprised the hell out of me. He’s a natural. Reminded me of my brother, just a real way with boys. I think I told you about the Stackhouse boy, the younger one, real momma’s boy? I thought they were going to have to have him surgically removed. He was asking his momma to let him go home with ‘Uncle Eric…”
Charles was smiling and shaking his head, “You are a terrible liar!”
Owen put his hand on his chest, “Pack honor! I’ve never seen a vamp give a kid the time of day before, well, except for those creepy hungry looks they get.”
Charles crossed his arms and looked into the darkness, “I’ve always been grateful we taste so bad to them. Makes me less nervous about this work. I know that if things were to go sideways they won’t prey on my wife and kids.”
Owen nodded. “I wouldn’t worry about that,” he assured Charles. “Emil has a good handle on all of this and from what I’m hearing, he and Max Lee are getting along like peas in a pod.”
Charles looked sideways at Owen, “You know, if you were ever interested, there are folks who would support you as Packmaster.”
Owen smiled readily, “I like Emil’s way of doing things well enough. Besides, my kids are young and between Claire’s wanting a new kitchen and my travel with this job, I have plenty on my plate!” Owen stretched his back and looked at the line of trees, his nose twitching. “What say we take a stroll around the perimeter?” he grinned, and together they shifted.
Eric walked straight to the bathroom and started the water. Sookie wondered if Pam had bought the house with a bathtub this large or if she’d had it specially installed. When he felt her question, Eric glanced at her over his shoulder. “The tub,” she said. “I was wondering if she installed it after she moved in.”
“She did,” Eric confirmed. “I saw the bill and asked her about it. It’s the night I found out about Miriam and realized how important she had become to Pam.”
“How does that work, anyway?” Sookie asked. “I know you love her and you care for her, but do you feel… I don’t know… fatherly?”
Eric snorted, “If you mean like the stepfather in a porn movie…” and then he stopped. “I didn’t mean that,” the Viking told her, “You know that Pam and I have not had sex in over a hundred years.”
Sookie couldn’t believe they were going to have this conversation, but all of Niall’s talk about children had stirred up other kinds of concerns. “Do you think you’d ever make another child?” she asked.
Eric looked at her oddly, “Are you asking me if I would make another child like Pam or Karin?”
“Would you?” Eric could feel something that was not settled coming from his Intended, so he took her hand in his and waited until she quieted.
“I can’t say that I would never make another. There could be circumstances or I might be compelled.”
Sookie swallowed, “So, it would be okay for you to make a child, but if I wanted one…”
“How would that happen?” Eric asked and he felt an unreasonable jealousy. “You would want to carry another’s child? Within your body? For what purpose?” Eric had the sudden, strong impression of standing on the edge of a precipice. Although he couldn’t sweat he felt distinctly uncomfortable. He looked up and saw Sookie watching him carefully and he realized that this answer was important. “I can pledge to you that I will not make another child without your permission. Is that acceptable?”
Sookie smiled weakly and nodded, “I guess that will have to do,” she replied and then she walked out of the bathroom and into the bedroom.
Eric realized he was grinding his teeth. ‘Niall!’ he thought. Eric stood up and followed Sookie into the bedroom. She was standing next to the bed and her face was turned away from him. Eric walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her, “Jag älskar dig, Älskade. I would not do something to hurt you or make you unhappy. I know I am not saying things well. Come! We will get in the bath and talk.”
Sookie allowed herself to be turned to him, her smile so forced it looked painful, “Yeah, sure. It’s been a really, really long day.”
Eric pulled her into the bathroom to stand next to the tub. He started with the ties of her dress, pulling them one by one and following each section of skin that was exposed with his lips. He murmured against her skin, soothing and stroking her with his fingers. When the last of her clothes were puddled on the floor, he removed his so quickly she could barely follow him with her eyes. He stepped into the tub and then reached for her hand and helped her join him. Eric leaned over her long enough to turn off the running water and then turned her back to him and supported her as he lowered them both into the warm water. He moved her a little so her head was leaning against his shoulder, “Are you comfortable?” he asked. When she nodded, he picked up a sponge and used it to smooth warm water across her shoulders and down her neck. He made a point of avoiding her breasts or any other part that would have created sexual tension between them. And so they sat for a long time, Eric washing and squeezing water to run down her body and Sookie leaning back, her eyes closed.
After a while, Sookie said, “It really would have been bad, wouldn’t it?”
