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.
Riding trains was different than Rick thought it would be. Initially, there was the adrenaline of getting them situated with all the right passes and paperwork. Peter showed up outside the B&B at six in the morning, the way he’d promised, and George and Rick jumped in the running car, each dressed in their school uniforms. The cover story was easy. They were headed to New Orleans where George’s mother was waiting to take them on an impromptu Caribbean cruise. Peter pretended to be their house proctor/teacher. He wore a tweed jacket with a tie over a denim shirt, his long hair tied back.
It was a feature of being a student at schools like those in Chester. You were a boarder. It was assumed you were more self-sufficient. It was assumed your parents expected you to be more independent. While other parents hovered around their children, stunting their initiative under the guise of protecting them, the students of Chester were expected to act as adults, and the successful ones did.
As Peter predicted, the stationmaster barely rolled his eyes before giving their documentation a cursory glance and then moving through the stamping and issuing of tickets. Since neither were technically thirteen, they should have been traveling with a companion, but even that was treated with a shrug. The boys were tall and they were wearing uniforms. It was unlikely they would be mistaken for runaways. “Stay in your sleeper cabin,” Peter cautioned them. “If you don’t call attention to yourselves, no one is going to give you a hard time. Pretend you’re doing school work or play games. There will be electrical outlets.”
“Thanks, Peter,” Rick was having a hard time holding back his emotions and it was making his mouth feel heavy.
“No big thing, Chub,” Peter smacked him on the arm. “Here. Use this to keep your head straight,” and he handed Rick a penny whistle.
“You’re not playing that in the cabin,” George warned.
“You really are a music hater!” Rick teased. It was enough and the boys took their overnight bags and got on the train that would take them to New York where they would catch the bigger train that would take them from there.
“We should buy a couple things when we get to New York,” George was making a list as they passed the small towns that were becoming progressively larger. “Pens, paper. Maybe a book or two. Snacks! We’re going to be on the train for over thirty hours. That’s provided we don’t have delays.”
“What time does that put us in New Orleans?” Rick asked.
George closed his eyes for a minute, making quick calculations in his head. “About three or four in the afternoon,” he nodded.
Rick pulled out his phone and scanned, then said, “Two hours before sunset.”
“So, we’ll have to hang out for a little while before they wake up.” They both knew ‘they’ was code for vampires. George was starting to look nervous. “My Mom is going to flip out,” he said.
“Peter’s going to tell Aunt Lora and the school he took us rock climbing. Everyone knows it’s been stressful because of my Aunt Fran and the weather is supposed to be perfect. It gives us a good day or two before folks really start to look for us. By then? We’ll be in Louisiana and calling your Mom, so mystery solved.”
“Did you do this to your Mom, too?” George asked. He looked at Rick in a way that wasn’t exactly an accusation. “It’s kind of mean. I’m sure she worried when you just took off. She was probably wondering every minute if you were hurt.”
“Don’t wuss out on me,” Rick protested. “You know this is the right thing. I can’t just sit up there in Chester on my ass and wait for things to maybe work out. My Mom needs me. I can tell! I’m not just some kid that can’t do anything.” Rick looked out the window, “Besides, if I don’t go look for her, who will?”
George nodded, “Yeah,” he said, a new resolve in his voice, “My Dad, too. Although he does have the vampires on his side.” When Rick looked at him, George said, “I’m really hoping when we get down there my Dad is already at the Palace and pissed as shit at me. I hope he rips me a new one.”
“Really?” Rick asked.
“Really,” George nodded, “Because that will mean he’s not dead.”
Rick could tell that George was not making things up. There was something so grounded in how George thought about the world of his Father and his family, that it gave Rick pause. His Mother told him the world of Supes was dangerous. She warned him that vampires would be tempted to take him, maybe kill him, but it was his friend’s certainty that started to make it all real.
Their train pulled into Penn Station, and they walked into the terminal. The board showed they had only thirty minutes until their next train left. Their first stop was the restrooms. As George went into a stall, Rick caught the thoughts of an older man wearing a suit. He was thinking that George with his dark hair and eyes would be an easy mark that he could frighten. There was something sexual in how the man started to visualize the encounter, and, without thinking, Rick stepped in front of him, bringing him up short. He dropped his fangs and hissed, “If you don’t leave, I’ll rip your junk right off!” The man paled, then turned, and walked out of the bathroom, pushing others out of his way. When George came out the stall, Rick asked him to guard the door. “Maybe these uniforms weren’t such a good idea,” he told his friend.
