Chapter 24 – Across the River

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author.  The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise.  No copyright infringement is intended.

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“It’s been nice having you here,” Lily laid her hand on Rick’s shoulder. They were all in the family room. Gran had gone to bed, complaining George ran her ragged at the arcade. George’s Gran seemed nice enough, but Rick could hear her thoughts, and they weren’t all happy. She liked Mr. Hermosa well enough, but she wished her daughter had found a better father for her children, by that she meant someone not a vampire. It was just as well she’d gone to bed. The donors came soon after, and Rick could tell having humans come to provide blood was causing some tension between Lily and her Mom.

“Have you heard from your Father?” Lily asked.

Rick shook his head. A part of him hadn’t expected to, but another part was disappointed just the same.

“Don’t read anything into it,” Mr. Hermosa told him. “My bet is your Father is very busy. He is just made King and that requires many things to happen. He needs to affirm his Sheriffs and establish his place early, or other vampires might get ideas.” Rick saw Mrs. Hermosa shoot Mr. Hermosa a sharp look. He could hear her worry that Rubio would be given an important position, one that would place him in the line of more danger.

Mr. Hermosa had looked gray when he walked up from the basement tonight. He explained it was a side-effect of silver poisoning, and it would take some time before all the silver was gone from his system. He told Rick that a Maker’s blood, or a sibling’s blood from the same Maker would help speed his recovery, “In my case, I was the only vampire my Maker had the time to create. He fell to his final death shortly after making me. We had less than a hundred years together.”

“Was he kind?” Rick asked. Rick was getting the impression most Makers were not kind. It sounded to Rick like a vampire was better off killing his or her Maker, and that didn’t sound promising.

“He was a kind man,” Rubio assured him, “He had been a vampire for a very long time, but never felt the need to create another until he found me. He considered turning me a sacred calling, and he took his time preparing me for this life.” Rick filed that idea away, the one that vampires had some kind of signal telling them who to turn.

“So, what is the best thing about being a vampire?” Rick asked. It was something he wanted to know, for both himself and his Mom, for after.

“Blood bonds,” Mr. Hermosa grinned. He took Mrs. Hermosa’s hand in his, “We are tied together now, and the intimacy you gain with a person through a true blood bond is a powerful thing.” He raised his wife’s hand to his lips and Rick could see their happiness. It was like a living presence in the room with them, and then Mr. Hermosa’s eyes shifted, and the sensation dimmed.

“When you take blood from a person, you have that moment when you feel connected to them,” he told Rick. Rick nodded. He had noticed it. At first, he thought it was his telepathy, but then he realized the experience was different. It was more like a brief glance at a snapshot of the person. It faded quickly, and Rick now found he could almost ignore it. “Well, imagine that experience, but a hundred times stronger with someone you love who loves you in return. It is as if you are one person. You feel their care for you. You know when they’re worried, and you can send that person the strength they need when they need it. When that person thinks warm thoughts, it warms you. Before I bonded, I would have told you a hundred other things, but now? Now there is only one thing that matters.”

“Jeez, Dad!” George rolled his eyes.

“Someday I hope you find someone you feel as strongly about as I feel about your Mother,” Mr. Hermosa said, his voice reasonable.

“You must be anxious to get to New Orleans,” Mrs. Hermosa added, returning them to a more neutral topic. “I’m sure you’re anxious to see your Father again.”

“Eric?” Rick shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”

“I have known your Father for a long time,” Mr. Hermosa told Rick, “and I can tell you he is not himself. I’ve never seen him so…shaken.”

“The Viking?” Mrs. Hermosa sat back. “Every story I’ve ever heard about Eric Northman has him three steps ahead of the other guy.” She turned to Rick, “I have to tell you, I may have a little crush on your Father. I’ve only met him a handful of times, but he can knock the breath from any girl! And the way he loves your Mother! Oh!” Mr. Hermosa was looking fondly at his wife, but George made a gagging sound.

“Scoff all you want,” Mrs. Hermosa waved her hand, then turned to Rick and leaned forward, “but you are the product of a true love story. Your Mom and Dad are legend. I think every human who’s ever loved a vampire knows their story. Indira told me about how they met and their courtship. I’ve heard all about their troubles, and then, when he went off to Oklahoma and your Mother disappeared. Some think she was running away from her broken heart. And now, they’re back together and there’s you! Do you have any idea what a miracle you are? You watch! Some smart person is going to turn your story into a TV mini-series, it’s just that good.”

George was groaning and Mr. Hermosa shook his head as he said, “Lily, you may be over-romanticizing this a bit.”

“Don’t listen to them!” Mrs. Hermosa leaned over and patted Rick’s knee. “I’m telling you, your parents were meant to be together. When I think that I met the famous Sookie Stackhouse when she was hiding out in Chester! We cooked together and everything!”

“Mom told me about how they met, her and Eric,” Rick was embarrassed, but it felt good to talk about it. “She said she was with someone else then…”

“Bill Compton,” Mr. Hermosa supplied. “He’s the vampire who staked me and turned her. He never accepted losing her to the King. Compton was a creepy little shit…” Mrs. Hermosa hissed, and Mr. Hermosa shrugged, “Sorry, Lily. He was a creepy, little, back-stabbing shit.” The boys laughed and Lily did, too, then moved to sit next to her husband, so she could lay her head on his shoulder. “We saw him, your Mother and me, in Denver at the Summit. I could see there was something off about how he was looking at her, but your Mom was sure it was just the old jealousy. It made sense at the time.”

Lily settled back before saying, “You know your Father has always had a reputation. Part of it is because he is among the oldest of the vampires, maybe the oldest. Of course, he couldn’t be King back then, but still, no one could understand why he didn’t have a more powerful position. Pam, your sister, she told me your Father liked having influence without all the entanglements of politics.”

“Why couldn’t he be a King then?” Rick asked.

“Because Eric’s Maker was still walking,” Rubio said.

“Wow!” George exclaimed, “If the Viking is a thousand-years-old, how old was his Maker?”

“Ancient,” Rubio answered. “I met him when he came to Shreveport. The power rolled from him. It was like electricity. You could sense him before he came into the room.”

“I wish I had met him,” Lily said.

“No,” Rubio’s face became grave, “No, you don’t. He was also the most evil vampire I ever met. Appius Livius Ocella! He started his vampire life as a Roman Centurion. Who knows how many lives he took as a human, but as a vampire? You could feel the blood of centuries surrounding him.” He looked at Rick, “That your Father survived and didn’t become twisted is a testament to his character. Thalia told me his time with Appius was brutal. That can warp a vampire. I think it’s part of the reason Compton became the way he was. His Maker was a psychopath.”

“Mustapha Khan told me Appius killed Eric’s dayman,” Rick volunteered. “He also told me that Appius sold Eric into some kind of slavery.”

“The contract,” Lily nodded. “Eric’s Maker couldn’t stand that his child was married to a human.”

“But that’s all changed now, right?” George asked. “I mean, no one gives you a hard time because you’re married.”

Lily looked away before meeting George’s eyes, “It is better than it was, but there are still some people, humans and vampires, who can’t accept us,” and she circled her finger to include herself and Rubio.

“It isn’t a problem most of the time,” Mr. Hermosa added. “But it did factor into our wish to send you children to boarding school. We didn’t want you to ever see yourselves through those eyes.”

“What happened to him?” Rick interrupted. “My Father’s Maker?”

Rubio smiled wide, “The way I heard it, Rick, your Mother staked him. Right in the front yard of her own home.”

George whistled, “Jeez, Rick! Your Mom is one bad ass!”

Mrs. Hermosa made a scolding noise and cautioned about ‘language.’ Rick looked out the dark window and said out loud another thought that had been circling in his head, “I feel like in some ways, I’m meeting a whole new side of Mom. When we were at home, before all of this, she told me she ran over a vampire with her car and killed him.”

“Sigebert,” Rubio chuckled, “The story I heard was that she hit him, threw the car in reverse, and hit him again.”

“I think we’ve had enough talk about killing for one night,” Mrs. Hermosa interrupted in a tone that was clear.

