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.
Sookie stood alongside Lora and Mr. Cataliades on the Chester Town Green. They watched Rick playing penny whistle a short distance away. One of Rick’s friends was playing his fiddle and Rick effortlessly wove a melody and counterpoint around the tune his friend played. Sookie realized it was likely that if her son applied himself, he could play almost any musical instrument. It was the mechanical aspect of it. Rick just had a natural talent that allowed him to excel at anything that involved working with his hands. She also knew that Rick wouldn’t apply himself. He just wasn’t that interested in putting time into things that didn’t have some tangible payoff. Sookie supposed he was like his father in that regard.
Rick was interested in dancing though, and he’d already announced that he would be going to the town contra dance being held in the church hall later with his friends, not with his mother and her friends as in years past.
“He is a handsome boy,” the attorney observed.
Sookie watched her son watch the girls who were watching him. “And he knows it,” she sighed. One of the girls said something and Rick stopped playing and laughed that wonderful, charming laugh, but then she said something else that must not have been so pleasing. Rick drew himself up, his shoulders back, hands on hips, in a stance that was the exact mirror of Eric Northman. Sookie had to look away, amazed that she hadn’t allowed herself to see the similarities sooner.
“What have you told him about his Father?” Mr. Cataliades asked.
“I told him he’s dead,” Sookie sighed.
The attorney chuckled, “The Viking always said you were clever. Still, the boy should know more than that.”
“You see him,” Sookie waved her hand. “He’s headstrong and book smart, but he doesn’t have the good sense God gave a goose. He’ll do things just to prove to himself that he can. If I were to tell him right now that his Father is a vampire ruler and he’s in Oklahoma, I’d put dollars to donuts I’d wake up to find a note. Rick would pack some stuff in a bandana and be on the road heading off to find him.” When the demon attorney chuckled, Sookie bristled, “And let’s say, by some stretch of the imagination, he made it there. What would he find? Most likely that Queen of Eric’s would kill Rick on sight. For sure he’d spend time locked up while they tried to figure out what he is and what to do with him. I just can’t even think about it.”
Sookie knew that some part of her argument was wrong and she sighed again, “I am going to tell him about Eric, but I just want to wait until he’s a little older and a lot less reckless. He’ll grow out of this wild phase, they all do. I just can’t see giving him information that he’ll only use to hurt himself.”
“He is your son,” the attorney shrugged, “What you choose to tell him and when is your choice,” but Sookie could tell he didn’t agree with her. Sookie didn’t need to ask Lora her opinion, she already knew it. Lora thought Rick should have been told long ago, even when Sookie had thought his father was Sam.
“I did tell him a little about the two of us together,” Sookie added. She knew it was guilt fueling her explanation. “He knows we loved each other. He just doesn’t know that ‘dead’ doesn’t mean gone.”
“We should talk,” Mr. Cataliades changed the subject, gesturing toward where Fran was sitting under some trees.
When they settled, Mr. Cataliades nodded to Fran, “I know the news I have won’t be a surprise to you, but there are now people, Supes, openly hunting you, Sookie.”
“I’ve had people stop me and ask questions about you,” Lora nodded. “I don’t know how they made the connection, but they’ve masqueraded as everything from Publisher’s Clearinghouse to the Internal Revenue Service.”
“Trackers, most likely,” Mr. Cataliades replied. “They can pick up the most minute scent, even after years.”
“The wards at the house have kept most of my trouble at bay,” Fran added, “but there’s no doubt. They are determined and they will find you. It’s just a matter of time.”
“And if they find me here…” and she looked back out to the Green where her son was chasing a Frisbee.
“I’ve done everything I can over the years to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Fran said sympathetically. “I’ve wiped memories and placed charms, so pretty much everyone we know can’t speak of Rick or where you are. Even your fool of a brother…”
“You spelled Jason?” Sookie exclaimed.