They were a good idea, though. The lady at the news shop hustled through their order and the conductor on the train took special care of them, making sure they found their compartment. “You won’t have to change trains,” he informed them. “You guys are all set in here until you get to New Orleans. There’s Wi-Fi, and the club car is two down. The dining car opens for set hours,” and he handed them a card that had all the hours and a menu printed on it.
“He thinks we’re like Harry Potter,” Rick confirmed after the conductor left. “He really was thinking about Gryffindor and Slytherin.”
They got familiar with how the beds pulled down. There was a toilet and wash basin in their room, offering no privacy at all, but they just shrugged. Rock climbing and camping out in the woods had pretty much cured them of any modesty around each other. In no time, they were hooked into the train’s network. Rick cruised YouTube videos and George used his Netflix account to download Starship Troopers. They popped their first can of Pringles, changed into jeans, and kicked back.
“How long do you think it’ll take for the alarm to go up?” George asked after an hour.
“Depends on how good Peter lies,” Rick replied. “Probably not until sometime tomorrow.”
Hours passed. They found the dining car, then retreated to the club car where there were sandwiches and chips. They parked themselves in one of the booths, but when Rick ‘heard’ too many people getting curious about them, they headed back to their cabin.
When night fell, there was a knock on the door. A porter asked to come in and she made the beds and turned everything down. “We’ll be stopping in North Carolina during the night,” she told them, “so don’t be surprised if you wake up and the train is stopped.”
George and Rick stayed up until almost midnight, and then, finally, they gave in to exhaustion. Rick found himself awake again, though. He checked his phone. It was around two in the morning. On a whim, he tried texting his Mother. He stared at the screen, willing the bubble that would tell him someone was responding, but it didn’t appear. “I hope you’re okay,” he whispered into the night. “I’m coming to find you, Mom.” Rick turned on his side. He tucked his phone under his pillow as if somehow just having her contact information close would make her close, too.
TRIGGER WARNING: This section contains descriptions of sexual violence. It can be skipped and the outcome derived from future chapters.
When Sookie woke up it was because she was shivering. Bill hadn’t spent that much time with her last night, but the hours he had spent left an impression. In spite of her crying, then threatening, then begging, Bill stripped her, used her, and then tied her so her hands were over her head and secured to a chandelier. He walked around her, cataloging her scars. He told her not to worry, that he would make her good as new, and then he’d brought back a knife.
Sookie screamed until her throat was raw, but it didn’t seem to faze Bill in the least. He peeled the skin back from her belly, then bit into his arm, spreading his blood over her raw, exposed dermis. “Normally, I would glamour you,” he said as if Sookie and he were having a normal conversation over iced tea, “but you’re immune to glamour, so we’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way.”
After her belly, Bill dug out the scar on her shoulder left over from the gunshot wound. There were smaller scars on her upper arms from flying glass and other small accidents she’d had over the years. When at last Sookie was reduced to sniffling and moaning, Bill lifted her chin, “Don’t worry, Sweetheart. You’ll heal and it will be as if none of this ever happened. I don’t know why you didn’t do this before. There’s no reason for you to be blemished. Your skin is so beautiful.” He was smiling as he said, “With vampire blood, you’ll be perfect.” He licked the knife and was stepping behind her when he stopped.
“Oh, I’m sorry you came so late. We’ll have to stop now. I’ll leave you in the bathtub. It will be a little cold, but it’s better than having you ruin my rugs.” Bill twisted ropes around her, tight enough that Sookie was sure he was cutting off her circulation. He had forced blood down her throat earlier, and her wrist, although it throbbed, was not as painful as it had been.
Bill threw a drop cloth in the large bathtub he’d installed, the one where they had soaked together once upon a time. “I wish there was time for us to make love again, Sookie. It feels so good to have you back in my arms.” Bill dropped her roughly in the tub, wrenching another scream from her as her new wounds impacted with the hard surface.
“It will all be better tomorrow night,” Bill crooned, stroking her face. “We’ll finish fixing you and then we’ll be together forever.” Sookie could barely think what he was saying, and then his wrist was against her pressed lips. He squeezed her nose shut until she opened her mouth, gasping for air, and Sookie found herself choking as the blood flowed into her mouth, some of it finding its way down her throat.
“Good girl,” Bill was smiling. He stroked her hair and frowned a little.