Eric made an effort to continue his movements, slow and soothing, “If we had made a child together?” Sookie nodded. There was something about hearing him say the words out loud that was causing her throat to catch. “It would not have been wise, Lover. For one thing, you weren’t with me. You were with Quinn. You would have been angry with me and angry with yourself to have found yourself with child, particularly with someone you thought of as poorly as you did me.”
“Yeah,” Sookie sighed, “I think you’re right about that.”
“And then there was the takeover,” Eric continued.
Sookie stilled, “What would have happened, Eric?”
The Viking never stopped his movements, slow and soothing, “Felipe would have taken you and the child. Even if it wasn’t apparent, he would have known something about the arrangement was different. It would not have mattered what we said. He would have held you to force my good behavior. If the child had been magical, he would have killed me and enslaved you. If you had proven yourself troublesome, he might have killed you as well, and then turned the child as soon as it was old enough.” Sookie could feel her body tensing, her heart wanting to burst at the words. “Of course, it is possible I might have talked you into pledging with me before the takeover, in which case he could not have taken you, but the pressure on me to fail would have been even worse than it was. He would have been determined to find any excuse to remove you from me.”
Sookie gulped, “And then there was Neave and Lochlan…”
Eric’s hand stilled, “Yes, Älskade, Niall’s enemies would not have hesitated to kill your child before your eyes as a way to increase your torture.” Sookie could feel Eric’s emotions and they were not steady.
Sookie’s voice was not steady either, “If somehow we survived, I’m not sure Appius would have approved.” Eric’s hands started moving again, the sponge smoothing and dragging lightly along her skin.
“My Maker would have been at a loss to explain what he would have felt. In the same way he was able to influence you because you shared my blood; his presence would have affected any child that was part of me…”
“And Alexei would have killed him,” Sookie said with finality.
Behind her Eric was nodding, “Yes, Lover. I think that Alexei’s distress would have compelled him to murder the child as he was murdered.”
“So,” Sookie said, her voice low and strained, “Guess it’s a good thing we’re not likely to have any children.” It all felt too much and Sookie started to rise out of the bath. She just wanted to walk away from this conversation. Her life when looked at this way was not pretty and the whole thing was starting to make her feel miserable.
Eric caught her hand, “You have not told me what Niall said to you. Please, Lover. Tell me,” he whispered.
Sookie shrugged, “He wants me to learn magic and he’s going to re-build Gran’s house. He said if I will go there and practice my skills a couple days a month, he’ll sign the house over to me. If I don’t, all bets are off.”
“That is all?” Eric asked, pulling her steadily until she rested back against him again.”
Sookie drew air through her nose and swallowed. “He said that it was possible that I could make a cluviel dor. He told me he thinks I would have the skill and motivation to make one.”
“Motivation?” Eric asked.
“A cluviel dor is a kind of love gift, Eric. Niall believes that I love you enough to make it happen.” And Sookie glanced over her shoulder and gave a quick smile and a little shrug. “Well, the whole thing is just silly. There is no way I’ll ever be good enough to do something like that.”
Eric stilled behind her, “You are wrong, Lover,” he said gravely. “There is nothing you have ever decided you wanted that you didn’t get. I believe that if you want to make that charm, you will.”
Sookie shrugged again, “It’s real nice of you to say, Eric. It’s real sweet.”
“Sookie?” Eric shifted forward and turned her around so she was looking right at him. “I am not being nice to you. I have seen you do it over and over. I know what you can do and if you decide you want one of those charms, I know you will do it.” Sookie could feel Eric’s conviction and in that moment she loved him more than she ever thought she could.
Sookie smiled, and then shrugged, “I really don’t know why I’m so worried about it. It’s like we were saying, even thinking about making a baby is just so selfish. How would our world ever be safe enough for an infant? It’s just silly!”
“Of course, Lover,” Eric answered reasonably, “We are happy now, and it took a great deal to achieve this. There are so many variables to be considered as things are. Just being together defeats all the odds. Why would we tempt fate further?”
Sookie didn’t say any more. Instead she leaned forward and threw her arms around her vampire, and he picked her up from the bath. He stooped to grab a towel and continued to the bed. He set her down and rapidly dried her, then pushed her toward the bed. Sookie pulled up the cover and slid into the sheets while around her Eric lit candle after candle. When the room was glowing he walked to the armoire at the far end of the bed and opened one door. It was a long mirror. Eric crawled up the bed, his beautiful behind on full display in the mirror’s reflection, and Sookie thought, “Oh my!” before his head between her legs made her forget to think of anything else.
Much later as she lay against him, her eyes dragging into sleep, he kissed her head and said, “I think I wore you out enough to sleep soundly tonight.”
Sookie made a soft sound before opening her eyes a little, “What are you talking about?”