“Just one more,” George begged, then turned to his Father, and asked, “If Bill Compton was such a problem, why didn’t someone end him before?”

“Compton was working for the Queen who ruled here then. He was her procurer,” and he glanced at Rick, “and your Mother was his assignment. The Queen had been told about your Mother’s gift, and she ordered Bill Compton to come up here and find out if it was true. If he could prove that Sookie Stackhouse was telepathic, he was ordered to bring her back to New Orleans, and deliver her to Queen Sophie-Ann LeClerq.”

“Did he?” Rick asked.

“Of course not,” Mrs. Hermosa answered.

“Why not?” George asked.

“Eric Northman!” Mrs. Hermosa exclaimed. “From the minute your Father saw your Mother, he was captured. She sassed him and defied him, and he couldn’t get over her. Pam told me it was love at first sight, at least for him. She said she thought your Mom was pretty well captured, too, but you know your Mom! She fought it every step of the way.”

“Mom told me they were married,” Rick said.

“They were, by vampire standards,” Mr. Hermosa nodded. “Pledged by the knife.”

“But not everyone accepted it,” Mrs. Hermosa added. “For one thing, they weren’t really living together. That had folks saying their marriage was really about your Father securing your Mom, so he could use her gift. That story was easier for vampires to believe. The great Eric Northman led armies and business ventures. He made things happen and he did what he needed to do to succeed and marrying some lowly human just so he could have exclusive use of her telepathy, well, that fit everyone’s ideas a little better.”

“No one could believe he loved a human,” Mr. Hermosa added. “After all, he was the Viking, the North Man. A thousand years and countless adventures. To fasten himself to a human for love was…well, just not done, but all you had to do was watch them, and you knew.”

Lily laughed, “Indira told me there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for your Mom. Did your Mom ever tell you about the time your Father went to a party dressed in a pink leotard and pretended to be gay just because she asked him?” Rick shook his head.

“The things he did for her weren’t all foolish,” Mr. Hermosa shook his head. “There were things Eric did that were more serious as well.” Mr. Hermosa looked directly at Rick, “How much do you know about your Fae relatives?”

“Only that we’re part Fae. I got the impression it was a kind of big thing, and Mom told me something about having a spark. She said she can’t tell if I have it, but she said it like it was important.” Rick looked away, “And Mustapha Khan told me about the cluviel dor and how Mom used it for another man.”

“You are related to the last known ruler of the Fae, Niall Brigant. He is Prince of the Sky Fae,” Mr. Hermosa seemed impressed just to be saying it.

“What are Fae?” George asked.

“They are not in this world anymore,” Mr. Hermosa explained. “They left shortly before Sookie,” and he looked at Rick, “before your Mom left Louisiana, but, for awhile they were very active.”

“So, what are they?” George persisted.

“Fairies,” Rubio clarified.

“What? With little flowers and wings?” George snorted.

Mr. Hermosa’s face became serious, “They would like you to believe that,” he told his son. “No, they are, in fact, the fiercest of races. They are formidable warriors, and lethal in their hatreds. They are prickly about manners and quick to anger. They are pure magic, every part of them. Their curse or their favor are serious matters.”

“And Rick is related to them?” George looked impressed.

“Rick is descended from their royalty,” Mr. Hermosa nodded, “and his Mom is why we almost got dragged into a war. Niall Brigant was fighting with his nephew for rule of the Fae. Your Mother was taken by Niall’s enemies. They intended to kill her and leave her as a warning to Niall, but first, they tortured her.”

“Tortured?” Rick gasped.

“They held her for days. When she was rescued, she was badly damaged. Pam told me some of the injuries never fully healed, despite all the vampire blood ladled into them,” and Lily’s eyes were kind.

“Mom wouldn’t tell me how she got those scars on her legs,” Rick said. “There’s some on her back, too. To tell you the truth, they looked like bite marks. Do you think that’s what happened?”

“I don’t know,” Rubio told Rick. “What I do know is that when she was kidnapped, Eric knew. So did Victor Madden, the vampire who was running the kingdom for Felipe de Castro. He had Eric captured and bound in silver in the basement of Fangtasia. Your parents were bonded. Eric felt everything she did, and he was in a fury to escape and get to her. He roared so loudly they had to shut down the club.”

“Why did Victor do that? What was it to him?” George asked.

“Victor Madden knew if Eric Northman killed a Fae, it would drag the vampires into the Fae War. Fae take no prisoners. If Niall’s enemies had won, there wouldn’t be one vampire left by the time they were finished, so Victor did what he had to do to keep Eric out of it.”

“Even if it meant Mrs. Hale had to die,” George said the obvious.

“She was human,” Rubio nodded, “so Victor felt her life wasn’t worth the risk.”

“So, what happened?” Rick asked.

“Pam convinced some of those guarding your Father to let him go. Eric took his right hand, a vampire named Clancy, and he marched to where Sookie was hiding. He fought there beside Niall Brigant and he saved your Mother.”

“He didn’t care if he started a war,” Rick was surprised. This didn’t sound like a vampire who would dump his Mom only a year later.

“No, he didn’t,” Mrs. Hermosa smiled. “Nothing mattered more than your Mom to him,” and she smiled at Mr. Hermosa in a way that said she felt the same way about him.

Rick remembered George telling him that Mr. Hermosa thought the real reason they fell apart was his Mother’s inability to accept vampires. “I know you’re thinking my Mom won’t be happy she’s been turned,” Rick looked at Mr. Hermosa. “You’re not the only one. Seems like most people feel that way, but I know you’re wrong. My Mom is going to be okay with this. See, she’s tough and she figures things out. I’ve never seen her stay sad for long. When I get down about something, she’s right there, telling me to turn things a little bit to see the silver lining. Sure, growing up in Chester has been pretty good, but we’ve had our problems, too. Pipes freeze. People complain. But, Mom? She never lets it get her down, or me, either. She’s going to accept this. You’ll see.”

Rubio glanced at George, and then at Lily, “I’m sure you’re right,” he said at last.

Mrs. Hermosa added, “I know your Mother loves you. There’s nothing like children to change how you see the world. Maybe she did grow up thinking vampires were scary or wrong, but I believe people can change, too. I know I’m not the same person I was before George and Maddie and Frank came along. I know you made your Mom grow, too, every minute you’ve been alive. I thought I was happy before I had babies, but it’s nowhere near how happy I am now. I would bet good money your Mom feels the same way.”

Later as he sat on the edge of George’s bed, George chuckled, “I can’t believe your Mom is some serial killer warrior princess.”

“Yeah,” Rick shook his head. “Go figure.” He kept seeing his Mom in her Birkenstocks, helping to make beds and can tomatoes. She had a soft smile for everyone and she laughed along when people complained about her singing. But then, Rick remembered other times when her temper would flare and he’d see something hard in her eyes, and he realized there was more to his Mom than he knew, and it made him feel hopeful.

 

xxxXXXxxx

 

Mr. Cataliades looked skinny. His suit fit him, but he was thinner than Rick had ever seen him and that looked odd.

“Thank you, again, for taking Rick in,” he was telling Mrs. Hermosa. “We consider this a great favor and it won’t be forgotten. Rick will be staying at Maison de Ville in the Quarter with his Aunts,” and the attorney bowed and presented a card with phone numbers.

“Now, Rick, don’t you forget this,” and Mrs. Hermosa handed Rick the yellow pad of paper he’d used to list things yesterday.

“Thanks again,” Rick stammered, “for everything. And tell Mr. Hermosa thanks for me, too.”

“See you soon,” George told him, and the friends looked at each other, neither having to say, ‘as long as our parents figure it out.’ There was change in the air, and both knew there was a possibility they wouldn’t see each other again for a long time.

“Give me some sugar!” Mrs. Hermosa added, and stepping forward, wrapped Rick in her arms. “Don’t you worry!” she whispered in his ear. “I have such a good feeling about this!”

He thanked everyone again, and then Rick followed Mr. Cataliades to the black sedan idling in the driveway. There were a couple neighbors out staring, and Mrs. Hermosa looked up, smiled, and waved at them before leaning into the car to say, “Text us when you get there.”