“Please, Bill,” Sookie gasped. “Please, Bill, let me go. I have a son. I…”
“I had a son,” Bill replied. “I had a daughter, too, but I had to leave them when Lorena brought me over. You’ll see. Everything will be different.”
Eventually, Sookie fell into a fitful sleep. Every sound startled her. She thought it was Bill returning. She woke up so thirsty, her throat burned. She cried, but no tears seemed to fall. She tried to wiggle, first one way and then the next, but the pain was so great, she would see black spots dancing in front of her eyes. There were long moments, maybe hours, when she almost felt herself in a trance and she wondered if that was the shock her body was experiencing, or the effect of all the blood Bill had forced her to drink.
Somewhere, in the back of her head, Sookie knew Bill intended to turn her. It made her almost desperate. Sookie couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have Bill as her Maker, but the images that were forming in her head made her want to die. She thought about trying to rip her wounds open further, allowing herself to bleed out before he rose, but then she thought about Rick. She couldn’t bring herself to abandon him, but she couldn’t see how she could help him if she was bound to Bill Compton.
Although she didn’t know what time it was, there was light coming from somewhere. Sobbing, Sookie made herself move up the side of the tub. Every part of her screamed. Her arms ached and her shoulders burned with the strain of being tied. Her legs were numb, but she managed to bend her knees enough to push herself forward, and then forward again. She couldn’t stop the tears from falling, and she thought she could see Neave and Lochlan in the room with her, watching her with their hungry, slanted eyes. “I hate you!” Sookie grunted through clenched teeth. “I hate you!” and she wasn’t sure if she was talking to Neave, Lochlan, Bill Compton, or herself.
By some miracle she made it over the edge of the tub and she fell heavily to the floor. The impact jarred something into life and the pain was so sharp, she lost consciousness.
When she opened her eyes again, she was spread-eagled on a bed and Bill was over her.
He took his time. Sookie was dry, so Bill spit on his hand and then stroked himself several times before he could penetrate her, but once he started, he wasn’t anxious for it to end. It was hateful, the things he said. He talked about their destiny and how he knew this was what was meant to be. He apologized for thinking about giving her to the Queen, and he told her he wouldn’t have turned her over in the end. When he finished, he tried to kiss her, but Sookie turned her head. “That’s all right,” Bill said as if she was the one who was wronging him. “You’ll be able to see how right we are together soon. Don’t fret yourself!”
Bill was humming as he walked back into the bedroom, the knife in his hand again.
This time he went to work on her legs. There had been places where the fairies had bitten so much flesh from her that it left hollows. Those hollows had evened over time, but the flesh there was still hard and shiny. Bill went after those areas, sometimes cutting quite deep. He would stop to drink blood from the bottles on the bedside table, or to lick the flowing blood from Sookie herself.
He stopped after every time he’d excised another area of scar tissue, bite deep into himself and allow his blood to pour into her wounds. Each time Sookie could feel the alien nature of it as it seemed to fuse into her flesh. The bleeding would slow and she would feel something that felt like healing, but wasn’t, replace the searing pain.
Finally, Bill threw the knife to the floor. “I think that’s all of it,” he told her. “We should wait a little bit. Long enough for things to really get started. I’d hate to make things permanent too soon. You’d be stuck looking like this forever,” and he started to laugh.
“Bill, if you ever loved me,” Sookie begged, “Please let me go. You don’t want to do this. You know I never wanted to be turned. I need the sun…”
“You need me!” Bill hissed in her face. “You need me and that’s never going to end now!” Bill leaned over her, kissing her closed mouth, forcing her mouth open. He ran his hands over her breasts, pinching her nipples and twisting until Sookie cried out.
“See? You need me. You want this!” he hissed. He brought his hand between her legs and rubbed blood and his semen into her, then kissing her breasts, he took her again.
It all became one. For a long time, Sookie felt as if she was floating above herself. She could see Bill on top of her. She could see her eyes screwed shut and her face reflecting her pain and humiliation, but she couldn’t feel anything anymore. It was like watching a movie where she wasn’t really a part of it. She was an observer and none of it was real.
It was sometime later when she heard Bill whispering in her ear, “Tomorrow you’ll be mine, Sookie. We’ll be married in the only way that matters.” She felt something warm and figured Bill must have thrown a blanket over her.
“Please, Bill,” she gasped. “Please, I need water. I need the bathroom.”
The ropes were loosened and Sookie found herself pushed into the bathroom and placed on a toilet. Bill stood over her, his arms crossed. “You won’t miss this,” he assured her.
