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.
“So,” and Pam took her eyes off the road to look at Rick, “how was it?”
“How was what?” Rick didn’t want to look at her. It was more comfortable staring out his window, watching the world pass by. His mind was a jumble. He’d bitten someone and he’d liked it. He was drinking blood from people and he liked that, too, far more than drinking bagged blood. It made him question things he thought he knew and he didn’t like the feeling. He wished he could talk with his Mom, or with Aunt Fran. They always seemed to know what to say, but he couldn’t, and the thought that they might be lost to him forever made his stomach twist.
“Feeding, of course,” Pam persisted. “It never occurred to me that you hadn’t…”
Rick rounded on her, “You’re not going to say anything mean about my Mom, are you?” he snapped.
Pam’s face lost all sign of humor, “No, I wasn’t,” she said, and she gave him as good a ‘Mom’ look as his own could have done. “I always considered your Mother my friend. Circumstances may have kept us apart, but I’ve never known a braver, funnier, or more clever person. Your Mother taught me how to shoot a shotgun. I imagine she didn’t tell you anything about that.”
“No, she didn’t,” Rick admitted. “I didn’t even know I was related to vampires until a few months ago.”
“So,” Pam pointed out, “I guess I could get all bent out of shape that she thought so little of me that she never told her own son, my own brother through blood, about me. If you look at it from my point of view, it’s almost like Sookie wanted to forget she was ever a part of our lives.” Pam shrugged, “I can tell you, it’s kind of hurtful.”
“Mom told me about the contract,” Rick said. Pam glanced at him, but when she didn’t say any more, Rick said, “Mom said they were married and he divorced her because he got a better offer.”
“She told you she was married?” Pam asked, and she looked surprised. When Rick nodded, she said, “Well, that’s something, I suppose, but as for the rest? That’s a pretty thin description of what happened.” Pam sighed and shook her head, “Eric really has no one to blame but himself.”
“I’d say so,” Rick shrugged, “after all, he left her, right?”
“Eric gave up two hundred years of his life in trade to make sure your Mom was safe,” Pam huffed like that explained things.
“So what?” Rick challenged. “He moved on and made sure she was left all alone.”
“Your Mother was not ‘all alone’ when Eric left,” Pam growled. “She was sleeping with someone else. Did she tell you that? I’m sure it was because she wanted to punish Eric, but it was a real slap in face all the same.”
“Like divorcing her wasn’t?” Rick snapped back. “There have been guys who’ve asked her out, and she turns them all down. She tells me it’s because I’m all the man she needs in her life, but Aunt Fran told me it was more than that. I think it’s because of him! When she finally told me about him, her whole face lit up. She was different.”
“Eric should have explained things to your Mother,” Pam looked sad. “He and I fought about it a lot at the time. He was so sure he could wiggle out of the contract. He figured it would worry her and he didn’t want to upset his Princess.” Pam chuckled, “All your Mother had to do was look at him sideways and Eric would do whatever she wanted. The last thing he wanted was to disappoint her. Sookie already had such a poor opinion of vampires and Eric figured telling her about the contract would just make it worse.”
Rick thought about it for a minute, then asked, “What went wrong? If he was so sure he could get out of it, why didn’t it work?”
“Because sometimes Eric is too confident for his own good,” Pam sighed. “He’d done everything he could to piss off his new King. He was barely being civil, and then we killed the King’s Lieutenant.” Pam shot Rick a look, “That’s not for public sharing, not even with vampires! It will probably come out now that Eric is King, but it won’t be from me, and it better not be from you! Anyway, your Mother was in the middle of it, right up to her eyeteeth. She’s the one who came up with the plan and it was a regular bloodbath. Anyway, everyone knew who did it, but no one would talk and that made Eric too dangerous to remain in Louisiana. Felipe figured it was only a matter of time before Eric killed him, too.”
“Felipe de Castro? The King my Mom was working for?” Rick asked. When Pam didn’t say anything, Rick asked, “What happened to him?”
“Felipe?” Pam one-arm shrugged, “Well, as it turned out, old Felipe de Castro was right. Eric did kill him. That’s how Eric became King.”