“I couldn’t trust him to keep his mouth shut,” Fran snapped. “I’m sure he’s been visited, but beyond seeing you in Boston, he wasn’t able to say or recall any other detail. Not your son, not where you were headed, not any other conversation you’ve had since.”
“I haven’t spoken with him in years,” Sookie acknowledged. She wondered now if the spell played some part in that, and then, glancing at her son, she tucked her discomfort away.
“So, you have to decide how you will proceed. I don’t believe any of us think you waiting to be found is a good idea,” Mr. Cataliades prompted.
“What would you suggest?” Sookie figured the attorney had a plan.
“Approach Felipe de Castro and offer your services on a consulting basis. He claims he is still your King and that you owe him fealty. If you will allow, I will approach the King. We will deny your status as a vassal and instead insist on your willingness to serve as an independent contractor.”
“You think that will work?” Sookie asked.
“There’s no reason it shouldn’t,” Fran shrugged, and then said to the attorney, “You could always hint she’d offer her services to King Davis if Felipe balks.”
“I’d hate working for Stan,” Sookie shuddered. “I only met him the once, but he’s made a career out of fooling people. He was proud of how folks thought he was one way while he was really something else altogether. At least with Felipe you know what you’re getting.”
“It is choosing between two sides of the same coin,” Mr. Cataliades nodded, “but I believe being proactive is the best course.”
“And what would prevent Felipe from just torturing you for Sookie’s location once he knows you can contact her? Why should the King negotiate?” Lora asked. It was a chilling thought and one that had Sookie looking at the woman with new eyes.
“Tell Felipe you’re under a suicide spell,” Fran smirked. “Tell him that Sookie is protected by a powerful witch and if he tried to force information about her out of you, the spell will kill you and everyone around you.”
“You can do that?” Sookie gasped and Fran winked.
Mr. Cataliades didn’t look at all worried about the conversation. “The King will want you to meet somewhere, probably Las Vegas, to finalize the contract. It will be an interview of sorts. That will be the most dangerous time, but the idea of a suicide spell should dampen any idea of kidnapping you.”
“I’ll just point out that if he tries to keep me against my will, I would give him bad information that could hurt him. Felipe’s a business man. He’ll deal fair,” and Sookie wished she felt as confident as her words sounded.
“If you do go, you need to make contingency plans,” Fran looked straight at Sookie. “You need to tell Rick the truth about things. If something happens to you, he’ll need somewhere to run, and his Father is the best place.”
“His Father who doesn’t know he exists?” Sookie swallowed, “His Father who won’t believe what he sees?”
“I think you sell the Viking short,” Mr. Cataliades reprimanded her. “He has a reputation for taking care of his own. He has a deep affection for his progeny. The Supe community knows that harming either Karin or Pam guarantees the North Man’s vengeance. He’s made clear there will be no acceptable retribution and he is believed. You have no reason to think he wouldn’t do the same for Rick.”
“A boy deserves a chance to know his Father, if he can,” Lora added. “I’m not criticizing you, Sookie, but things are different now. Where would he go if something happens to you? I know he thinks he’s all grown up, but he isn’t. He’ll need someone, and, as much as we love him, he will need more than we can provide,” and Lora wrapped her arm around Fran.
Sookie watched Rick. She knew her son and she knew what would follow, “I’ll tell you what. Before I go to Las Vegas or anywhere, I’ll write it out, the whole thing. If something does happen, one of you gives the letter to Rick and he can make up his own mind about what he should do. If he wants to head to Oklahoma, he goes to Dr. Ludwig first. We’re all assuming he’s Eric’s…” and Sookie held up her hand to hold off the quick protest from Fran, “and I believe it. I do! But Eric will need proof and Amy Ludwig can provide that, or, at least, I think she can. If Amy vouches for Rick, Eric will believe it.”
“It’s a hard way for a child to learn his Mother lied to him for most of his life,” Fran didn’t pull punches.
“I’ll explain my reasons!” Sookie protested.