She begged him to leave, to give her some privacy, but Bill refused. When she balked, he grabbed her arm to pull her away, so Sookie relented, going to the bathroom in front of him. When she’d finished, he roughly picked her up, threw her back on the bed, and secured her hands and legs again. He disappeared, then came back with a bottle of water. He lifted her head to help her drink, but still managed to dribble most of it down her chest, soaking the pillows and sheets around her.
“That’s enough,” he growled.
“Why?” Sookie asked.
“Why what?” Bill asked.
“Why are you doing this?” Sookie could feel her despair setting in. She didn’t think she had the strength to fight anymore.
“Why, because I love you,” Bill told her. He leaned over Sookie and tweaked her nose. It was an appallingly affectionate gesture and the tears she thought she no longer had flowed again.
It almost seemed surreal when the announcement came. They had arrived in New Orleans. The trip took hours and hours. Rick realized that this was the longest he had ever been in transit. He felt disoriented and for a minute, as he stepped down off the platform, he had the distinct impression he was stepping into a different world altogether.
It was warmer here. George and Rick had agreed to wear their uniforms again. The reaction they’d received, even from the creeper in New York, convinced them that it gave them a kind of protection. The jackets said they belonged somewhere, so no one felt inclined to ask why they weren’t in school or whether they were lost, even though they were kids.
George stopped at a kiosk near the door of the station and grabbed a map, and they both walked out of the terminal and into the bright sun. There were some benches nearby and they sat down to figure out what to do next.
George had received the first panicked text from his Mother about an hour before they arrived. The school had become curious and called her. He’d texted that he was okay, and that made her call.
“I’m okay,” he’d sighed, and even from where Rick was sitting he could hear Mrs. Hermosa yelling.
“It’s okay, Mom,” George repeated, “I’m in New Orleans. Rick and I…” and Rick heard more yelling that he figured was telling George in no uncertain terms what a terrible friend he was and how Mrs. Hermosa didn’t want George hanging out with him anymore.
George showed his merit though. He said, “Look, Mom, I don’t want to get into this. We’re here in New Orleans and we’re heading to the Palace. If anyone knows where Dad it, it’s them. If they don’t know where he is, they have a duty to find him. It’s their code.” George listened, and then said, “Rick, she’s asking me to put her on speaker.” He set the phone on the table between them and pushed the button.
“You boys listen to me,” Mrs. Hermosa’s voice was strident, and her Southern accent was more pronounced. “There’s been a takeover in Louisiana. There’s a new King and that means trouble. They sent someone North to get me and move me to Mississippi for safety, and while they haven’t really told me anything…” and Rick got the impression George’s Mom was struggling to hold it together. After a minute, she took a deep breath and said, “While they haven’t told me anything specific, I think there’s been a fair amount of violence.”
“When was this, Mom?” George asked.
“Two days ago,” his Mother replied. “I want you boys to stay away from the Palace until I call you back. Indira, you remember her, George? Your Father’s friend? She’s with me and she says these things usually blow over pretty fast. I’m going to have her call the Palace as soon as she rises. Can you boys please wait until I call you back?”
“Yes, Mom,” George told her.
“You promise?” his Mom pushed. “You, too, Rick? You promise?”
They did, and now they sat on the bench, wondering where the Palace might be located. While they’d promised not to go until they heard from her, they still wanted to know how far away it was.
Rick pointed at the place on the map that was labeled the French Quarter. It wasn’t far, maybe half a mile. “You want to walk there to wait?” he asked. “We could get some food. See the sights while we’re here.”
“You really do have balls of steel,” George chuckled. “Sure. Why not?”
They shouldered their bags and started walking down the streets. There were plenty of people who looked like tourists walking around. They passed stores and hotels. At one point, they crossed a street that had trolley tracks and what looked like old-fashioned street cars running up and down. There were open front restaurants with piped music, but they kept walking until they found themselves walking down a narrow street between brick buildings. It didn’t look promising. The buildings were close to the sidewalk and there was nothing to see, but then, in another block, the buildings moved back from the sidewalk, the streetlights changed, and they were walking down some of the most photographed streets in the United States.
“Wow!” Rick couldn’t help looking around. There were two-storied buildings with elaborate metal balconies. Fern pots and trailing flowers swayed gently and the stores on both sides of them hawked everything from high-end antiques to cheap souvenirs. They came to a restaurant that had small tables set on the brick sidewalk under the sun and more tables inside. The walls were open and there were fans turning slowly, suspended from pressed metal ceilings. The sign on the sidewalk advertised Po’ Boy sandwiches and they decided to stop.