“You look pretty bad,” Rick told his Uncle Desmond as the sedan pulled into the street.

“I’m getting better,” the attorney replied.

“Have you heard anything about my Mom?” Rick asked.

Mr. Cataliades eyebrows came together, “No, and I assumed you had news of her from the Palace.”

“Nope,” Rick shook his head, “Nothing.”

“I am very disappointed in Mr. Northman,” the attorney shook his head. “I believe your Aunt was correct and it’s a good thing we’ve come.”

“Can I ask you a question? You don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to. It’s just that you were here,” and Rick took a breath. “You knew my Mom was here. Why couldn’t you have warned her?”

“I didn’t know anything about the takeover,” Mr. Cataliades replied. “I did suspect that Felipe was here to cause mischief, but I couldn’t foresee how swiftly things would move. When I realized what was happening, I couldn’t call her,” and the attorney looked sad. “Do you blame me for her being turned?”

“No,” and Rick shook his head. “It wasn’t your fault, it’s just…this changes so much.”

“It has been a most painful lesson about the dangers of arrogance,” Mr. Cataliades told Rick. He was looking out the window of the car. “I was so certain that I could trust what I took from the heads of others.” He turned to Rick now, “And let it be a lesson to you, too. Hearing everything around you can place you in a better position to make decisions, but there is always the risk of someone out there who is better at spying than you.”

“What happened to you?” Rick asked. This was, after all, Uncle Desmond. He showed up with random gifts and watched the Maypole dancing every year. He mostly spent time with Rick’s Mom, but he was kind to Rick, too.

“The former King, Felipe de Castro, was able to determine that I could read thoughts. Now, looking back on it, I think he’d been suspicious for years and he used people and circumstances to test his theory. You never met him, but most people discounted him. The King would dress in capes and make grandiose statements. It made him seem clown-ish. Even I was gulled into a false sense of security.”

“So, he tricked you?” Rick asked.

“He caught me,” the attorney nodded, “and then he used that information to blackmail me. He found a witch who could bind me and my abilities. It was…”

“Really mean?” Rick interrupted.

“Humiliating,” Mr. Cataliades corrected. “It kept me on a short leash. I couldn’t trust what I heard. Felipe fed humans enough misdirection through glamour that I was never quite sure what I could believe. It was torture.” The attorney smiled, “I’m sure I’m going to have to give an accounting to your Aunt as well. She has made clear she’s not pleased with me.”

“Aunt Fran can be a real bitch,” Rick smiled wryly, “It’s why I love her so much.”

The attorney’s eyes narrowed, “You really do look like him, you know.”

“Who? Eric?” Rick asked. He knew that’s who his Uncle meant, so he shrugged. “People keep telling me that, but I don’t see it. He doesn’t either.”

“I will make a confession,” the attorney’s face was grave. “It has been your resemblance to your Father that has kept me from feeling as close to you as I should. You are, after all, my friend, Fintan’s family. You are his legacy, although I can’t believe he would have ever have thought that his bloodline would include vampires.”

“You don’t like vampires much, do you?” Rick’s question was more of a statement.

“I don’t like some vampires,” the attorney corrected, “I generally don’t think about the rest.”

“Which camp does my Father fall into?” Rick was pretty sure he knew, but he wanted to hear it.

“The first,” the attorney confirmed, “but I can see I must change my thinking about this. With your Mother’s change, it is inevitable that she will remain with him now.”

Rick was quiet for a minute. The attorney was saying out loud the one thing Rick feared most, that he and his Mother wouldn’t return to Chester, and that thought made Rick’s chest squeeze in an uncomfortable way. Rather than continue to focus on the thought of losing his home, Rick asked something else that occurred to him, “Are you jealous of Eric? I mean, you never looked like you were interested in my Mom, but…”

“You are misinterpreting!” the attorney leaned back, and even smiled. “No, my feelings for your Mother are not like that! I have known her since she was a baby. No, my interests in your Mother are because of my friendship with your Great-Grandfather. Fintan Brigant was my best friend as George Hermosa is yours, but we knew each other for ages. Fintan knew my wife and my children. I teased him about finding a wife of his own, but he wasn’t interested in any woman until he met your Great-Grandmother, Adele. She was much like your Mother is now, fierce, beautiful. She knew her own mind. He loved her, but he knew his alliance with her put her and their children in great peril. The Fae hated hybrids. You see, their species was dying out. They couldn’t reproduce, and this led to strife. Those who were willing to pollute the bloodline with lesser species were reviled. Fintan knew that as the older son of the King, his transgression in loving a human would be seen by many as demanding action, so he took steps to protect them. He used magic and glamours to hide them. I fed Adele my own blood, so her children could read the thoughts of others and be warned. Fintan even left them, so that his very presence wouldn’t lead his enemies to them.”

“I was his friend and I agreed to watch over his family. For many years, it worked well, but then, the hostilities among the Fae flared into life again. Your family’s enemies found your grandparents. They were driving over a bridge and the Water Fae caused the waters to rise. Your grandparents were drowned, but your Mother and her brother were saved. Fintan was caught and killed and the magic that still shielded them weakened further. Since that time, I have considered watching over your family my sacred duty. I watch over your Mother to honor my friend.

“Do you watch over my uncle, too?” Rick asked.

“Because your Uncle Jason didn’t inherit the spark, he was never in any danger. The Fae might have killed him eventually, to just tie up loose ends, but he would have been last on their list.”

Rick started when he heard the word again, “Do I have it?” he asked, “the spark?”

Uncle Desmond chuckled, “Yes, young Corbett, you shine. The spark is clear in you, and I am sure as you grow, so will your ability to channel and direct it.”

“The Hermosas told me my Father killed the Fae enemies of my family,” Rick stated. “Is that why you hate him? Because he killed Fae?”

“I don’t hate Eric Northman,” Mr. Cataliades chuckled. “I just don’t approve of the heir of the House Brigant being bound to a vampire.”

“He’s a King now,” Rick shrugged. “Does that make it any better?”

“Perhaps,” Mr. Cataliades shrugged, and then he looked out the window and said, “Ahh! I believe it’s time for lunch. We’ll stop here!” and he rapped on the glass that separated them from their driver.

The restaurant looked out of place, too elegant for a roadside eatery. Once they were in the door, Rick understood why. He could tell that most of those eating were Supernaturals. He got the impression that if he wasn’t who he was, he would have seen a different exterior, or maybe not seen the place at all.

The headwaiter came up to them and smiled, revealing a mouthful of sharp, filed teeth. “Desmond! It’s been too long!” he exclaimed.

“It has, and I’ve come to rectify that!” Mr. Cataliades replied, and Rick’s eyes widened to see his Uncle’s mouth full of identical teeth.

The headwaiter then turned to Rick, and he bowed low. “Welcome to you as well,” he simpered. “News travels. You’re the North Man’s, yes?”

“This is Corbett Eric Hale,” Mr. Cataliades said formally, “and he is the King’s son. Of course, we would appreciate your discretion. We travel to rejoin the King and would prefer not to attract too much attention.”

 

Rick could tell it was all role-playing. Every person in the place had stopped eating and was paying attention to them, either openly staring, or trying too hard to pretend they weren’t. “Of course, of course,” the headwaiter was almost obsequious. “Follow me. I have the perfect table for you.”

The table was well in the back, yet still completely visible to everyone there. “You may not like my Father much, but you don’t hesitate to use him when it suits you,” Rick hissed at his Uncle.

Mr. Cataliades didn’t answer, but Rick was sure he was smiling. As soon as they were seated, a basket of bread and a plate with flavored olive oil was set in front of them. Uncle Desmond’s hands moved swiftly and by the time Rick finished his first piece of bread, all the rest was gone. Mr. Cataliades never looked at a menu, but the food started to arrive. Over the course of the next hour, Rick was presented with a dizzying variety of dishes. It was all presented family-style and he figured out if he wanted any, he had to pounce on the serving spoon first. Once the attorney started, he didn’t stop until the platter was bare.