“I know why you’ve done it,” Fran chastened the younger woman, “and I’m not saying I wouldn’t have done the same thing, but your child deserves to hear the truth from you.”
“You’re assuming something bad will happen,” Sookie swallowed. “Why don’t we see what Felipe has to say before we go jumping to conclusions?”
“Coward,” Fran said softly enough that Sookie could ignore her if she chose.
But Sookie didn’t. “I know,” she said, and she took Fran’s hand in her own.
Rick was late coming in to dinner. It was easier to ignore the rebellious, angry streak in her son when others weren’t around. It wasn’t that Rick was angry during visits before, but this time he didn’t seem to be making any effort to be polite.
Once he sat down though, he unbent, naturally gravitating toward Fran and soon they were joking and teasing as they always had.
Rick excused himself to complete homework and Lora and Mr. Cataliades both made their excuses, leaving Sookie and Fran sitting in the kitchen. As promised, the house was empty of guests this week, so everyone had rooms. Sookie and Rick had moved upstairs, letting Fran enjoy the first floor apartment.
When Sookie set the tea in front of Fran, the witch turned to her and said, “Children know things. They know things we think they don’t and if they feel they are being lied to, they become angry. Your son is no dummy. He knows there is something going on and you holding out the way you are is damaging your relationship with him.”
“Rick is just headstrong,” Sookie kept her eyes on the table, “Stubborn. I was at his age.”
“You are sure a good one for lying to yourself,” Fran was getting angry. “You don’t think he knows he’s different? What are you going to do? Wait until those fangs drop or hope he doesn’t embarrass himself the next time someone bleeds in front of him? It’s a special kind of cruel mother who denies her own child information he needs to know!”
“You don’t know Rick will have any of that!” Sookie hissed.
“And neither do you!” Fran snapped back. “You can put your head in the sand like no one I’ve ever known! No wonder you lost Northman! You couldn’t admit it was sunny day if you were tied down and your bare-naked self was burning to a crisp! Get your head out of your ass and do right by your boy!” Fran got up and started stalking toward her bedroom. Halfway there, she turned around and walked back, every inch of her tense, “If something happens to you, that child will know nothing about the world that will come for him! You haven’t told him one thing about you, have you? Does he know about your telepathy?”
“He guessed,” Sookie admitted, and she couldn’t meet Fran’s eyes.
“You don’t think that made him angry?” Fran didn’t let up. “And when someone tells him you’ve lied about your name, oh, and by the way, you’re Fae with the essential spark, how do you think that’s going to go over?”
“Not well,” Sookie admitted.
“Figure it out!” Fran pointed her finger, “But with the way your life is headed, you need to trust Rick. You need to tell him about you and you need to tell him about himself! You need to help prepare him for what’s coming, because if you think you’re going to step back into the Supe world and somehow keep him out of it, you’re lying to yourself again, and this time it’s the kind of big lie that could get your boy killed!” Fran turned back and when she went through into the bedroom, she made the door slam hard.
Sookie looked back at her hands wrapped around her tea cup. She knew Fran was right, but it was hard thinking about how she should start with Rick, and harder still to think about all the things she deserved to hear from Rick in return. Taking another sip, Sookie took a deep breath and climbed the stairs that took her to the top floor.
She knocked lightly on the half-open door. Rick was lying across the bed, earbuds firmly planted. She had to knock again a little harder before he looked up. “Mind if we talk for a minute?” she asked.
“You and Auntie Fran fighting?” Rick rolled into a sitting position. Sookie wondered that her son could have heard it, so far above them.
“Not exactly,” Sookie smiled tightly and sat on the edge of the bed.
Rick didn’t say anything more. He gave her an expectant look and when she didn’t say anything, he eye-rolled, “Look, I have homework, so maybe we could wait for the chitchat until tomorrow morning…”
“I have something to tell you,” Sookie interrupted. “Something I should have told you a long time ago,” and then she stopped again, shy and uncertain.
After an awkward few moments, Rick said, “Well?”