When the sandwiches arrived, they tucked in, eating the way only teenage boys can. “Do you think it’s close?” George asked, shoving another French fry in his mouth.
“Don’t know,” Rick answered. “I can’t feel anything,” and he pointed briefly at his head. Rick pulled out his map again, studying the layout of the street.
“You boys here for a school project?” their waitress drifted over.
“Yeah, kind of,” George hemmed.
“We’re supposed to be taking pictures of the architecture,” Rick smiled his particularly charming smile, the one he used when he wanted something. “But we figured as long as we were down here, we’d take a look at the vampire palace, too. Know where that is?” and he winked.
The waitress gave them a knowing look, like Rick knew she would. “It’s always the same with you young folks! Want to go flirt a little with danger. Well, I can’t say I blame you! It’s just like having our own little horror movie down here, twenty-four, seven,” and she winked back. “Now, if I was you boys, I’d go now, while they’re all still asleep. Believe me, they have guards there, even in daylight, so you’re not getting too close, but it is something to see.” She leaned over the table and pointed at a block just north of the Quarter. “It’s right there. Pretty much the whole street front, so you won’t miss it.” She turned around and picked up a pitcher of ice water and started refilling their glasses. “There was some goings on over there a couple nights ago. Guess they made some arrangements with Hollywood folks. They were shooting some movie or other. People yelling and running out into the street. They had lots of guards along the barricades to hold back the tourists. Here, there’s a picture in the paper,” and the waitress walked back to the bar and returned with the local paper, which she set down on the table. The front-page photo showed two people catching a third who looked to be screaming. The caption said, “Made in New Orleans!” and touted the scene as soon to be included in an upcoming blockbuster.
George looked at Rick. Rick didn’t have to poke into George’s head to know they were both thinking the photo was no Hollywood stunt. It was what a takeover looked like, and Rick felt a chill, staring at it.
“The Palace is only a couple blocks from here,” George’s tone was less enthusiastic.
“Let’s go take a look while it’s day,” Rick nodded.
“I don’t know,” George hedged. “We promised my Mom we wouldn’t go until she called.”
“She meant not to walk up to the door,” Rick said reasonably. “We’re not walking up. We’re just going to take a look.”
George didn’t say anything, but after a bit he nodded. They paid their bill and left a tip. Their money was starting to run a little low. They’d avoided using George’s emergency credit card, but they figured if they needed to get a hotel room, that was next.
They crossed streets with names they recognized, and they were tempted to take a side trip up Bourbon Street, but then glanced at the sun and continued on their way.
The Palace was where the waitress described it. From the outside, there really wasn’t much to see. The street in front of the building was blocked off with metal barriers weighted down with sandbags. Rick couldn’t help looking at the street pavement, wondering if there were stains or other signs of struggle, but the pavement looked newly washed. The building itself looked like an office building. There were no signs or markers. Rick could see someone standing inside the glass double doors looking out. That person appeared to be wearing some kind of dark uniform.
“So,” George whispered, “this is it.”
“Why are you whispering?” Rick asked, his voice sounding a little louder than usual, but even to his own ears, his voice sounded out of place. There was something ominous about the building. They both stared up, noticing the odd shimmer to the few windows that were in place. Most of the building was smooth, block wall.
“We should go somewhere and wait for my Mom to call,” and George turned away, walking back toward the Quarter. He didn’t wait for Rick, his legs scissoring fast as though he was being chased.
They made their way to Jackson Square. There were plenty of benches and shade. They settled down and George pulled out his phone. He pulled up a game and then pulled out some earbuds.
“Hey,” Rick nudged him, “I’m weirded out, too!”
“Something bad happened there,” George snuffled. “You can just feel it.”
Rick nodded, and pulled out his phone as well. They’d agreed to wait for George’s Mom to call, and that wouldn’t be for another half hour or so. “I’m sorry she didn’t say anything about your Dad,” Rick added. George looked away and roughly wiped at his face with the back of his hand.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “I’m sure they’ll know where your Mom is, too.”
George’s Mom called back a half hour later. Rick was pretty sure George had been texting her while they waited. “It’s arranged,” she said. “You both head over to the Palace. I will text you the address.”
“We already know where it is,” George told her.
“They know you’re coming. Everything will be okay. How soon do you think you can be there?”
“About ten minutes,” George replied.