Rick sampled things he’d never seen before. Each was wonderful, but even for him, there was a bursting point. Not for Mr. Cataliades, though. He continued to eat for a full half-hour after Rick was finished and pushed back from the table, his fingers stretched over his almost uncomfortably full stomach. Finally, the attorney pushed back, too, and the headwaiter reappeared.

“Dessert?” he asked and Rick almost groaned out loud at the very idea of more food.

“My nephew needs a donor,” Mr. Cataliades nodded toward Rick. “And for me? Just a few slices of cake.”

Rick’s eyes went wide and he could feel his face flushing. He didn’t know how this was going to work. It was bad enough being around people he knew when he fed. The idea of feeding from someone in a restaurant made the food in his stomach take a warning roll. Mr. Cataliades must have known because he said, “Not out here, of course. I’m sure you can show young Rick to a private room.”

“Of course!” the headwaiter clapped his hands as if this was the most wonderful thing he’d arranged all day. “If you will follow me this way,” and he bowed and gestured toward the back of the restaurant.

“No, really, I’m okay,” Rick started to back pedal. His fangs were itching, and his throat almost burned in need. Rick hated that the more he drank, the more he seemed to need fresh blood these days. He wished in some ways he had never tasted blood coming from donors but, then again, it did satisfy his hunger best.

“Do you need me to come with you?” Mr. Cataliades asked, and Rick’s face blushed harder, embarrassed at the way his Uncle was treating him like he was two.

“No,” Rick stammered, “no, I’m okay.” He stood, all too aware of the stares from the other diners, and dragged after the headwaiter who showed him into what looked like a small banquet room.

“Wait here,” the headwaiter said, and then he cocked his head as if considering what to do next. He got a slow smile and turned, pulling the door shut behind him. Rick sat down on a chair and placed his hands between his knees, trying to control his nervousness. He was hungry and everything in his body was standing at attention.

After what seemed the longest minute there was a discrete knock, and a short brunette woman came in. She was young and she smiled coyly. “You’re kind of young, too, aren’t you?” she asked, but then she sat down on the chair next to Rick and started to unbutton her shirt. “You don’t mind if I take my shirt off, do you?” she asked, but Rick could tell she didn’t care what he thought. “I don’t want to get it stained,” she explained.

Rick’s eyes went huge. He’d never seen a real woman with her shirt off, and now he was going to get his first look at breasts in the backroom of some restaurant. He knew he was blushing, but he couldn’t help himself. His eyes were fastened on her chest, and he felt himself harden at the sight of her nipples, dark circles showing through the nearly transparent bra that was covering them. The woman knew he was looking and she pushed her breasts out a little, and threw him a look that had Rick’s heart racing.

“You are cute,” she told Rick. “So…would you like me to stand? We could face each other,” and she stood and took his hand, pulling him toward her.

Rick felt like he was in some dream. His heart was hammering and his fangs slid down with a click. The woman giggled and reached up, stroking one with her finger. Rick almost groaned with the sensation. “I… I…” he stammered, but then she leaned forward and kissed him lightly. Rick thought his heart would stop altogether.

“Here,” she said, and placed his hand on her breast as she said, “Just lean forward. I’m not going to bite back.”

Rick was so tense. He leaned over her neck and couldn’t help sniffing a little. There was something about how she smelled. It was different from anyone he’d fed from before, wilder somehow. In the back of his head he figured out she was Were. She was running her hand through the back of his hair, encouraging him closer, and her other hand came over his, encouraging him to move a little, so he was stroking her through her bra. Rick could feel her nipple pebbling under his hand and it felt great. “Lick me,” she breathed.

Rick didn’t need any more encouragement. He licked her neck, and then nipped before rubbing his face against her. Whatever effect she was having on him, it was overcoming his inhibitions. He wanted to feed from her and rub himself against her. He slid his teeth into her and she held him close, her hand dropping to take hold of his cock. Rick staggered and exhaled when she squeezed. He thought his eyes would cross and he felt like he would burst at any minute.

“I think you are a little young for this,” Mr. Cataliades voice was like ice down Rick’s back, but he drew his second mouthful of blood and realized he didn’t want to stop. He wanted a lot more of whatever this woman was providing. “That’s enough, Rick!” the demon warned, his voice stern. Rick forced his eyes open and pulled his fangs from the woman’s neck. She was staring toward the demon and Rick saw that the attractive woman had been replaced with something else. With her blood, Rick could read her thoughts. She wanted to seduce Rick. She knew who he was and wanted him to take her with him. She intended to use him to gain influence with the new King. She was using him.

Rick reached down and removed her hand from his softening cock. “Thank you for your assistance,” he stumbled. “I’m sure there will be money to make it worth your while.”

“I’m Zara,” she purred, trying to pull his face closer to hers again. Rick’s head felt fuzzy and he realized there was something about her blood that made him feel drunk. “Why don’t you send the demon away for a little while?” and she stroked Rick’s face.

 

“Again, thank you,” Rick pulled back and then turned, stumbled, and lurched his way toward Mr. Cataliades.

The demon placed his arm around Rick’s shoulder, “Come, young Prince, we’d best be on our way,” Rick’s ears were ringing and Uncle Desmond’s words sounded as if they were coming from a long way away.

“I feel funny,” Rick mumbled.

“You’ll feel better after some rest,” the attorney assured him, “and let that be a lesson to you. Were blood is intoxicating to vampires. Their scent when they’re aroused is very alluring, but Weres are not your natural allies. They prefer to take advantage of vampires. It’s rare that you will see true friendships between members of your races. Your Father is the only vampire I know who maintains friendships with Weres who are not his business partners.”

“She wanted to…” Rick collapsed against the backseat cushions of the car.

“Yes, she did,” “Mr. Cataliades was not amused. “But I will suggest it is better when one’s first experience is with someone you care about. Having sex with strangers is an occupation best left for when you’re older.” Uncle Desmond was trying to make light of what happened, but Rick had the impression the headwaiter was in trouble.

“Don’t tell my Mom,” Rick whispered and without another word, he curled against the car door and closed his eyes. He relived the feel of her and the way she smelled. He started to harden again, and then he sighed, relaxed, and fell asleep.

 

xxxXXXxxx

 

“Come give your Aunt a hug,” Aunt Fran held out her thin arms. She was in a wheelchair, looking smaller than Rick remembered.

“Our young friend has had quite the adventure,” Mr. Cataliades said from behind him.

“I’d say,” Aunt Fran was giving Rick a sharp look. “You smell like you’ve been rolling with some kind of animal. Didn’t those Hermosas offer you a shower?”

Rick blushed all the way down to his toes. “Sorry,” he stammered. “I’ll go take a shower now, but I don’t have any clean clothes.”

“Where’s your suitcase?” Aunt Lora asked.

“I don’t know,” Rick shrugged. “In the back of Pam’s car, maybe.” There had been so many car changes since he’d left Fangtasia and Mustapha Khan, Rick was no longer sure where any of his belongings had ended up.

“Well, we’ll need to sort that out first,” Aunt Fran told Aunt Lora. “Call Charles,” She pronounced it the French way, so that the ‘Ch’ sounded like ‘Sh.’

“Who’s he?” Rick asked.

“The concierge,” Aunt Fran was waving at Rick, signaling he should sit down in the chair next to her. The Maison de Ville looked like every other old building on the street, but inside it was pure elegance. It wasn’t large and everyone here seemed to know his Aunt. In just a few minutes, there was a quiet knock at the door and an elegant older man walked in. He bowed and Aunt Fran said, “Oh, thank you, Charles. My Godson has lost his luggage. He will need a full complement of clothing. Casual and dress.” She looked at Rick, “What shoe size are you?” she asked.

“Thirteen,” Rick told her, and the concierge’s eyes widened.

“Shoes as well, everything,” Aunt Fran was waving. “How quickly do you think you could have it pulled together?”

The concierge was eying Rick, and so Rick stood up. “Do you need to know my other sizes?” he asked.

“No, Monsieur,” Charles shook his head, and then said to Fran, “Within the hour.”

“Are you hungry?” Lora asked Rick.

“No,” Rick stammered, and then embarrassed himself by blushing. He could almost feel that Were’s breath on his neck and he was worried his body would betray him. “No, I’m fine.”