“Well,” Sookie repeated, and finding her courage, she looked at Rick and said, “You already know that I’m different.” When he didn’t acknowledge what she was saying, she added, “You know, the telepathy.” Rick nodded and gave her a look that said, ‘So what?’ “Well,” Sookie stammered a bit, “That’s not the only thing about me that’s different. You’ve heard about supernaturals; vampires and Weres and such,” and Sookie waited until Rick nodded. “Well, I’m one of those,” she told him, “and you are, too.”
Rick’s eyes narrowed, “What are you talking about?” Sookie could see his distrust and it made her heart hurt.
“I’m what’s called Fae,” Sookie explained. “Not all Fae, just part Fae. The other part is human, but the Fae part gives me what’s called the essential essence or the spark. It makes me a little magic, and it makes me attractive to other supernaturals.”
“And that’s why you can read people’s minds,” Rick was watching her and Sookie didn’t feel his belief was any stronger than when she’d started.
“Well, no,” she explained, “the telepathy is because my grandmother drank demon’s blood.”
Sookie could hear how odd that sounded and Rick confirmed he thought she was losing it, “Demon blood? From some horned, fork-tailed demon, I suppose?”
“No,” Sookie shook her head, “from Uncle Desmond.”
“Uncle Desmond?” and Rick’s eyebrows were climbing, “Fat Uncle Desmond with his suits and prissy manners? He isn’t much older than you and you’re trying to tell me…” Rick’s voice was getting louder.
“Your Uncle Desmond is a Supe,” Sookie interrupted again, “and older than I can even think about. Truth is, you’re surrounded by Supes. Your Auntie Fran is a witch, I’m Fae, and Uncle Desmond is a demon.”
“What? No vampires?!” Rick sneered.
“You watch your tone with me, young man!” Sookie warned, “And truth is, the only vampire in this mix is you.” When Rick’s mouth dropped, Sookie nodded, “Your father, Rick. He is vampire.” Sookie fished the dental slides from her sweater pocket and held them out, “And from the looks of things, you’ll be dropping fang at some point, too.”
Rick looked at the slides. He held them up to the light, and then he studied them some more. “This isn’t a joke?” he asked.
Sookie shook her head, “No, Rick. No, honey, it’s not.”
Rick handed the films back to Sookie, “So… What? Why are you telling me this?”
“There’s more,” Sookie tucked the pictures back in her pocket. “My name wasn’t always Susan Hale. I was born Sookie Stackhouse.”
“Why would you do that?” Rick asked, “What are you? Are you telling me you’re a spy or something?”
Sookie and Rick had been watching a television series where the family were really Russian spies, and Sookie found his answer made her smile. “No, not spies,” she told him. “But I was tired of living in the Supe world. It’s a hard world and full of danger and I wanted you to have a quiet life, a normal life.”
“So why are you telling me now?” Rick was back to looking skeptical.
“Because the Supe world is looking for me,” Sookie told him honestly. “If it were up to me, I’d have us live here the rest of our lives and never once think about Supes or any of it, but it’s not up to me. I’m going to have to go back into that world for awhile, and so you need to know about all of this.”
“What do you mean, you are going into that world?” and Rick was her child again. The arrogance was gone and Sookie was reminded how young he was.
“I’m going to go back to work for one of their Kings,” Sookie told Rick. “Mind-reading is not a common gift and vampires value it. If I work for the King, Felipe De Castro is his name, if I work for him, he will be required to protect me and mine.”
“Am I going with you?” And there it was. Sookie’s heart broke as she heard the waver in her son’s voice.
“No, Rick,” Sookie reached over and took his hand, but Rick snatched it back.
“So, you’re just going to leave me here?” Sookie knew the anger was fueled now by fear, so she kept talking. Sookie told him about how she’d worked using her telepathy before. She told him about the explosion in Rhodes and she told him about Dallas. She explained that Mr. Cataliades (Uncle Desmond) would be arranging it so Sookie would travel only when the King had a job and how other times they would live here in Chester like before. “Only now, folks will know where we are.”