“You snore,” Eric said.
“I don’t snore!” Sookie answered, feeling more awake all of the sudden. “I don’t! Ladies don’t snore!”
Eric shrugged, “It’s not that loud…”
“I don’t snore!” Sookie insisted. “Maybe I breathe a little loudly, or could be I make little noises in my sleep, but I definitely don’t snore!”
Eric’s smile was mischievous as he wrapped her up against him, “No, my warrior, you couldn’t do that!” He stroked her back and then her flank, “Now sleep, Lover. Sleep and dream beautiful things.” As she snuggled against him, her eyes closing, it occurred to Eric that Sookie hadn’t exactly agreed with him earlier.
Eric finished reviewing reports he had received from Max, Indira, and Thierry. Max’s report laid out in detail the regular meetings that had started in his Area with local vampires. Those who were being added to his kingdom’s census were being screened and any names with questionable ties or suspicious motives were being sent to Thalia. Eric knew that what he was reading between the lines of each report was telling him that his kingdom was starting to gain a sense of normalcy.
He found he was feeling surprisingly hopeful when he saw Pam’s picture on his cell phone.
“Good evening, Pamela!” he greeted her.
“Good evening, Velcro King!” she answered.
“Explain,” Eric said suspiciously.
“I won’t have to,” Pam snarked. “You’ll find a present when you get home. When you get tired of admiring its many qualities you’ll find it seconds as a parlor game. So much better than Pictionary or Scattergories.” Eric growled. He hoped that whatever she had put together wasn’t too ostentatious or being too publically displayed. “So, I had an interesting conversation with Maude,” his Regent continued. “Jane is due to arrive here tomorrow night. Thalia tells me she had a questionable liaison with a woman, Mercedes, from the Dakotas while she was at the Summit. Didn’t take much scratching to find Felipe written all over her, but Maude is vouching for Jane. She suggested I just ask her outright what she’s up to and I will. I’ll write up my report and send it along. She vouched for Thomas too. But, Eric? She suggested we do some more digging with Thierry.”
“How so?” Eric had come to admire his Area 2 Sheriff and liked spending time with him. Thierry made him laugh. The Viking found himself hoping his faith had not been misplaced.
“Maude says his name is still bandied about the New York King’s Court. Thalia tells me he hooked up with the Carolina retinue in San Antonio and spent the night with the Queen as well.”
“Enterprising!” Eric said, and then allowed his more pragmatic side to surface. “Make sure we have watchers on him. He is unsupervised right now in Lafayette except for a human crew and some Were guards I sent from New Orleans. Have Max find him a couple vampire helpers we can trust. Thalia should double check his guards as well. We have a tendency to forget our Weres have eyes. I know Thalia will make the same full use of her eyes in Lafayette as she is doing in other places,” and he paused. He didn’t know if Thalia was listening to this call, but if she was she would realize he knew she was using his guards to spy on him as well as everyone else.
“Speaking of Max,” Pam hit the keys on her computer, “would you mind if he and I finished the work with Twy for the Coronation? You’ve been out of pocket, which is understandable, but there are a hundred small details that need to be wrapped up. The obvious is that the main invitations have gone out, but with the whole ‘small crowd’ dictate there are still those that need to be weeded and cuts made. And there are other things. For example, I’m assuming we’re offering Registry and not privately contracted donors?”
“Registry,” Eric confirmed. He found his eyes flicking to the staircase, wondering if his Intended would fuss over having the event finalized by someone other than herself. Then he thought of the stress on her face and the way her Great-Grandfather was complicating their lives and he decided, “You have my permission. Get it wrapped up. There is simply too much to do and not enough time. Oh, and don’t think that you will have this kind of free rein when it comes to our pledging. Watch that woman! All publicity goes through Sookie, no exceptions!”
“Spoilsport!” Pam snorted, then said in a more business-like tone, “Don’t worry. Nothing over the top. I understand the whole budget thing, and I’ll keep Twy in check. Dechlan will be relieved. He’s been pouting to Max almost daily. From what Max told me, he’s been making a real pest of himself, but that’s what party planners are all about.” Her fingers flew on the keyboard as she send the emails that would get things rolling. “Oh, you don’t mind if I invite Rasul, do you?”
Eric smiled. The Michigan monarch knew both he and Sookie from the days of the Queen. “I am pleased you thought of it. I always liked him.”
“I thought so, but it has been many years since you saw each other.” Together they reviewed reports about finances and activities across the kingdom. Pam confirmed Eric’s earlier impression – things were coming together. All they were missing was money. Eric hung up the phone and felt the first pulls of dawn approaching. As he headed up the stairs he heard a sound. With an impish smile, he joined his fairy in her sleep.