When Charles left, Fran turned toward Rick, “Okay, what was that about? Something happened. You don’t light up like a traffic light for no reason.”

“It’s nothing, Auntie,” Rick stammered.

“Stop bullshitting me!” his Aunt snapped.

“A Were girl tried to seduce him on our way home. We stopped for lunch and she was provided as a donor,” Mr. Cataliades provided.

“Seduce him?” Aunt Fran growled. “Do you know how old he is? Tried to rape him, more like.” Fran turned her mean gaze toward the attorney. “And did you pay enough attention to prevent it? I am beginning to doubt in your ability to protect this family!”

Mr. Cataliades turned red, but it wasn’t blushing. It was an ugly flush, “I had no reason to doubt the place. I’ve been there before and the owners and permanent staff are known to me,” he snapped back. “I could tell that drinking from humans was new to him. I could sense his unease with being asked to perform in public and I thought to preserve his privacy. The Were was new and her motives were her own. Believe me, there will be consequences.”

“All right,” Fran waved. “Who knows? I probably would have done the same, but it’s a lesson we should learn. He is known now, and there will be those who will risk the King’s wrath to make him a target.”

“What have you heard from the Palace?” the attorney changed the subject, and Rick realized from the tone of his voice that his Aunt Fran and Uncle Desmond were getting into another round of what seemed to be a running fight.

“Nothing, but that’s not going to stop me,” Fran croaked. “There has to be someone up over there and them not returning calls is not acceptable.”

Lora was standing right behind Fran and Rick could tell she wanted to caution Fran about getting herself too worked up, but was holding back. Fran proved Rick right when she looked at Lora and snapped, “Stop hovering! I’m fine!”

Mr. Cataliades crossed his arms, his lip lifted just a bit, “Then there is no point in going to the Palace tonight. Sookie will still be transforming. She will not be fit to be seen. That is why most vampires transform in the ground. What’s more, I can’t see her wishing her son to see her in her current state,” and Mr. Cataliades had that ‘told you so’ superior look that Rick knew set his Aunt’s teeth on edge.

“And you’re so sure things are going well, are you?” Fran sniped. “How do you know? How do any of us know? They can’t object to Amy Ludwig checking on her…”

“It’s possible Amy has already been there,” Mr. Cataliades interjected.

“And you know because you’ve asked her?” Fran growled. “Or is this just another of your dangerous assumptions?”

“Mom wouldn’t like you to be fighting,” Rick scolded them. “I don’t like it either.” He looked at Fran, “I mean, if something does happen and Mom doesn’t make it, you’re kind of all I have left,” and he looked down into his lap. “I need you guys to get along. I can’t afford to lose anyone else.”

“You aren’t going to lose anyone else, and you shouldn’t think that way!” Lora shot Fran and the attorney a poisonous look as she laid her hand on Rick’s back. “There’s no reason to think that you could lose either one of these fools. If they didn’t care about each other and you so much, they wouldn’t snipe the way they do. And as for your Mom, I’m sure if something was wrong, we would have heard. The Palace people know we’re here and they have our numbers.”

“But, Eric couldn’t be bothered to call,” Fran growled again.

“I don’t like him either,” the demon agreed, then glanced at Rick, and had the grace to look embarrassed. “I didn’t mean it the way it came out,” he apologized. “As I know I’ve mentioned, I am coming around to appreciating your Father a little more.” Then the attorney turned back to Fran, “Still, the reality is he won’t have time to do anything other than what is required of him until she rises. If I’m correct, he’s running on instinct right now. He will be possessive and irritable. He won’t wish to trust anyone to be near her. When a Maker chooses to join their progeny in the ground, they cut themselves off from everything. He is newly-made King as well. You must have some idea what that entails. I’m sure he’s relying heavily on Pam, Karin, and the others to line things up for him, so he can minimize the time he spends apart from her.”

“She is not his progeny,” Fran pointed out, “and thank goodness. I can’t imagine any man having that kind of control over me, I don’t care how much he supposedly cares.”

“He does order Pam around,” Rick added fuel to the fire.

“He freed his daughters long ago,” Mr. Cataliades said like someone who knew. “They obey him because they choose to follow him, not because he is forcing them. They are a formidable team. As much as it pains me to admit, the fact that he could come into the state and call so many to his side and so quickly is in his favor. He is a strong leader, one who demands loyalty.” The attorney turned back to Fran, “And that is no small thing.”

“You need to shower,” Fran turned to Rick, her nose wrinkling. “There are bathrobes in the rooms. Just wear one of those until your clothes show up.”

Rick suspected Fran just wanted him out of the room, but then Aunt Lora said, “You really do smell, Sweetie.”

Rick knew that if Uncle Desmond and Aunt Fran were going to tag-team him, he’d lose, so he stood and made his way down the hall, grumbling all the way. They were in a suite of rooms, and there were doors open, connecting more rooms. Rick found first one bathroom, then continued into the next set of rooms where there was another sitting area with two bedrooms positioned to either side. He figured this was where he and Mr. Cataliades were staying since the beds were still made and there were no clothes around. He chose the bedroom to the right and headed in to use the attached bathroom. His head wasn’t really spinning anymore and he figured the effects of the Were blood had mostly worn off.

While he didn’t like having to hear their bickering, Rick didn’t want to miss anything either, and he hurried through his shower. When he walked out of the bathroom, he found several sets of clothes laid out on the bed, waiting for him. There was also a suitcase positioned on a rack and shoes lined side by side in the closet. “Boy, leave it to Aunt Fran,” Rick whistled. He pulled on a pair of black jeans and a black t-shirt that fit him like a glove. The sneakers in the closet were black as well, and he pulled them on, not bothering with socks. He opened a toiletry kit and found twin brushes. He used them to slick back his blond hair, and then, taking a deep breath, he headed back to the room where he’d left his extended family.

Amy Ludwig had joined them and they were all drinking wine. “Oh, good, we were waiting for you,” Aunt Fran rasped. She reached to the table next to her and lifted what looked like a shot glass. It was odd, watching Aunt Fran throwing back the liquor, but she licked her lips, shook all over a little, and said, “Well, I’m ready for dinner. What about the rest of you?”

“We’re going to have an early dinner and then walk over to the Palace,” Aunt Lora explained to Rick. “Amy is coming with us. She’s known over there and that should help ease things.”

“I’ve left a message for Thalia,” the Doctor nodded. “We’ll be expected.”

Rick thought of the small vampire. She’d been the first to really speak with him at the Palace, and besides Pam, she’d been the nicest, all things considered. “Sounds like a plan,” Rick nodded, and they headed down the block to stop at the same restaurant where he had dined with Doctor Ludwig when he first came to the City. It seemed a lifetime ago, and Rick had a hard time smiling as they settled.

 

xxxXXXxxx

 

When Eric lowered himself into the travel coffin outside of Compton’s house and wrapped Sookie in his arms, he held his breath. He relied on his memory to provide the details. The transformation had begun. The faint smell of decay that would intensify over the next two nights was there. Eric registered it, but it didn’t matter. This was Sookie. She was his shining girl and no matter what happened, that was his constant.

“I missed you, my Lover,” he whispered to her, holding her as carefully as he could, and for the first time in so many years, Eric Northman fell into his day death knowing he was where he belonged.

When he next rose, Eric opened the lid to find himself in his chambers in New Orleans. Sookie lay beside him and he kissed her forehead before extricating himself. He walked to his bed and grabbed a blanket that he laid on the floor next to the coffin. Carefully, shifting to accommodate for her shifting skin, he gathered her in his arms. She was changing. Eric wrapped her tightly, so she would hold together better. “I have you, Sookie,” he whispered. “You are safe. Nothing more will hurt you.” Eric lifted her swaddled body and held her close, walking with her to the bathtub. It was not optimal, but there were certain practicalities to the situation. The tub had been lined with plastic packing material. It was the type that had air bubbles. It could be hosed out and easily replaced. It also provided the right type of cushioning for their bodies.

“Should I send someone up?” Thalia stood behind him. She rose earliest, and Eric wasn’t surprised to find her here in his chambers.

“You know better,” Eric smiled. “I’m not sure I could restrain myself if someone else touched her now.”