“Not if we manage it well,” Sookie stammered. “If all goes well, it will be like before. We’ll be able to live here without much interference. There’s no reason that folks here need to know we’re different…well,” and Sookie smiled, “that different!”
Rick wasn’t smiling, “So, all this time you knew this. Auntie Fran knew and Uncle Desmond, but no one told me.”
“I wanted to wait until you were old enough,” Sookie told him. She hoped that the nod to his being mature would salve his wounded pride, and Sookie could see that it did, but not enough.
“I knew you were lying to me,” Rick said softly. “I knew it!”
“I told you what I could,” Sookie refused to back down, “and I kept the information that would keep you safe.”
“What happened to my father?” Rick asked.
Sookie considered being clever again, but just as quickly dismissed the idea, “He left me,” she told Rick. “He had an opportunity to marry a vampire Queen. She was rich and beautiful, and vampires don’t age.” Sookie glanced at her own reflection in the mirror and, for the first time, it occurred to her she’d likely see Eric Northman again. “I couldn’t compete with that,” she told Rick, “and to tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure I wanted to.”
“You told me he’s dead,” and Sookie could hear the question.
“All vampires are dead,” and Sookie reached over and took his hand again. “But if you’re asking if your father is still around, the answer is yes.” Her son’s eyes widened, “But, before you get any ideas, you need to know there’s a contract and, let me tell you, Rick, vampires are serious about their contracts! I am not allowed to see him or speak with him. He is married to his Queen for two hundred years, or, I guess one hundred and ninety years, more or less.” Sookie glanced at her reflection again. “Even if you could get to him, he’s not going to believe you’re his son. You see, vampires don’t reproduce like humans.”
“So then how did I happen?” Rick asked.
“Like I said, I’m not exactly human. The best I can figure, it was a magic thing,” and Sookie looked away before saying, “I’m not saying you shouldn’t meet him. I think you should, but it would be better if you were a little older.”
“Why?” Rick challenged.
“For all kinds of reasons!” Sookie snapped, her nerves jangling. “I’m sorry,” she apologized, “I know this is a lot. For now, just promise me you won’t make trouble for your Aunt Lora or Auntie Fran. If this King wants to hire me, I’m going to have to fly out to see him. Your Aunts will stay here with you until I return.”
“Why don’t you take me with you?” Rick asked.
Sookie didn’t want to scare Rick, but then she thought of how fearless he was now, how reckless. “Because it would be just like a vampire to hurt you or take you prisoner to force me to do what they wanted, Son. Vampires are vain, cruel beings. There aren’t many of them, not really, but they can kill you in the blink of an eye, and they hold human life cheap as dirt.” Sookie looked her son directly in the eyes, “And what’s more, you’re part Fae, like me. Your blood tastes better to them. We smell better, and that makes us more likely to be hurt by them. They are possessive and if they like something, they want it all. If they had their hands on you, they might be tempted to drain you dry.”
Rick didn’t pull his hand from hers. Sookie could see he was thinking all this through. “So,” he said after awhile, “where are you really from? I can tell from the way you talk you aren’t from around here.”
Sookie nodded, “I’m from a little town called Bon Temps in Louisiana,” she told her son, and then she told him the rest.
It took hours. When Sookie came downstairs, Lora and Mr. Cataliades were waiting. “How’d it go?” Lora asked.
“Better than I thought,” Sookie didn’t bother asking how Lora knew. She was sure the demon told her.
“I leave for Las Vegas tomorrow,” Desmond informed Sookie. “It’s best to get things moving quickly.”
“You’ll need clothes,” Lora added. “I don’t think your jumpers and Birkenstocks will go over too well in Sin City.”
“I’ll take her,” and Fran walked out of the bedroom, her hair in a messy gray braid, her feet in felt slippers. “I will contact my sisters and they will take care of arrangements. No one will detect us and we can have you back here within two days.”