Sookie held up her phone so that Eric could read the text from Mr. Cataliades. “This is sounding very promising,” he smiled and Sookie beamed.
“If he really does get approved for the paperwork, the divorce could be finalized in just a few months,” Sookie reached over and grabbed Eric’s hand. Her Viking lifted that hand, the one with the ring, and kissed it.
“Soon, my Lover, you will have another ring to join this,” He could feel the frisson of excitement through their bond and it made him happy that the thought of being joined so publically to him was something his Intended not only accepted but desired.
Sookie leaned over and raised her lips toward his, her eyes starting to close, when there was a sound that came from Eric’s pocket. It was a kind of gargling sound punctuated by a small snort. Sookie pulled back and then the sound came again. Her eyes narrowed. “What is that?” she asked.
Eric was reaching in his pocket for his phone, his face the picture of innocence, “What? You mean my new ring tone?” It was on the third time that Sookie figured out what it might be and her face went from embarrassed to pissed off. She launched herself at him, climbing over him to get the phone from his hand.
“You give me that phone, Eric Northman!” she yelled. “I’m not kidding, Buster!”
For his part, Eric did a credible job playing keep away, and then the door was open and Sookie rounded to see that they were in Jason and Michele’s driveway. Michele and Tara were standing near the house and looking at her in a real curious way. Sookie figured her underwear was hanging out and she’d lost a shoe trying to wrestle the phone away from Eric. She turned to him, her face flushed, and shook her finger at him, “This isn’t over!” she hissed. Eric was openly laughing at her, his fangs extended. Sookie got out of the car, and when she passed Owen’s face, red with restrained laughter, she hissed, “It’s not funny!”
Michele and Tara watched Sookie stalk their way. Eric unfolded from the car and stood nearby, his arm hooked over the top of the door. “What?” he called out, “No kiss goodbye?” Sookie turned toward him, her eyes still narrowed and her look pure evil.
The effect was ruined when Bit banged out the front door and ran headlong toward the vampire. “Uncle Eric! Uncle Eric! You stayin’ to fish? I can show you my pond if you want!”
JC walked out a little more slowly, showing that he had more pride than his younger brother, but he didn’t walk slowly either. “Can you stay, Uncle Eric?” he called out.
Eric walked away from the car, “Sorry boys, not tonight. I have a meeting I have to attend.” Bit looked up at him with such disappointment that Eric said, “But I can offer you an elevator ride, if your mother says I may.”
Michele looked skeptical but said “I guess,” to the upturned, hopeful faces of her boys.
Eric grinned, looking just as boyish as the young Stackhouse children. “Well then, you have to step over here. Bit? I’ll pick you up and you need to wrap your arms around my neck and hold on. JC? You step over here to my side and hold on tight. I’ll wrap my arm around you and grab onto your belt.” When everyone was in position, Eric looked at Michele, winked, and launched into the air.
“Oh my God!” Michele yelled, “Oh my fucking God!”
“They’re fine,” Sookie assured her. “I fly with him all the time.”
Tara was looking up at the accelerating vampire and laughing like crazy. It seemed like a long time but it was probably only a minute or so and Eric had the boys back on ground. JC stumbled a little. “That was so cool!” he said in one long exhale.
Bit turned Eric’s face to his own, hugged him hard, and then pulled back and said, “Again, Uncle Eric! Again!”
Eric shook his head gently and Michele stepped forward to pry the young boy away, “Not tonight, Bit. Your Uncle is probably already late.” She turned to JC, “Now you boys remember your manners!”
They both turned back to Eric and said almost in unison, “Thank you, Uncle Eric!”
Eric bowed slightly and replied, “You are welcome.” He turned back toward Sookie, “Are you sure you do not want to send me away with a fond memory?” Sookie couldn’t stay angry at him and she stood on tiptoe thinking to give him a modest peck. Eric had other ideas, and he swept her into his arms and planted a hot, hard, hungry kiss that involved teeth and lips and made her panties just about melt. He let her go, winked again, and walked back to the car.
Tara poked her friend’s shoulder, “Will you look at that ass? I can’t believe you get to nail that every night!”
“He can hear you!” Sookie scolded, her face turning all shades of red.
“A man with an ass like that should know how fine he is!” Tara retorted.
Eric glanced over his shoulder and shimmied his behind like a Chippendale’s dancer before he got back in the car. Owen shut the door and they pulled out of the driveway. The boys were waving wildly from the porch and Eric sent his love to his Intended through their bond. She smiled at him as he drove by. He didn’t think that anything would happen with Niall, but if he was wrong he thought this would be a good memory.