“She is progressing well,” Thalia offered, and then, “If she accepts it, she will be a magnificent vampire. She is a fighter. Who knows? Someday she may rival my own reputation.”

“I hope Sookie never has to learn to live with the kind of violence we have come to expect.” Eric finished unwrapping the telepath. Thalia leaned over and when Eric lifted, she pulled the blanket out from under Sookie’s form. “I want the kingdom she will be part of to be a different place. I want her to feel safe here.”

“Sookie and your son,” Thalia said. It was the way she said it, almost a rebuke, and Eric glanced up.

“Thank you for taking his part,” Eric acknowledged. “I was not thinking clearly.” He looked at Sookie’s face and stroked her cheek with his finger. It left a mark. “If only I had been there sooner. Why didn’t the witch’s magic protect her?”

“The witch will be here tomorrow night,” Thalia told him, “You may ask her yourself.”

Eric frowned, “I thought Ludwig said she was ill.”

“Amy Ludwig received a call from this Fran Miller. I think they are using vampire blood to stave off the witch’s death. She is already in the City and is bringing young Rick to her. When she comes here tomorrow night, she will expect to see her,” and Thalia glanced at Sookie. “The boy will want to see his Mother, too, and that is only right.”

Eric nodded, “She will be forming by then.” Eric stood and, reluctantly, walked back into the other room. “What is required of me tonight? I don’t want to leave her for more than an hour at a time.”

“Pam will assemble a line downstairs. Those who are expected to give blood are first.” Eric nodded. Any vampire who would hold a position of authority or expect to be near his person would need to submit to Eric’s bite. It was both ceremonial and practical. Eric would be able to track them and sense their emotions. On their part, it was a tangible signal of their willingness to serve. “And you will need to address the vacancy in Area 5.” Eric had banished Indira, Pam’s choice for Sheriff.

“I have asked Karin to clear out the troublemakers from Area 5,” Eric told Thalia. “My daughter is anxious for a post. Area 5 would present her with enough challenges to keep her from becoming too restless.”

“It seems far away,” Thalia observed.

Eric glanced toward the bathroom where Sookie lay, “It seems a reasonable solution,” he said quietly.

Thalia’s mouth set in a straight line, but instead of scolding, she asked, “What should I tell Pam about tonight?”

“Tell her yes, but I will not spend my night there,” he replied. “I will come down and hold Court for one hour. I will allow two more hours tonight, but I intend to space them. Pam may enter these chambers, and you. No others. Sookie knows your voices. She knows you are her friends.”

“As you say,” and Thalia bowed before leaving.

Eric returned to the bathroom and lowered himself into the tub. “You are among friends, my Lover,” Eric whispered to the woman lying beside him. “But I think it is only fair to tell you that I didn’t always feel that way.” Eric propped his head on his elbow. “Your son told me that I didn’t tell you the things you needed to know. He told me that I only shared what was convenient and easy.” Eric hesitated, remembering again how Rick’s angry words had stung. “I am thinking that perhaps he was right,” Eric whispered.

“You should know that when I left for Oklahoma, I was very angry with you. I blamed you for everything. I believed that if you had lived in my house and called yourself my wife, things would have been different. Now? Now I don’t think so.” Eric had run so many scenarios of their lives together that first year of what he’d viewed as his exile. The house he chose as his own in Oklahoma was so far west, it was almost in New Mexico. There were mountains there, the tail of the Sangre de Cristo range, and most nights he’d fly to the highest peak so he could feel the icy winds whip past him, dulling the pain that was Sookie’s betrayal.

“It took a year before my anger started to fade,” he told her. “A year for me to accept that there was no way out. But you should know, I have come to understand that there was never any way out, for either of us.” The vampire lifted a lock of her long hair and sniffed it. Even her hair was starting to smell stale, and he laid it back down, drawing it over her breast.

“Appius hated you,” he told her. “He wished to kill you. He didn’t say it, but I could feel it through the bond. The only thing that held him back was his belief that your death might destroy his hold over me. Appius had released me once. His command could not be reinstated as it had been. And, of course, he had already brokered the contract.” Eric sighed. He wished his Sookie could open her eyes. He wished she could smile at him and touch him, reassuring him that his words were heard.

“I know you don’t understand why I honored the contract,” Eric told her. “Your son made many accusations that he could only have heard from you. Even now, I’m not sure that I can explain the compulsion that is part of a Maker’s bond. It is something that you will never experience, and I am happy for that, but in his own way, Appius believed he was saving me. He saw me as being in a ‘shameful’ situation, and he felt that as his creation, I was wasting my potential. In the end, had you lived with me, it would only have made our parting more painful. It would have changed nothing,” and Eric allowed himself a moment to savor the bitterness of that truth.

“Of course, you would have learned about the contract sooner,” Eric grinned. “I’m sure it would have served to confirm all the bad things you believed about vampires, but truly, my Lover, there were no choices. We could have run. We could have defied Appius and hoped we kept enough distance between him and us to prevent his command. But what then? You would have had to leave your home. You would have had to share the night with me, sleeping in dark, deep places. You would have had to watch me feed from others so you could stay strong. How long would it have been before you realized that being with me was not enough? You would have realized your hatred of vampires was more powerful than any love you felt for me.”

“What I came to realize,” Eric whispered to her, “was that you having that distance from me then was better for both of us. You were so sad that night I came to you after the divorce. You lashed out at me and I did the same. I think now that you turned to the Shifter to punish me. It wasn’t worthy of you, but I understand it.”

“I should also tell you I’m not proud of my time in Oklahoma. I was so angry, I took it out on everyone. There are those who live near my first house who still shun me, and I deserve that. I used humans. I made bad business deals aimed to hurt my partners. I told myself that I was everything that Appius wished of me.” Eric swallowed as her body moved. It wasn’t her, just the decomposition advancing, and Eric struggled to maintain his composure. “You will be all right,” he said out loud, more for himself than for her.

“I indulged in every perversion,” Eric told her, “I wished to wipe you from my mind, but, of course, that was not possible. How is it, my Lover, that one woman can become the world to a man? And yet, that is what you are to me.” Eric glanced at the clock on the wall, “Soon, I must go downstairs, but first I will tell you of Freyda.”

Eric leaned closer. He worried that of all he had done, his Sookie might find his relationship with the Oklahoma Queen the least forgivable. “I can’t tell you I didn’t like her,” he started. “She was fair to me, and patient. She knew of you, but she never confronted me or demanded from me. She supported me when I needed it, and I came to be comfortable with her. I fulfilled my duties, and that did include having sex with her,” and Eric smiled briefly, remembering Sookie’s angry words in Denver. “I believed you were lost to me, Sookie, and I tried to find peace with that. Part of that was making peace with Freyda.” Eric thought about this time in Oklahoma, and then he chuckled, “She would have hated you,” he whispered. “Had we bonded, Freyda would have known the truth and I believe she would have tried to find a way to kill you,” and then Eric sobered. “I owe her my respect,” he told the Sookie, “but she never had my love. Only, you, Älskade.”

Eric rose, “Forgive me, my Sookie. I must leave you for a bit. I am creating a kingdom that I hope you will find worthy. There is much work ahead of me. It is work I hope you will take on with me. I need you,” and Eric leaned down to kiss her damp forehead. “You always know what is best. You know when it is time for talk and when it is time for stakes. I need your clear, clever head beside me, my Lover. Please know that,” and Eric rose.

After a quick shower, Eric dressed and rushed downstairs. Pam was waiting in the ballroom. As promised, the room was full of vampires and Weres. These were his future Sheriffs and those who would run the ministries he wished to create. They were the guards of his Palace and the spokespeople who would represent him to vampires here and abroad. As Eric stepped onto the dais, he saw that someone had recovered the throne once used by Queen Sophie-Ann. It seemed appropriate. For many here, she was considered the last true ruler of Louisiana. Making the most of the opportunity, Eric slowly turned, his arms out-stretched, and then lowered himself onto the throne.

“Come, those who would give fealty to their King,” Thalia announced, and the queue formed.