For Rick, it was like all the pieces fell into place, “The takeover! That was Eric…”
“You should probably call him your Sire, or your Maker,” Pam told him. “It will help people figure out where you fit in.”
“That sounds so weird,” Rick huffed.
“Well, you could try Father,” Pam smirked, “How about Daddy?”
Rick couldn’t help himself. He smiled and then he laughed. “Yeah, I don’t think so,” he told Pam. “He’s kind of a scary guy to be ‘Daddy,’ if you know what I mean?”
Pam shrugged, “No, not really. Eric’s strong, but I know I can depend on him. He takes care of me and Karin.” Pam adjusted her hands on the wheel of the van, “I know you don’t believe it, but he loves your Mom. He likes you, too.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Rick looked back out his window, “I don’t believe it.”
“Well, let’s look at the facts,” Pam smirked. “He didn’t have to teach you about feeding himself. He could have handed that task to any one of us. Plus, I’m betting, based on the way you’re acting, that it wasn’t a bad experience. He went out of his way to make it okay for you. He didn’t have to do that either, and most Makers wouldn’t. I can tell you that Eric’s Maker used it to terrify him. Eric was made the old-fashioned way, and my Grand-Sire was damn cruel about it.”
“Mom told me Eric was a Viking,” Rick said, “a real Viking.”
“That’s true,” Pam nodded. “and his Maker was a Roman soldier.”
“What about you?” Rick asked.
“Victorian age,” Pam smiled. “Eric saved me. I was made to be a vampire and I’ve never looked back!”
“I can’t see you in corsets,” Rick smiled.
“Me either,” Pam smiled, “although there’s some things I do miss.”
“Like what?” Rick asked. He found it was getting easier and easier to talk with the petite blond.
“Silly things,” Pam shrugged. “Games, songs.”
“Tell me if you know this one,” Rick said and he pulled his pennywhistle from his pocket and played an air he’d been told was popular in the era Pam described. It seemed Rick was told right, because Pam sang the words as he started the second chorus, and then sang in counterpoint to his melody. When they finished together, Pam laughed out loud.
“I haven’t heard that since… well, since then,” and then she said, “Thank you.”
Rick looked at the flute in his hand, “Why didn’t Eric have me ride with him?” Rick wasn’t sure why he wanted to know. Being near the vampire made him nervous, but the idea that this really was his Father was starting to take root. “I figured maybe he’d want to get to know me better.”
“First of all,” Pam shifted, “Eric still doesn’t know how to feel about you. That’s not a bad thing, but I can tell you he’s confused.”
“Did he tell you that?” Rick asked.
“Eric tell me how he feels?” and Pam chuckled. “Mr. Silent Treatment talks about everything under the sun, but tell you in words what’s going on under the surface? Not likely! No, I don’t need him to tell me. I can feel it,” and Pam pointed toward her head, “in here. It’s because he’s my Maker. He can cut off our bond, but while it’s in place, like now, I feel pretty much everything he does.” Rick didn’t say anything, but it made him feel better.
“Oh, and Eric likes to drive fast,” Pam laughed. “Like, so fast he should get more tickets than he does.”
Rick looked around the interior of the minivan Pam was driving. The speedometer hadn’t gone much below seventy the entire time they’d been on the road, but the way Pam was talking, it sounded like Eric Northman drove faster.
“So, he didn’t want me in the car because he’s a speed demon?” Rick asked.
“You’re breakable. And, of course, he’s racing the sun,” Pam seemed to be laying it all out as much for herself as for Rick. “He’s going to be talking and plotting the whole way up, trying to figure out what happened. By the time we get there, he’ll probably have everyone in an uproar and things in motion.” Pam looked at Rick, “He’s going to do everything he can to find your Mom.”
“Do you really think he still loves her?” Rick asked.
“I’m so sure, I bought her childhood home, so he’d always have a reminder of her,” Pam winked.
The conversation dried up and Rick thought about what he’d heard. He was pretty sure his Mother still loved the vampire, but it was another thing entirely to think the vampire might still love her, and that there was a possibility that they might want to be together. Rick laid his head against the headrest. The next thing he knew, Pam was shaking him. “Pit stop!” she said, shaking her head and getting out of the car.