“I’m sure I can pick up a few things and just come back,” Sookie protested.
“You’ll need to have your hair done,” Lora protested.
“And clothes should be fitted,” Fran added. “You don’t want to look like a beggar. Vampires respect wealth. You must show to your best.”
“Good thing I didn’t let myself go to seed,” Sookie laughed nervously.
You look fine,” Fran assured her.
“You are a handsome woman,” Mr. Cataliades agreed, “The King will be charmed.”
The next morning, Rick headed off to school. Sookie thought about the letter that was in the desk drawer, the one with contact information for Dr. Ludwig as well as a separate letter she’d written to Eric. It was the hardest letter she’d ever written. Sookie didn’t anticipate any trouble for her shopping trip, but now that she was preparing for the worst, it seemed foolish not to consider every possibility.
Sookie drove Fran to the train station and they parked Fran’s Prius in the commuter lot. The trip to the city took a couple hours and the women found there was much to discuss. Fran filled Sookie in on the gossip that was the Supe world. She informed Sookie about changes in allegiances and which monarchs were where. Fran carefully laid out the history of the current dispute, and the hopes that all but the vampires were pinning on the upcoming Summit in Denver. “If Felipe hires you, that will likely be your first job,” Fran told Sookie. “There will be retinue and staff, not to mention the hotel staff. Since Rhodes, vampires are still pretty paranoid, so I’d imagine Felipe will have you busy.”
They were met at the station by an older woman. “I’m Rowan,” she introduced herself and held out her hand. Sookie could feel the electric charge that was Rowan’s brain and she almost pulled her hand back when she touched her and the electric feeling ran up her arm.
“Rowan and I are sisters of sorts,” Fran told Sookie, and the telepath understood that to mean sisters in witchcraft.
Sookie spent the next hours shuttled in and out of taxis and small stores. Everyone they met seemed to know she was coming. Sookie introduced herself as Susan Hale, but she was sure that, first, no one believed her, and, second, no one really cared. Her hair was trimmed and highlights foiled into her tresses. She was given a facial that involved steam and scrubbing. Even her hands were scrubbed and then her nails meticulously cleaned.
When Rowan announced they were done for the night, Sookie found herself in possession of several suits, dresses, new shoes, and the underwear and pantyhose needed to complete the ensembles. Several of the suits were being altered, but Sookie was assured the work would be done early tomorrow, so they could return to Chester.
By noon the following day, Fran and Sookie were back at the train station. “It was a pleasure to be of service to you,” Rowan bowed slightly to Sookie.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Sookie felt embarrassed by the other woman’s display. “I don’t think we’ve ever met.”
“We haven’t,” Rowan acknowledged, “but we’ve all heard about the Angel of Rhodes. You stayed and saved so many of us that night. You allowed the humans to see your gift, even though it placed you in danger. There were witches there in the retinues who owe their lives to you.”
“It was a long time ago,” Sookie mumbled, her face burning.
“A life is a lifelong debt,” Rowan refused to back down. Turning to Fran, she said, “Take care of yourself, Sister. You are ever welcome.”
“And you are welcome in my home,” Fran stepped in to hug Rowan. Sookie helped Fran step up onto the platform, and then find their seats for the long ride back to the small station that was still so many miles from Chester.
Fran napped and Sookie read as the landscape passed by their windows. It was the gentle shaking of Fran’s hand that woke her when they arrived. Sookie checked her phone before she started the car for the last leg of their journey, “No word from Desmond,” she told Fran.
Lora was walking out the door of the B&B when the text message came through. Sookie was expected to present herself to Felipe de Castro in Las Vegas in two nights’ time. Desmond suggested she make her own flight arrangements, but should expect the King to arrange transportation from the airport.
Rick passed her on the driveway, flashing a shy smile as he grabbed a suitcase from the car. “How were things here?” Sookie asked him.
“The same,” he shrugged, but he looked happy to have her home.