Twice more that night Eric left Sookie to handle appointments and meetings. The head of the New Orleans Pack came to swear fealty and reaffirm the arrangement to provide security. Restitution demands had to be prioritized and messages sent.

Each time he returned to her, Eric told her what had transpired. “I want you to know what decisions I make and why,” he explained to his sleeping woman. “I want you to view this kingdom as your own. We could rule together, side by side. Of course, it is probably better that you are resting,” and Eric smiled. “All this talk of politics might bore you. You might tell me you’d rather have sex, but I hope you decide that my new-found talk is good, too. It would be lonely to be here, my Sookie, ruling without you. I hope you will wish to be my Queen.”

Eric hoped it would be so, but then he leaned close and said, “I won’t ask you to bond with me, though. No, Miss Stackhouse, you will have to ask me this time. In fact, I may just make you beg me for it.”

Of course, she didn’t respond, but Eric hoped Sookie heard him. If her experience was anything like his, she would.

Eric thought back to the great silence that surrounded him during his turning, punctuated only by the faint sounds of footsteps overhead. He remembered the calling of Appius in his blood. When he held Pam in the ground, she told him she remembered him talking to her, telling her how wonderful she would be.

It was later, as he lay down next to her, the dawn only an hour away, when he started to talk about Rick. Before he came to join her, Eric pulled up his computer and searched public records until he found the boy’s birth certificate. The space for the identity of father on the certificate was blank. Eric wondered if Sookie didn’t know or if it was purposeful in protecting their son. Eric looked at the birth date and counted back.

“When I divorced you, our son was already within you, my Lover,” Eric told Sookie as he settled beside her. “When you saved Sam, and you were shot and in the hospital, you were with child. How could they not have known?” Eric shook his head. He remembered how the Supes on the hospital staff made sure they were closest, keeping humans and their pesky questions at bay. They all knew Sookie was his woman. No one would have thought to test her. Vampires didn’t have biological children.

“I have a confession to make, my Sookie,” he whispered close to her ear. “I have not done well with our son. I think he is angry with me, and it is deserved. I would tell you I wish I had known about him, but that would be selfish. It would have served no purpose and could have placed you both in great danger.” Eric moved to touch her, but then he drew back, afraid to place too much pressure anywhere on her body.

“It is strange to think during all this time, I believed you had moved on and forgotten me. I believed my sacrifice had secured you the normal life you told others you wanted. I know you thought you hid that from me, but I heard and I knew what you meant. You wanted a life without vampires, without me.” Eric thought of what he knew about pregnant women. He remembered how he came to know when Aude was pregnant even before she did. She would be tired and angry all the time.

“Is that why you were so angry with me, Sookie?” he asked out loud, astonished by his epiphany. “Were you angry because you were breeding?” Eric chuckled, “I suppose it would explain much. It would explain why one minute you were in my arms, and the next you were holding that Shifter’s hand. It would explain why you were willing to be in pain rather than let me heal you.”

Eric bit his lip and allowed one tear to fall on her. “I am sorry for what Compton did to you. Each scar is a story and he has stolen that from you. Appius did the same thing to me. The tales of my battles were carved from my body before he turned me. Of course, he used me, and I’m sure Compton did the same to you. It is our way. But I know you, and I know you will feel angry about it, my Lover.

The difference is that you are free now. Compton is finally dead. He will never command you as your Maker. You are free to choose your own destiny and I hope that is with me, my Sookie.”

Eric stretched out, laying his head close to hers. The area around her was damp and smelled bad. It didn’t matter. “The witch, Fran Miller, and your son, Rick, will be here tomorrow. I have promised your son that his will be the first face you see.”

Eric chuckled, “I have to tell you how hard that is for me to accept. Every instinct is screaming I must protect you, but I know that this is something I need to change. You see, I do know you, my Sookie. You will want to hear their voices before you will wish to hear mine. They will call to you, and you will feel the pull to them far stronger than my voice will pull you, but if that means that you return, it is all I desire.”

Despite her state, Eric pressed his lips to her face. “Come back, my Lover. Come back to everyone who loves you,” and Eric hummed a song they used to dance to until his day death took him.

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34 thoughts on “Chapter 24 – Across the River

  1. Another great chapter!! You do such a wonderful job writing. I feel every emotion. I especially loved the Eric and Sookie scenes. I hope she heard him and will remember it all. Another long week til next Sunday. 😍

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Fascinating to read what I think of as a foundation chapter this close to the end of the story. Yet it makes sense, Rick is learning about his parents and their love for each other from people he trusts. Eric is finally sharing his thoughts and actions fully with Sookie, revealed so much better in this “stream of consciousness” monologue than would be possible if he had a conversation with her. Her ability to hear him while she goes through the change is a gift, allowing her to awaken with knowledge she would otherwise lack. And it’s humorous to hear Rick finding out his mother is really a badass, hardly what he could have imagined is it?

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    1. My parents were both military, they served in the Air Force. The idea of them in uniform going through basic training never synced up with the older, less intense people I knew. But, I believe that is as it should be for parents and children. The image we have doesn’t really reflect the younger, in some ways less wise, people they were. Sookie was (and is) a badass, but living among humans, it wouldn’t be something she wouldn’t (or wouldn’t have to) trot out very often. She is a loving, caring mother and that is the side Rick has always known.
      I agree. What Eric said would not have been said if Sookie was awake, or at least all at once and in the way he expressed it. Regardless of how much we trust and love a person, we are never as open with them as we would be if we knew they couldn’t judge us in any way. People watch eachother, and the inevitable reactions you receive temper how you say things, even if you didn’t mean to. It’s human nature.

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  3. Wow. I sniffled my way through that last bit. I’m so hoping Sookie rises with her son the first face she sees, but I’m hoping Eric’s is the face she seeks out next. I’m also hoping she’s heard every word he’s said.

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  4. Your description of turning is the first time I have seen that much detail. I love how Eric is talking to her. I can’t imagine how she could be aware, but that’s part of the magic. As gross as the physical changes must be, it is a very moving scene. Sookie will be moved by it, too, I think. I hope she isn’t in any pain. Rick had a great discussion with Rubio and Lily, and later with Desmond. I hope Eric will be more forgiving of Desmond when he finds how how he was forced to work for de Castro. Fran is formidable, but she doesn’t understand everything either. I look forward to Sookie’s rising and being surrounded by the people she loves.

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  5. And I’m hoping that Sookie tempers that temper and stubbornness of hers with some of the life lessons she’s learned over the last 14 years, that she finally accepts vampires and what being a part of them means. I’m hoping she finally accepts Eric as he is, rather than what she wants.
    I don’t know how you do it, Nat, but each story you’ve written grabs me from the first chapter and holds me right to the very end.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Oh Eric… you’re breaking my heart here! And I hope that Sookie goes back and kills that were both for touching a child!! What a harsh lesson for them all. Rick IS a prince now… everyone will have to watch out for his safety!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Beautiful chapter…
    Finally Rick got to hear about his mom&dad from The Hermosa …who would of thought that Lily was Eric’s n.1 fan?!?
    Rick must need to be trained and watched after now.His encounter with that Were donor showed him that he can’t trust anyone.
    I’ve got all teary when Eric started to talk to his Sookie…hopefully she heard every single word.
    Anxiously waiting for the next update.
    Jackie69

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Fantastic chapter, and almost done. Darn. Can’t wait for the next one
    ( even though I have to). I love how you have Eric talking to Sookie. Finally clearing the misunderstandings they had. Hope it helps them get back together.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Love that Rick is learning more and more about who his parents were to each other. Oh and Sooo relieved that Desmond interrupted when he did!

    Oh my….Eric’s POV…❤❤❤
    I’m so happy to know that Sookie was privy to everything he was telling her. Those are things that definitely needed to be said.

    I’m very anxious for her to rise…I hope she accepts her new existance!