Eric checked his watch. He was still an hour early for his conversation with the Prince. “Why don’t we swing by to see how Compton is doing?” he said and he gave Owen the directions.
As the car pulled up outside the old Compton place, Eric noticed the improvements. Bill had spent some money on the house. The porch was fully restored. There was all-weather white wicker furniture sitting on the grey, painted boards. Baskets of flowers hung between the columns, although they looked like they could use some water. The whole building had been painted white and it seemed to glow softly in the moonlight.
Owen glanced around as Eric exited the car. The second floor doors were open like holes that led into dark rooms, but that wasn’t so unusual for vampire dwellings. Still, most vampires, particularly those with ties to the human world, tried to put on a light or two in order to blend. Owen nodded, signaling he was ready, and they walked forward. Eric had just started climbing the steps when Bill walked out the front door.
“Eric,” he greeted and he bowed formally and low enough to be appropriate for Eric’s rank.
“Compton,” Eric acknowledged and nodded, “I was in the neighborhood and wanted to stop in and see how you were doing.”
“We both know you don’t care about me,” Bill said peevishly. There was something odd about his voice, but Eric took in his overall appearance and didn’t see anything amiss. Bill was wearing his usual Dockers pulled just a little too high and a polo shirt with an alligator logo. He looked like he always did, old-maidish and fussy. “Would you like to sit here on the porch? Can I offer you a Royalty?”
Eric’s eyebrow raised, “I would, Bill. Royalty? You must be coming up in the world.”
Bill smiled and his head bobbed a little, “I receive generous checks every week for things I had nothing to do with. It seems the least I can do is spend that kind of money on things I like,” and he glanced at Owen. “Can I get you anything?”
Eric answered, “Don’t worry about my guard, Bill, he has work to do.” Bill shifted his eyes back to Eric and his smile dropped a little. He turned and walked into the house without another word. Eric turned to Owen, “Keep your eyes open,” he said, and then stepped onto the porch and settled into a chair at the far end of the porch and not far from the side of the house. Bill came walking back outside with two bottles of blood in his hand, both wrapped in cloth towels. “The house looks nice,” Eric said conversationally as he accepted the blood from Bill’s hand. He set the bottle down and Bill did the same. “I had heard you had done some renovating.”
“It has been pleasant to see the house return to the way I remember it,” Bill said levelly, “Not that it makes much difference. I still prefer to sleep in the ground under the house.”
Eric nodded, “Sometimes the old ways are the best ways,” he acknowledged. “We saw Bubba in Texas recently, he had some stories to tell about seeing you,” Eric said casually. He looked at the two bottles on the table and purposefully reached across and took Bill’s. He waited for Bill to acknowledge he’d seen his action. Bill’s look turned less friendly. The dark-haired vampire reached across and took the bottle he’d handed Eric and he drank from it, his eyes never leaving Eric’s.
“I see your paranoia hasn’t improved,” Bill said dryly.
“I’m an old dog, Bill. Hard for me to learn new tricks,” Eric smiled and sipped from the bottle in his hand as well.
“Well,” Bill said, a fake smile pasted on his face, sitting straight in his chair and facing into the yard, “What brings you here, Eric? I don’t think its mere curiosity. I don’t have some rare blood disorder any more. You are not my Sheriff. So, what?”
“I am your King, Bill, as long as you choose to live in my territory. But I do have another matter I wish to mention as a matter of courtesy.” Eric looked in the direction of the cemetery. “I don’t suppose you would be willing to move? Russell and Bartlett mentioned they miss you. You did a good job for them and they were comfortable traveling knowing you were there to watch out for things.”
“You are their recruiting agent now?” Bill’s voice was sharp. “I came home because it’s where I’m happy. Are you ordering me to leave my home?”
“Of course not, Bill. Just making an observation,” the words slipped smoothly from Eric. He noticed how quickly the other vampire became agitated and wondered if it was more than the long-standing dislike that existed between them. ‘Yes, you will have to keep an eye on him,’ the Viking thought. When Bill humphed, Eric continued, “It was kindly meant.” The silence stretched out between them. When it was clear Bill would not initiate more conversation, Eric turned to him and said, “You may notice some changes in the near future. Sookie’s house may be rebuilt.”
“Why would she return?” Bill asked. “I thought she was with you. Has something happened?”