Rick wiped the side of his mouth. He’d drooled a little in his sleep and as soon as he shifted, his bladder started screaming. They were pulled up outside a little restaurant with a parking lot surrounded by trees and thick underbrush. “Just give me a minute,” he called and made a beeline for the nearest tree.
“I so don’t miss that,” Pam quipped, leaning against the car and not turning away at all.
Rick shook, tucked, zipped, and as he walked, said, “Doctor Ludwig says I get the best of all worlds. I get to eat anything I want. I sleep when I want. I can get a sunburn…”
“Oh, crap!” Pam spit out. “That’s right! You’ll need a babysitter!”
“I don’t need a babysitter,” Rick was offended.
“Oh, sure, like I can trust you to stay out of trouble during daylight hours?” Pam’s eyebrow lifted. “You are way too much like your Mother! Trouble just follows you!”
“I have no idea where we are. I don’t have transportation. I’ve lost my phone. I’m not going anywhere!” Rick protested.
“It wouldn’t have stopped your Mother and I don’t believe it would stop you either,” Pam shrugged as they walked into the diner.
The place was busy, but Rick could see it was the end of the evening rush. Tables were filled, but most people looked as if they were getting ready to leave. A waitress walked past them, “Just give me a minute,” she called out, “I’ll clear out a booth for y’all.”
Rick’s stomach growled. There looked like there was a lot of fried food here and it all smelled good. “Been a long time,” a man with graying hair was standing next to Pam.
“I don’t get out here much anymore, Shifter,” Pam replied.
The man glanced at Rick briefly, and the way his eyes turned cold and his lip curled said, ‘Nothing worth looking at’ as clearly as if he’d said it out loud. The ‘Shifter’ turned back to Pam and continued reporting, “Alcide called me last night. I haven’t heard anything, not about either of them. If they did come around here, they didn’t stop in. Someone would have mentioned it.” Rick realized that whoever this was, he was talking about Rick’s Mom. The man glanced at Rick a second time, “There’s something odd about this one,” he said as if Rick wasn’t standing right there.
“Careful,” Pam purred. “You might say Rick is one of the family. Eric is very attached to him.”
“Funny how things turn out,” the man’s voice sounded bitter. “Of everything I would have guessed, Eric Northman killing his way to the top wasn’t one of them. Sam Merlotte,” he said, acknowledging Rick for the first time.
“Rick Hale,” Rick answered and automatically held out his hand. Sam looked surprised, but he took it, and then looked surprised again.
“You’re warm,” he stammered. “I thought… you smell like a vampire.”
“He’s a different kind of vampire,” Pam said by way of explanation. “He’s also hungry.”
“I have blood in the back,” Sam offered.
Rick glanced at one of the tables, “The chicken fingers look good,” he replied.
Sam’s eyes widened and then he wiped his hands on his apron, “Sure, chicken fingers. I’ll put an order down for you.” Sam nodded to Pam, but his eyes stayed on Rick as he walked by. The waitress was signaling them, and they found themselves seated in a booth set against the front windows.
“What am I going to do with you?” Pam sighed. Rick followed her gaze and found the Shifter was still watching them from behind the bar. “You know,” she told Rick, “he could have been your Father.”
“That guy?” Rick scoffed.
“He’s the one your mother took into her bed after everything started to turn to shit,” Pam nodded. “There’s some story that she brought him back from the dead.” Pam looked straight at Rick, “From what I hear, she still owns half of this place. Take a look around, Rick. All this could have been yours!”
Rick huffed, “That’s a hell of a story! I can’t see my Mom here at all! All this fried food…” but he stopped talking when Pam laughed out loud.
Rick leaned back, determined not to say anything more. He wanted to tell Pam she didn’t know what she was talking about, but there was something in the back of his head that was telling him he was the one being the fool. To pass the time, he started taking a closer look around. While the landscape outside was different from anything he’d seen, he thought the customers looked like people he’d see at home. They wore jeans and t-shirts. There were a couple who were better dressed than others, but then Rick looked closer. They really were different. There was a harshness to them, a hard edge that he wasn’t used to seeing. Then Rick started to catch bits and pieces of thoughts from those in the restaurant. Some were curious about Pam and him, but others weren’t curious, they were angry.