“Do they know anything about my Mom?” Rick asked.
“Indira has asked. They said they’d look into it. Just get over there!” Mrs. Hermosa choked a little, “I just can’t believe you did this, boys! It was so irresponsible!”
“I’m sorry,” George choked in return, and after telling her he loved her, they got up and walked the blocks back to the vampire palace.
It was different now. There were people patrolling the area that was the street and there were more standing outside on either side of the door. They were wearing what looked like bullet-proof jackets and they openly carried firearms. “Are you sure about this?” Rick asked, but before George could reply, one of the armed men was in front of them. He’d moved so fast that Rick knew he had to be a vampire.
“You’re Rubio’s boy?” he asked George. When George nodded, the vampire signaled and another came over. They moved the barrier as if the sand-bags weighting it down were nothing. As Rick stepped in behind George, one of the vampires stared at him and his fangs dropped.
“What are you?” he challenged.
“I’m Rick Hale. I’m George’s friend. We came down here together.”
“Are you Rubio’s?” the other vampire asked.
“What do you mean?” Rick was confused. There was something about the way they were challenging him and sniffing that was making him want to leave, but he realized another vampire had stepped behind him. George was being escorted to the front door, but Rick was being herded.
“Who’s your Maker?” the first vampire snapped.
“What are you talking about?” Rick was starting to panic. There were vampires everywhere. His head was like a huge, glowing blob. “You mean my parents?”
“Get him inside!” one of them hissed. “No one will react kindly to one this young being made. It just goes to show there was no discipline here. It’s a travesty of blood.”
Rick found himself locked in between the three vampires and quick-marched in through the double doors. He looked around, but George was nowhere to be seen. “Where’s George?” he asked. “We came here together. George’s Mom called. Someone here was supposed to be looking for my Mother.”
“You’re pathetic!” one of the vampires snorted. “Don’t you have any self-respect?”
“He’s consorting with humans,” another of them said in a snide tone. “He’s no better than one of them!”
A vampire was walking past with a clipboard and one of the guards asked, “Hey, did you take the call from Rubio’s woman?”
The vampire looked at the guard as if he was dirt under her feet, but then she nodded. “The human progeny is being sent to his family.” Her eyes drifted to Rick and she gave him a once-over that let the young boy know she found him wanting. “What of it?” she continued.
“Did Mrs. Hermosa ask about my mother, too?” Rick said. He didn’t care that the vampire guards hissed at him.
The female vampire smiled a little, then said, “She said there was another woman with Rubio, a member of De Castro’s retinue, but I never heard of her. She hasn’t turned up.” The female vampire looked at the name she’d written on her clipboard and then crossed out, ‘Susan Hale.’
“This one says he’s here to find his mommy,” one of the guards chuckled.
“Why are you still in touch with her?” the female looked offended. “Who’s your Maker?”
“Why do you people keep asking me that?” Rick challenged. “I don’t have a Maker. I have parents!”
Guard Three grabbed Rick’s upper arm and half-dragged, half-marched him to a bench halfway down the hall. Pushing him toward it, the guard said, “Well, I’ll tell you what, Mr. Special Snowflake, you can just sit down here on the Special Snowflake Bench until we figure out what to do with you.”
“I need to find my Mom!” Rick shouted in frustration.
“Well, I need to rip someone’s throat out and drink them till their dry,” and the vampire’s fangs were down and he was in Rick’s face. “You volunteering?”
“Don’t bother!” one of his companions laughed. “He’d barely be a mouthful.” Then that vampire walked closer and, running his hand up Rick’s arm, said, “but if you get hungry, I’d share my coffin with you. I’m sure we could work something out.”
Rick blushed. The vampires around him became very still and their eyes all seemed to have the same speculative look. Rick was starting to wonder how far he’d get if he ran for the door when a short woman with blond hair walked past, “What are you doing, loitering? It’s time to clean up and there’s still plenty to do.”
“Yes, Karin,” One of them bowed and they all moved away from Rick. The one they’d called Karin never paused. She turned the corner and Rick found himself alone in the corridor.
Rick wasn’t sure what to do. He figured he was near the main entrance, but there were guards standing near the doors. If he tried to escape the building, he didn’t think he’d get far. There were more people moving in the corridor that ran along the front of the building, but Rick was afraid to wander too far. He wondered where George was, and he had a sneaking suspicion his friend was already far away.