Eric looked closely at Bill but could detect no particular expression or facial tic that would indicate more than the concern of an old friend. “Niall is back, Bill. I’m sure you’ve noticed the tang of fairy in the air from time to time. The portal has been re-opened and the Prince wants her to come here to reacquaint. You know Sookie! Never one to turn down family!”
“And you wanted me to leave,” Bill said flatly.
“If our positions were reversed, would you say differently?” Eric kept his voice light.
“I wouldn’t say anything,” Bill replied, a slight smile playing on his lips, “because I would have staked you a long time ago.”
Eric played with the edge of the towel wrapped around the bottle, “Is that a suggestion, Bill?”
Bill sat forward, his face becoming more serious, “No! No, of course not.” He glanced at Eric, “Still, there are days I can’t imagine why you haven’t found an excuse already.”
Eric looked into the yard not meeting the gaze of the vampire beside him, “Because Sookie cares. As long as you are no threat to her, I will honor her wishes and allow you to continue.”
“Magnanimous,” Bill’s bitterness leaked through. “And in the meantime you will make sure I have to dance to the tune you play.” His face dropped a little, “People are writing books in my name; stupid false books with no artistry at all. It is making me a laughing stock.”
Eric shrugged, “I understand that your commitment to that series is almost at an end. Sign over the rights and write a different book, a new series with new characters. Get your name off the other. I hear you are capable. Perhaps something about history? You seem to dwell on that topic.”
Bill sniffed quickly, “I’m sure you mean well. Thank you for your advice.”
Eric looked at the way Bill sat, his body stiff and his eyes watching the yard. ‘What did she see in him?’ he wondered. The Viking made a point of looking at this watch and then stood up. “I’ve imposed on your hospitality long enough, Compton. I have another appointment across the way,” and he jerked his chin in the direction of the cemetery. Eric walked toward the stair as he said, “Oh, and Bill? If I hear that you wander over that way and disturb Sookie or any of her kin in any way? Well, let’s just say that I do ignore Sookie’s wishes from time to time.” He stopped at the stairs and turned around. Bill was sitting as he’d left him, staring blankly into the yard. “Bill?” Eric prompted.
Bill’s eyes swung to meet his. There was fire there and that made Eric feel better somehow. “I understand, Eric,” Bill said darkly, and he bowed his head.
As Eric reached the bottom of the stairs, he said to Owen, “Bring the car around to the cemetery gate and wait. It’s a nice night. I’ll fly the rest of the way,” and he launched himself into the night sky.
Bill watched from the porch until the tail lights of the car turned back onto the lane. He walked with precision back to the wicker seats and picked up the bottles, then turned and walked back into the house. He continued to the back of the house where he had installed a model kitchen with all the appliances; everything HGTV said was a necessity for a dream home. Although he didn’t turn on the lights, he knew that the illumination was a masterpiece, offering direct and indirect lighting that showcased the cabinets and counters. He unwrapped the towels and threw them in the garbage. After all, they weren’t perfect anymore so they shouldn’t be here. He rinsed the bottles in the double-sink positioned just so in the island and dropped them in his recycling bin. He would empty that into the curbside receptacle and take it to the end of the drive later. That’s what model citizens did, and Bill was certainly a model citizen.
When he was sure every item was in place he walked to the room across the hall. There were no windows in this room, but it really didn’t need any. Once he closed the door he turned on the lights. His eyes wandered lovingly around the walls, looking at her beautiful face as she went about her days. The most recent package of photos he’d received had been taken at the Summit opening ceremony in San Antonio. She was laughing and dancing, her eyes bright and her hair all shining curls cascading down her back. There was one particular close-up and she seemed to be looking directly at the camera. She had a soft smile on her lips and Bill was sure she must have been thinking of him in that moment.
He walked close to the photo and reached out to stroke the image of her cheek, remembering how her skin felt under his fingers. “Don’t worry, sweetheart,” he crooned to her, “I didn’t give one hint to the vampire, not one! You would have been so proud of me, like I am of you. I won’t tell anyone our secret.” He looked at some of his other favorites. There was Sookie sitting in a rooftop garden, and Sookie talking with the news reporter, and Sookie sitting in a restaurant. Bill knew she was keeping up a brave front, smiling and awaiting the time they could be together. “I know a trap when I hear one,” he assured her. “I won’t approach you when you are here. I’m sure it’s exactly what they are waiting for,” and he smiled at the older photo of them together, the photo from happier times. “Never you worry, my dear one,” he said confidently, “I’ll save you from those vampires, and we will be together again.”
Eric circled the cemetery, floating easily above the canopy of trees. While there were some trees among the stones, the burial ground was mostly open. The vampire could easily see the blinking of fireflies which made the sudden appearance of the Prince’s glow immediately apparent. Eric took a deep, steadying breath and then lowered himself to the ground in front of the Prince.