As Rick listened to their unspoken conversations, he realized most people here knew each other. Whatever town this was, it was a small community and the ties people had to each other here were strong. A couple people recognized Pam, but no one seemed to really know her until Rick caught another set of thoughts and they made him pay attention.
There was a group of men in the back room of the restaurant. There was a pool table back there and several of the group had walked into the main restaurant to get more beer from the bar. They spotted Rick and Pam and they were not happy. Rick heard the thoughts of these men and he could tell how much they hated vampires. They knew who Pam was and what she was. Two of them were looking at Rick, too, and although they weren’t sure why he was with Pam, they assumed there was something wrong going on, and he was involved.
Rick couldn’t help staring at them. There was one man in particular. He was handsome, but his thoughts weren’t. He was thinking that Rick looked like Eric Northman. While this man hated vampires, he hated Eric Northman most of all. He blamed Eric for his family’s misfortunes. He wasn’t thinking about doing anything in particular, but he wasn’t happy about Pam being in the restaurant. He turned to his friends and he was saying the kinds of angry things that could lead to taking action later.
“Good looking, isn’t he?” Pam leaned over the table. Rick had been so intent on listening in on the man’s thoughts that he jumped. “Do you know who he is?” she asked. When Rick shook his head, Pam sighed. “Sookie really kept you hidden from everyone, even her own family! That’s your uncle, Jason. He’s your mother’s brother.”
“Mom told me a little about him,” Rick answered, then looked back at the man he now knew was Jason Stackhouse. “She said that when my Grandparents died, she and her brother, Jason, went to live with their Gran, my Great-Grandmother. She said that she and Jason had a falling out.” Rick looked back at Pam, “I’ve never met him.”
“Do you want to?” Pam grinned.
Rick shook his head, “No,” he said, “and from what he’s thinking, he doesn’t want to meet me either. He hates vampires, and he hates me because I look like a vampire.”
“So, you’re a telepath, too,” Pam’s voice was sympathetic. “Sookie told me how hard it made it for her to be around people. You should have said something.”
“Maybe I’m not as telepathic as she is,” Rick shrugged. “I don’t get too much interference unless I go out and look for it.” It wasn’t a great explanation for how his head sifted thoughts, but it was as close as Rick could get. The chicken fingers arrived with a side of French fries and a small plate with something else fried. “What are those?” Rick asked.
“Fried pickles,” the waitress smiled, “Compliments of the house.”
Pam looked at the pickles, her mouth screwed up in disgust. “Your Mother loves those,” She lifted her bottle of TruBlood and saluted, “Go ahead. Dig in.”
The food really was good, and Rick ate quickly. When over half was gone, his hands slowed. After Rick sat back and took a breath, Pam laughed, “I know you’ve had plenty to eat today. Where do you put it all?”
“Growing, I guess,” Rick shrugged, then he asked, “Did my Mom really grow up around here?”
“Not around. She grew up right here,” Pam acknowledged. “This is Bon Temps. This is where your family home is located.”
“Can I see it?” the words tumbled out of Rick’s mouth.
“Not tonight,” Pam sighed. “Right now, I’ve got to figure out where to stash you. I had half-hoped that we’d run into Stackhouse,” and Pam nodded toward the backroom “and he’d prove to be a viable option, but based on what you’ve heard…”
“He’d be a bad choice,” Rick confirmed.
Pam pulled out her phone and started scrolling through what Rick assumed were contacts. “Agreed. Obviously, you can’t stay with the mouth-breathers here.” Pam glanced at him, “And from what Eric said, the local Packmaster isn’t going to be too friendly either.”
“Packmaster?” Rick asked.
“Weres,” Pam was looking at him with some small astonishment. “You are going to need all kinds of education!”
“I know what Weres are,” Rick huffed. “I can even recognize them now! Well, mostly. I know they exist! It’s just I hadn’t heard ‘Packmaster’ before.”