There was a scuffling noise and a moan and vampires turned down his corridor, dragging people Rick assumed were prisoners between them. The prisoners were bloody and one was missing a foot. They were in obvious pain, but the vampires dragging them were laughing and making light of their prisoners’ discomfort. Rick remembered his mother telling him vampires were cruel and vain. One of the captors turned his head as he passed Rick, bared his fangs, and hissed. Rick felt it all the way to his toes.
“It’s good to have Eric back.” The voice drifted from somewhere around the corner. For some reason, Rick’s ear caught it.
“Who’d have thought it? The Viking! King!” said a second voice
“I never doubted it,” said the first. “It was inevitable. I just wish he’d come back sooner.”
Rick’s mind raced. ‘Eric’ and ‘Viking’ just about guaranteed that his father was here, in Louisiana. Since this was the palace, it was a pretty good bet his father was somewhere in the building. Rick thought about what he’d say. He thought about the letter his Mother had written some time ago. He wished he’d brought it. He was sure she would have found the words to explain everything.
Rick glanced at his bag on the floor. His stomach grumbled and he unzipped the top. There was the rest of a can of Pringles and a bottle of water. He had other needs, too, and he glanced around. He’d noticed some of the non-vampire guards walking in and out of a door a little way down the corridor and he decided to take a chance. As he’d suspected, the room was a bathroom, and he used the urinal and then the stall. He washed his hands and smoothed back his hair. It was longer than his Mom liked, brushing the top of his collar. He’d been bugging her to let him grow it out, but she reminded him that Chester dress code frowned on that kind of thing. It was a lame excuse since there were other guys who had longer hair, claiming equal treatment with girls, but he’d gone along.
Rick remembered the way the vampire looked at him when he offered to share a coffin. He remembered the creeper in New York and he started to worry about being a target. He tried taking off his uniform jacket, but with his tall, thin build it just made him look more vulnerable, so he put the jacket back on.
Rick went back into the corridor and sat down on the bench. He opened the water and grabbed a couple Pringles. A vampire walked past. He looked disgusted and hissed, “If you’re sick you’ll have to eat that, too!”
“Fuck you!” Rick muttered under his breath. He was sure the vampire heard him, but he didn’t stop. ‘I can’t just sit here,’ Rick thought. When two more vampires started past him, he said, “Who do I talk with about my Mom?” When the vampires continued, ignoring him, Rick said a little louder, “I want to talk with the King!”
Now the tall, dark one turned. He was smiling, but not in a nice way. “You should shut up and know your place, Abomination! No one wants to talk with you, least of all the King!”
“He does want to talk with me!” Rick insisted.
The dark vampire was suddenly very close, “And why would Eric Northman have any interest in a thing like you?” Every warning bell in Rick’s head was clanging. “Why don’t you tell me why it’s so important for you to see the King and I’ll relay the message?” the vampire was saying.
“It’s something only I can tell him,” Rick stammered.
The dark vampire looked at his companion, “Has it been frisked for explosives?” he asked.
“No, Maxwell,” the companion answered, and Rick found himself pretty well hung upside down, rough hands running over him. The vampire managed to rip his jacket and gripped him so tightly Rick knew he’d have bruises. When the companion was satisfied, he dropped Rick to the floor and then grabbed Rick’s bag and searched that, too. He took Rick’s phone, the rest of the food, and a bottle of True Blood Rick had stashed in the bottom of the bag. “He’s clean,” he reported, “but he’s hot. Probably blood fever.”
The one called Maxwell had stood by, his arms crossed over his chest, watching. “I’ll give you this,” he nodded at Rick. “You’re brave.” Rick figured Max was saying that because he refused to cry out, even when he was dropped.
“Now will you let me see the King?” Rick asked again.
“Sit down on your bench, little vampire,” Max sneered. “You’ll wait your turn like everyone else,” and then the vampires turned and walked away.
Hours passed. Rick asked over and over to speak with the King, but each time he was either ignored or threatened. “I should just kill you now!” one vampire hissed at him. “You’re marked for the dungeon anyway!” Rick hoped that it was just another idle threat. When he worked up his courage, he tried exploring the corridor that ran along the back of the building. It was then he discovered that although it didn’t appear he was being watched, he was. He was apprehended and quick-marched back to his bench.
“This is your place!” the guard hissed. “Maxwell has ordered you to stay here, and if you move from it, I’m allowed to give you your final death.” For some reason, Rick believed him.