“Niall,” Eric greeted the Fae.
“Northman,” the Prince returned. “I remember a time when you would greet me on bended knee.”
“You have a good memory,” Eric replied.
The two men stared at each other, neither making any other move or gesture of respect. When enough time had passed, Niall turned and led the way through the cemetery to the site where the Stackhouse home had stood. “My great-grand daughter told you of our plans?” he asked, never bothering to turn around or look at Eric.
“She has,” Eric acknowledged.
When the Viking didn’t contribute anything further, the Prince stopped and turned around, looking at Eric for the first time. “It occurs to me that your involvement with my family is your Maker’s last joke. He was a wily and worthy adversary. He certainly would have enjoyed this inconvenience.”
“I had the impression that you liked me,” Eric said evenly. “Certainly you were the one who approached me to watch the family.”
The Prince’s smile was more sardonic than kind, “I do like you, Eric. You have been useful to me and I intend that you will continue to be useful to me. What I did not intend was to have to treat with you in terms of my relationships with my progeny, but you have managed to insinuate yourself into my grand-daughter’s life.” The Prince’s eyes narrowed, “Why she would choose you or any creature like you is a mystery to me. I blame my son. Had he not shielded her for so long she would have had an opportunity to realize her potential.”
“But she has chosen me,” Eric said levelly, “and all things considered, she could have done worse. In fact, while you abandoned her to this world, she did do worse. She was married to the shifter and he almost killed her.”
“You dare lecture me?” the Prince snarled, and then, as if remembering that he was too dignified to argue, he stood a little straighter and looked toward the house. “There was magic in this place. She was never in any true danger. Of course, she would not have been in any danger at all if she had made different choices.”
“What options did you offer?” Eric asked, his teeth grinding. “You made it clear she would be in danger in the Fae realm. You removed any chance she had to reach out to you, and then you sent back her cousin who wished her nothing but ill will.”
“Claude was a poor decision, but I was distracted with larger problems,” Niall dismissed with a wave of his fingers. “She was not permanently damaged, and now I am back.” He turned back to Eric, “I will make her a place here where her magic will be strongest and she will continue to grow into her heritage. It is a gift that I bring her to make up for whatever shortcomings she might have experienced in my absence.”
Eric watched the Fae Prince smile as he looked over the land surrounding them. The fairy reached out to touch a small tree and under his hand the branch burst with leaves and white blossoms. “What do you want from her, Niall?” Eric asked the question since it would appear the Prince was not going to simply volunteer information.
“I wish her to be happy,” the Prince answered easily.
Eric smirked, “And what do you think it will take to make her happy, Prince?”
Niall’s smile widened and he fixed Eric with the look of a teacher who’s slow student has finally made some break through. “Why, she wants a family,” the Prince answered as if it was apparent.
“She has a family,” Eric answered. “Jason and his family are close with her. She has me and Pam is like a sister to her. She has…”
“Children,” the Fae hissed. “She wants her own family, Northman! And since she has so recklessly bound herself to you, you will need to be part of it.”
Eric thought about his conversation with Sookie earlier, “I don’t think that children are as important to her as you might like to think. I appreciate that children are important to you! I understand that only Dermot and Sookie remain of your bloodline. And Jason, but you don’t consider him because he didn’t inherit your magic.” The Prince said nothing, but neither did he look away. “I had this conversation with Sookie earlier. She told me everything you spoke of last night, and she told me that children, actual infants, would have no place in our lives. Even if all things were to settle there would be no easy path for such progeny, if it were possible to create them at all. The word she used was ‘selfish,’ and my Intended is not selfish.”
Niall’s lips curled into a small smile, “You may think you know her, Northman, and perhaps you do, but you are a fool if you believe she is able to give up on having her own children. Look at where we stand. Think of the tradition of these people, of this culture. She may even believe what she said, but she has been hard-wired. It’s in her DNA. From the time she was a little girl she has seen that to be a success she should be married and give her mate children. It is inescapable for her, and now for you. Dermot will rule in Fae long after I am gone, but he will not be able to replicate himself, nor has he any desire. He spent too much time here and, in the end, he is too Fae to survive. But, Sookie? She may never rule, but one of her children might. As long as there is some part of my bloodline, the rule of the Sky Fae is assured.”
“You would put her in danger for this?” Eric asked.