Later, Sookie walked up the stairs to the top floor where Rick was staying while Fran and Lora visited. Sookie quizzed him about school and whether he’d had tests. She asked about his friends and what he’d had for dinner while she was gone. Finally, she said, “I told you a lot of things before I left. Do you have any questions for me?”
“What’s his name?” Sookie could see he half-expected her to refuse to answer. It was in the jut of his lip and the set of his shoulders.
“Eric Northman,” Sookie told him without hesitation.
“Was he your boyfriend?” Rick asked.
“No, Rick,” Sookie took her Son’s hand. “No, you see, he was my husband. We were pledged, which is how vampires marry.” It didn’t escape Sookie that these words flowed so easily for her Son when they had never been easy to give the vampire she now claimed.
“I don’t understand.” Sookie looked at Rick’s troubled face and she reached out to brush her fingers across the furrows in his forehead.
“We were married, but, your Father’s Maker, he didn’t think being married to a human was right. He felt I was pretty well beneath his Child, so he created a contract with a Queen. He showed up in town and told Eric about it. Now, your Father wasn’t crazy about the idea of leaving me and he told me he tried everything to set the contract aside but, in the end, he went along.” Sookie found her throat closing as she remembered that night in the back office of Fangtasia. She cut off those memories before they could choke her, swallowed hard, and told Rick, “He divorced me. He told me the contract and the wishes of his Maker came first.”
“So…” and Rick squeezed his Mother’s hand, “he left me, too.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to leave it there, to let Rick think that Eric Northman had abandoned them both, but Sookie couldn’t. Her Son didn’t deserve thinking he’d been abandoned. “Your Father didn’t know about you,” she told him. “Neither of us did.”
“And when you told him about me?” Rick was waiting for the crushing blow. He was waiting for his Mother to tell him his Father had rejected him.
“I never did,” she smiled sadly. “Your Father doesn’t know about you.”
“But, if he did…” and there it was, that headlong, reckless look that flickered across Rick’s face.
“Rick, there are reasons I haven’t tried to tell him,” Sookie sighed. “First, there’s the contract. Your Father put that contract ahead of me. He could have ignored it, but he didn’t, and there’s wording in there that’s a kind of restraining order. If I violate it, your Father’s wife is allowed to kill me.” Sookie let Rick take that in, and she could see that he didn’t want to believe it. “Second, your Father has enemies. I wanted you to have a normal, happy childhood. I didn’t want you in constant danger because you’re something rare that folks won’t be able to understand. If I tried to contact your Father, it would attract attention, and that would have led back to you.”
“I’ve never met a vampire,” Rick said slowly.
“I know, Sweetheart,” Sookie pulled her boy close. “But I think that’s all going to change. What I have to figure out is how we’re going to handle that. I don’t know how you feel about this, but I’d rather keep you a secret from that world for awhile. I think you like your life here, you like your friends.”
“You’re protecting me,” Rick nodded.
“I’m trying to protect us both,” Sookie agreed.
“So, what’s changed?” Rick asked. “Why are you changing things?”
“Because there’s trouble,” Sookie told him, and then she told him as much as she knew about the war that was brewing.
“So you’re going to work for the King who took over Louisiana?” Sookie could see Rick was starting to struggle with the complexities. “But he’s on the other side from my Father?”
“The King I’m going to work for, Felipe de Castro, kind of owes me,” Sookie told her Son. When Rick tilted his head, Sookie answered the question he clearly wanted to ask, “You see, I saved his life once and he promised me protection.”
“How’d you save a King’s life?” Rick leaned forward.
“There was someone who wanted to kill him, and I ran that vampire over with a car,” and Sookie smiled as Rick hooted with laughter.
“I can see you doing it!” Rick chuckled, “Like when Mrs. Beggs at the Post Office gets all snotty about the foreign kids and you get that look in your eye.”
“I’m sure I don’t look that mean,” Sookie sniffed.
“If looks could kill, she’d be stone dead!” her Son assured her.