Rick still had his watch. As night turned to morning, Rick noticed the number of vampires seemed to be thinning out. His stomach rumbled and his fangs itched. He needed blood, but he didn’t have any. A vampire walked by him. Somehow she must have known because she said, “Don’t worry. You’ll drop into your day death soon. I’m sure they’ll find you a donor on your rising.”
“Do you know where the King is?” Rick asked.
“You are persistent,” the vampire answered, and shaking her head, continued down the corridor and around the corner.
Rick noticed the bright lights in his head that were vampires started to lessen. One by one they dimmed. It was odd, but Rick was so tired and so hungry it didn’t seem important. He opened his bag, hoping the vampire had missed something he could eat. Unfortunately, the vampire had been thorough, but he did find the pennywhistle Peter had handed him when they left Chester. It seemed like a lifetime ago.
Holding it one-handed to his lips, Rick started with a Quaker air. It was simple and the notes soothed him. He moved to an Irish tune and then to a song he’d heard a couple times that had Romani overtones.
“How did you get here?” Rick was so startled, he jumped. He dropped the whistle and fumbled down on the floor to retrieve it from under the bench. He stood and found himself towering over a short, dark vampire. She was looking at him with black, piercing eyes.
“I took the train,” he said, his voice unnaturally high.
“It’s been centuries since I’ve seen one of you. Where are you from?”
Rick couldn’t believe he was having an actual conversation with someone. He knew instinctively that this vampire was dangerous. It was in every line of her body, but he answered her anyway. “Massachusetts,” and then he decided to ask her the same thing he’d been asking everyone, “I’m looking for my mother. She came down here with Felipe de Castro. Can I talk with the King?”
“Who is your mother?” the dark one asked.
“Susan Hale,” Rick answered automatically, then, blushing, said, “I mean Sookie….”
“Stackhouse,” the vampire finished. She gave him a long, assessing look and it took everything Rick had not to squirm. It seemed like a lifetime before she turned and said, “Come with me.”
Rick had to hustle to keep up with her. She took the stairs instead of pushing the button for the elevator they passed. Rick held his own, but when she made the turn on the third floor, Rick started to pant a little. The female didn’t slow up. She climbed more staircases and was waiting, holding the door open on what the painted stencil told him was the sixth floor.
“Weak!” she sneered.
“I’m not!” Rick growled.
“We’ll see,” she smiled, and it wasn’t unpleasant. They walked down the corridor to a double door where there were guards stationed outside. The guards bowed and one knocked. The door opened and they were admitted.
Rick found himself in a large room. There was a couch and the lamps were on. He didn’t really notice the furnishings, though. He couldn’t take his eyes off the large, muscular vampire standing framed against the darkness of a night sky. He was blond and his hair was long. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, and although he wasn’t bleeding, Rick could see that he’d taken a lot of damage. His skin was pink and puckered in places. His face still had angry red marks across half of it and the wound on the man’s neck and shoulder looked recent.
There were two women with him. One of them Rick had seen earlier downstairs. Someone called her Karin. The other woman was someone he’d never seen before.
The man Rick knew was his Father barely glanced at him. Instead he looked at the woman who brought him here, “What is it, Thalia?”
“This one,” and Thalia was nodding toward Rick. “He is here looking for his Mother.”
“What is it to the King?” Karin sneered.
“His mother is Sookie Stackhouse,” Thalia answered.
Rick wondered if all the air had left the room. It got hard to breath. The vampire next to him seemed to have anticipated the reaction, but the three in front of him went quiet, more quiet than Rick had ever seen any being before. It was uncanny how still they were, and their eyes were all riveted on him. Finally, the woman he didn’t recognize said, “Fuck a zombie!”
“Sookie…” the man said, and then he seemed to be fighting with himself. He looked away, but, after a moment, his gaze was skewering Rick again, “Who sent you?”
And Rick knew this was it. This was the moment he’d been practicing over and over in front of his mirror. He knew he looked terrible. His hair was messed up and his jacket sleeve was hanging, but he drew himself up tall and straight, just like his Mom taught him and he took his steps forward until he was standing just in front of the vampire. The one who was Karin had started to step in front of him, but the King motioned for her to stay still.
Rick swallowed, cleared his throat, and held out his hand. “I’m Corbett Eric Hale,” he said, then looking straight into the vampire’s eyes as was polite, he added, “and I’m your son.”
Rick felt reasonably proud of himself. He’d managed it without his voice breaking or otherwise embarrassing himself, but then the blood roared in his ears and all he remembered was the black rolling over his eyes and the sensation of falling.