“Isn’t that your job, Viking? To protect her?” Niall sneered. “You have bonded to her and you intend to keep her by your side. Perhaps now, knowing this you would reconsider?” Eric said nothing, and the Prince nodded. “You know I’m right. She will come here and she will try to create a cluviel dor. She may say that she is practicing, but in her heart of hearts you will know she is working to create a portal that will allow her to have your child; a half vampire, half fairy child. In some ways, that would be the best outcome. A totally magical creature, it is sure to have the spark and even your own would have to accept it. It would be unmistakably yours,” Niall shook his head, “no matter how unpalatable that would be.”
A breeze came by and the Prince lifted his chin, breathing in the air, his hair lifting around his face. He smiled again and continued, “Or she might fail to create the charm. She is so determined in what she does. Once she decides to try it will be almost impossible for her to stop, but for each time she tries and fails, she will become a little unhappier. It’s possible that she will finally become tired of failing and blame you. It’s what she’s done in past. She could leave you, and then, in time, I could introduce another, perhaps a Fae capable of breeding. There would be a child and all would be well.” The Prince smiled more readily then as he turned to look directly at Eric, “Or it could be, Viking, that you don’t survive the coming months. Some rival or another could kill you. She would mourn, but in the end she would move on.”
Eric growled, “You know that with the bonding that exists between us, if I were to fail she is likely to follow.”
Niall’s look became sharp, and then considered, “It is possible,” he said almost to himself, then his look sharpened again as he said, “Most inconvenient!” After a moment, Niall’s look became considering, “It would work that way for you too, wouldn’t it, Northman? If she were to pass, you would…”
“I would meet the sun,” Eric finished. “I would welcome it. I can’t imagine a world without her.”
For the first time, Niall looked at the vampire with some warmth, “You knew, and you still bonded with her? Perhaps there is something…” then the Prince’s eyes turned harder.
“Of course, there is another way. You would have to give something of yourself, teeth or a finger. I suppose in the long run it wouldn’t be much of a loss. You creatures regrow your parts.”
Eric shook his head, “What are you talking about?”
“Doubtless you are aware that I have been funding research with one of your kind. In particular they have been working on various methods to clone using stem cells or other parts of DNA strands. It has been a failure for Fae. As soon as our parts are separated from us, they turn to dust and that dust has no genetically viable material. But vampires? If a vampire is separated from a part of itself, that part continues as long as the vampire continues. It is only when the vampire meets its final death that its bones and other parts disintegrate. As a result, as long as you continue, Northman, your long-dead stem cells and other genetic material would be of this world. Have you heard about the work being done to resurrect mastodons? They are combining well preserved DNA with elephants and forming embryos. It is difficult because of the cross species concerns. But you are really the same species, aren’t you? When you were living? DNA harvested from you and combined with a fairy hybrid would create another fairy hybrid. You would donate your blood, of course.” Niall’s nose crinkled and his lip curled, “because that is what you creatures do, isn’t it? Exchange blood? I could smell you in my granddaughter and I know that is how that happened. Doubtless you would continue to do so through her pregnancy, and that would add to the magic donated to any child.” Niall was smiling.
“You are dreaming, Niall. What you describe will never happen. Sookie has made clear she doesn’t want to bring children into this world. She certainly is not going to be interested in submitting herself to some experiment that would include experimenting with the life of any offspring.”
Niall’s smile broadened, “Tell yourself that, Eric. Tell yourself it makes no difference to her, but watch her carefully, my friend. See if you don’t see the signs. She wants progeny and you…” he poked Eric mid-chest with his cane, “you will do anything for her.” Niall smirked, there was no other word for it, and then he was gone.
Later, as Sookie and Eric rode back together to Pam’s safe house, Sookie received a text on her phone. “Oh!” she exclaimed.
“What is it?” Eric asked.
“Alcide and Kandace had their baby,” she told him, then turned the phone so he could see the standard sleeping baby picture. Eric couldn’t see anything particularly distinguishing. The eyes were closed and the fisted hand was close to the mouth. The cheeks were mottled and there was a lot of dark hair on the infant’s head. He nodded, acknowledging he had seen it.
Sookie turned the phone back and then stared again. “A girl,” she said. Eric glanced over to see her run her finger over the screen, tracing the line of the infant’s cheek and for one second he felt her longing.
End Note: The research mentioned here may be reality at this point in time. Certainly the latest articles indicate it is just a matter of timing before scientists prove that dead species can be brought back through cloning. It is a tangle from my perspective. There is that fatalistic part of me, the pragmatist that worries about the slippery slope that this work presents. Then there is that other part of me – the optimist who looks at all the possibilities and can’t help but marvel! For purposes of this story – it sure presents an opening! Thanks again for reading~