    Looking forward to your next story!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Wow I love how you had Rick learn about his mother in her younger days, that reminded him of the steeley look in her eyes. I’m so glad you have Eric talking to her while she is going through her transition and sharing things about his own turning as well. Sunday seems such a long way off, especially as it appears to be Sookies day of rising in the next chapter.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I love this whole story, but this chapter is standout for Eric. He’s made plenty of mistakes with Sookie, but for me, this goes a long way to redeeming him. If he was talking like this knowing she couldn’t hear him, it wouldn’t have half the impact, maybe even the opposite for being a coward, but to open his heart to her, helping through a pretty gruesome experience, well I love him for it. I hope all of them Eric, Sookie, Rick get the chance to choose to be together, to be a family.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Luxurious, long chapter! Ah….like sliding into a hot bubble bath on a cold, snowy day. Well…Rick got quite the eye-opening “cliff notes” of Sookie’s life with the Viking! Bad ass, indeed! Yomamma isn’t a shrinking violet, that’s for sure! Poor Rick, trying to navigate the course of awaking sexuality coupled with the were’s ulterior motives! Hopefully Dad will take a hand in the vampire-style birds and bees talk. I hope that Sookie is listening to Eric on some level –and that she takes to heart all he has said and confessed. I hope she is drawn to him because she knows deep down, in her soul, that he has always loved her. Yeah…men –whether human, were, vampire, fae, dae, etc., just don’t know how to show affection at times. Love him Sookie –after all, “he’s just a man”…..

    Can’t wait to see her reaction to being turned……
    Any chance of posting early? No? Well…thought I would ask!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I seriously can’t believe it’s ending. What an incredible chapter. I like how Eric continued that learn about his parents especially his mom. I feel that Sookie denied her true self for so long while she was away, so I can imagine Rick’s disbelief. I like how many people were speaking highly of Sookie. The scenes with Eric were so beautifully written. I hope somehow Sookie can hear him. It is like Eric is sharing his heart with her. He is caring and loving her during this transition. I hope someone tell her what Eric has done to care for her. I can wait to see what happens next.

    Like

  14. I loved this chapter. I’m a suckered for dialog. I enjoyed the history Rick was told about his parents. I will hate to see this story end. Eric talking and explaining things…..who knew he was capable of that?? LOL

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  15. Such a great chapter. I am so enjoying this. Beautiful story, particularly Eric’s dialogue. Your Thalia is my favorite; loyal and wise. So glad you put Karin in area 5.

    Like

  16. A wonderful chapter, as always, but it’s to be expected since it’s your story 😊 hope you’ll surprise us with a chapter of her rising during the week, it would be great not having to wait a whoooole week for that 😄

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I am on pins and needles. I am so happy he is sharing with her and love the idea she can hear it. These are things he shouldve said long ago. I think if i were her i would wake with tears. One good thing. She has to listen and cannot interupt or run off. . That could be helpful for their relationship. So the next update is like in 5 minuts right. Lol

    Like

    1. I thought the same thing, she can’t interrupt him like she does. She has to “listen”. That is the big problem they always had was communication. Looks like Eric has learned how to while away, hoping Sookie has also.

      Like

  18. I can’t even describe for you all the emotions you evoke in me as I’m sitting here, on a rainy Sunday afternoon reading this amazing tale. Listening in to Eric as he is sharing his thoughts and his realizations to Sookie — it’s so personal, so intimate… something we never get to hear- vampires don’t usually lay bare their souls like this- all while tending to her in such a loving way. Eric’s actions are beautiful. Sigh.

    I know that at some point, maybe not until summer vacation, I will read and enjoy this wonderful story in its entirety again. It has been a wonderful journey. I can’t believe it’s almost over. I’m sad for that because I enjoy this Sookie and this Eric and their interesting lives in this universe- Sookie’s especially. The journey east and the colorful friends and family she created for herself. I guess I’m not ready for it to end. The road that started back in chapter one has been long and bumpy and juicy and it has kept me on the edge of my seat…I want to get more than just a glimpse of what comes next. I want to experience the HEA with them, ya know? And I want to see what they make of it- ow they build their lives from here on out. I can tell you this is unusual for me- this feeling of not being able to let go and even planning to reread again so soon. Truly, natsgirl, it’s your storytelling – you’ve got quite a gift. Thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

  19. I love the “talk” Eric is having with Sookie. I really do hope she can remember it all. As for Fran and Desmond. I’m still a little upset with them. Desmond especially should know how much Eric did for Sookie. They are not thinking of how fragile the turning process is and how upsetting it could be to see her like that. Being supernatural they should have a rough idea as to how bad it can get. At least that is what I’m reading.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Despite everyone’s misgivings, it seems to me staying with the Hermosa’s was the best possible thing for Rick, he learned a lot of his parent’s relationship and what it is to be vampire.

    Another wonderful chapter!

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Amazing chapter that frustrated me since I had to stop reading it to watch my daughter’s ice hockey game, sigh. I liked that Rick is hearing about his parents lover for each other from people he knows and likes. Glad Desmond was there to stop that damn were from getting what she wants.
    Oh, Eric’s talks with Sookie are pulling at my heart. So happy he is talking and admitting things to her. Really hope she can hear and remember it all but I think he would happily repeat everything if she didn’t. Like that he is going to put his possessiveness on the back burner so Rick can be the first face she sees and hope she will seek him out to be second.

    Like

  22. I don’t get why Desmond has such a hair up his ass about Eric. I think him and Fran need to ease up on him a bit and quit with the bad mouthing of him in front of Rick. He is his father after all and more than likely will become Sookie’s husband again. I understand they’re worried about Sookie and Rick but Eric is doing all he can to ensure Sookie rises well. There are two sides to every story and as wise as they both are, it doesn’t seem like they’re willing to consider that. Although Desmond did provide some good reasons as to why Eric hasn’t been in contact with them yet.
    I loved how caring and talkative Eric was with Sookie. I really hope she hears everything he is telling her. It’s probably the most he’s ever opened up to her.
    Omg I just realized there is only one more chapter left!!😩😩 I hope and pray it is the longest chapter you’ve ever written;) This was a long one and I appreciate that! I don’t want this story to ever end:)

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Rick is getting a lot of information that can help complete the real picture about his parents. The most heartwarming thing in the chapter is Eric’s caring for Sookie during her transition. Hopefully she’ll remember the experience so she’ll have no doubts about how much he loves her and regrets some of his actions.
    After listening to Mr. C I have to wonder if maybe he didn’t do everything he could to help Eric get out of the contract to Freyda. He seems not to have wanted Sookie and Eric to end up together.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Dang…another chapter that blew my hair back. The way you write character interactions and emotion makes me wonder if you are some type of therapist irl. I will miss these people once this story is completed. So, good thing my I will have time during spring break in April to re-read, lol!
    Thank you ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  25. I do beleive you are the first I’ve seen to broach the transformation process. Very imaginative and unique. You have done well describing the process

    I think Rick will come around as will his Father. Heartfelt chapter. Eric is turning over a new leaf for a new life.
    Great work. This of course is my favorite story as its one I wish I was half as talented as you to put it to paper.

    Thank you for posting.
    K

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Love this story. Your writing is so great. Loved that Rick is told how epic his parents love was. And Eric opening his heart to Sookie, glad that it sounds like she can hear him. When they met at the summit it seemed that she would take Eric anyway she could get him. I know Rick is scared of any changes to his life, but it sounds like he should live around vampires and I hope they will stay in Louisiana with Eric. Can’t wait till Sunday. Hope Fran and Mr. C will take it easy on Eric and having Thalia in your corner is no small thing.

    Like

  27. Wow that was a lot going on in this chapter. I am glad that Rick saw the were girl had bad intentions for him. He will have to be on guard for that in the future. There are too many people and supe who are users. Desmond well I guess he has learned a vital lesson and he should have learned it long ago. I like Rubio and Lily. They are sweet together. Maybe they will become more friendly to Sookie and Eric. I love that Eric is having conversations with Sookie now. I really do not think thay would have lasted if Eric and Sookie had just fled. Appius could have always found them anyway.

    Like

  28. My favorite thing about your stories is the characters you create. Rick is so delightful and well thought out. I love middle school kids and you’ve captured that great goofy quality they exhibit. Those boys are funny, fragile, and on the precipice of those teen years. I liked how you had him bump into something….as they are always doing that. Your Rick made me ache because he is so vulnerable.

    Like

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