Sookie reached over and tickled Rick like they used to when he was younger and he tickled her back. After a few minutes, Sookie reached over and wrapped her growing Son in her arms, and hugged him close. “I have to fly to Las Vegas to meet with the King the day after tomorrow,” she told Rick. “I’ll be gone for three days.”
“Are you scared?” he asked.
“Yes,” Sookie told him. “But I believe it will all turn out fine. Uncle Desmond is out there and he’ll look out for me.”
Rick wrapped his arms around his Mother’s waist, “You promise you’ll come home?” he whispered.
“I promise,” Sookie whispered. It occurred to Sookie, that as hard as it had been to be honest, she had her son back in a way she hadn’t realized she’d been missing.
Sookie wasn’t surprised to find it was a vampire who was waiting for her, the ‘Stackhouse’ placard in his hand. He was wearing some kind of formal livery, which also didn’t surprise Sookie. Felipe de Castro had always been a bit of a dandy, and making his employees wear a uniform fit the profile.
Raising her hand, she took a deep breath before saying, “Yes, that’s me.” He wasn’t anyone Sookie had met before. He was taller than her, but pretty much everyone was. Sookie’s feet were already killing her in the tall heels, so when the driver turned and walked briskly toward the door, Sookie refused to pick up her own pace. He must have realized she wasn’t behind him, because he stopped at the doors and turned around.
“I still have to get my bags,” Sookie said in her normal voice. She knew the vampire could hear her. They always could. Taking her time, Sookie pivoted slowly and carefully toward the baggage claim area. The vampire was beside her almost immediately and hissed, “Give me your tags. I will have someone follow with your bag.” Sookie hadn’t noticed Vampire Two until he was there. He held out his hand and Sookie retrieved her claim check from her purse and handed it to him.
Vampire One then did something unexpected. He offered her his arm. Sookie’s arches were screaming, and it took almost no persuasion to get her to thread her arm through his and allow him to support her out the door. She had expected a black car, but it was a Vegas white stretch limo that awaited her.
Another liveried vampire had the door open. Vampire One handed her in, Vampire Three closed the door, and Sookie turned to find herself face to face with Felipe de Castro. “Good evening, Miss Stackhouse,” he purred.
“Good evening back at ya,” Sookie replied automatically. It had been twelve years since she’d left Louisiana, but just seeing the King brought her accent back. Reminding herself what was at stake, Sookie gathered herself, smoothed her skirt, and rearranged things before speaking again. This time she made sure that the harder consonants and clipped accent of New England came through, “Thank you again for inviting me. I look forward to discussing the opportunity.”
Felipe’s eyes widened and then his smile became genuine, “Why, Miss Stackhouse, I believe the years have changed you.”
“I hope you’re not referring to my age,” and Sookie smiled warmly.
“I would never insult such a beautiful woman by suggesting it,” Felipe leaned back and cocked his head to the side. “No, it’s something else. You seem to have grown into your promise.” The King gestured toward a bar built into the back of the driver’s seat. “Perhaps you would like something to drink?”
“Water would be fine,” Sookie replied, and then she waited. The old Sookie would have jumped to serve the King, but the new Sookie appreciated that whoever served set the tone for what was to follow.
The King waited, too, but then his amusement seemed to win over and he laughed, leaned forward, and poured Sookie water before retrieving a bottle of Royalty from what looked like a warmer for himself. “Yes, Miss Stackhouse, you have become much more intriguing!”
Sookie thanked Felipe and then turned her attention to the bright lights of the Strip. While she’d seen this image on television and movies, Sookie found the actual sight was mesmerizing and then she saw herself reflected in the window glass. The woman she saw was calm and collected, her face a study of angles and shadows, hair stylishly coiled in a French knot. She saw the King behind her, his eyes fastened on her, and she could see his approval. For some reason, his open admiration gave her confidence, and Sookie Stackhouse sat straighter as the limo made its way into the desert and toward the palace.