“Yeah, you’re real enlightened,” Pam sniffed. “Well, here’s a possibility,” and she pushed the button.
An hour later, Rick was looking at what was the largest black man he’d ever seen. The man was known here, and the owner of the place, Sam Merlotte, made a point of greeting him. He sat down next to Pam and as Rick stared, another, shorter white man sat down next to Rick. “This is Mustapha Khan,” Pam said by way of introduction, and while Rick reached across the table, offering his hand, Pam pointed to the man sitting beside him, “and this is Warren.”
“And who are you?” Warren asked.
“This is Rick,” Pam said before Rick could respond, “and I suppose you could call him my brother.”
“Vampire?” Mustapha’s eyes widened, “That explains it, but I have to say, you look mighty alive for a vampire.”
“It’s complicated,” Pam answered again. “Sookie Stackhouse is his mother.”
“Sookie!” Warren exclaimed. He smiled brightly at Rick, which made him a little scarier, “Your Mother is an amazing person! I owe her my life. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” and instead of offering his hand, Rick found himself enfolded in the man’s arms. Rick couldn’t help hearing Warren’s thoughts, and they were mostly kind. It made Rick feel better.
“Mustapha used to be your Sire’s Day man,” Pam was saying.
“You saying the King turned him?” Mustapha was staring hard at Rick, trying to figure it out.
“I wasn’t turned,” Rick was feeling overwhelmed. His fangs were itching, and he could feel the weight of unfriendly stares all around them.
“He wasn’t,” Pam confirmed. “He’s something different. There’s a name for it, but it doesn’t happen often. He’s their biological child, Sookie and Eric’s.”
“No shit!” Mustapha let out a great breath and just stared at Rick, his mouth slightly open.
“That’s wonderful!” Warren said, shooting Mustapha a warning look. “So, how can we help?”
“I need to stash him someplace until tomorrow night,” Pam explained. “Eric’s already in Shreveport. Thalia and Karin are in Minden. We can’t have him with us. He’s a day walker.”
“No shit!” Mustapha said it again.
“And he’s a known escape artist,” Pam added. “I don’t know why Eric didn’t force him to take blood. At least then we could have tracked him if he decided to run.”
“Drink his blood?” Rick couldn’t keep it from coming out.
“And you’d be lucky to have it!” Pam snapped, then rolling her eyes, continued, “Eric just found out about him, and with Sookie missing…”
“Of course, we’ll help,” Warren agreed. Mustapha gave him a mutinous look, but Warren stared down the man across the table and said, “We’d be happy to do it.”
It seemed settled because Mustapha’s look softened, “Bet old Eric is all twisted up one side and down the other. Sookie missing and then this,” and he started to laugh.
“I don’t think it’s funny!” Rick was angry, angry enough that he didn’t think twice about getting these men angry, too. “My Mother’s missing and I don’t think there’s anything funny about that!”
“Hey!” Sam Merlotte called from the bar, “Keep it down over there!”
Mustapha stopped laughing, “You’re right,” he said. “It’s not funny, and I’m sorry I laughed. We’ll find her, don’t you worry. The whole Pack’s out looking for them.”
“Them?” Rick asked. “You mean Mr. Hermosa, too?”
“Rubio, yes,” Warren confirmed. “We’ve been looking for a couple days.” He turned to Pam, “They found the warehouse where they were holding their meetings. Someone should send a tracker over there to really check it out.”
“A tracker would be able to find them,” Pam agreed. She glanced at her watch, “I have to get to Minden before sunrise. I have a house there,” and she glanced at Rick.
“Don’t worry,” Warren was saying, “We won’t let anything happen to him.”
“Thank you,” Pam was texting, “I’ll let Eric know. Have him at Fangtasia after sundown. We’re meeting there.”
Walking out of the restaurant felt like a huge weight lifted from Rick’s head. He hadn’t appreciated how the angry thoughts of those around him were affecting him, but it was as if a headache had vanished. The relief was so great, he felt almost faint, and the next thing he knew, Rick was standing in the parking lot beside Warren. Mustapha had Rick’s suitcase in his hand and Pam was driving away. The sounds of the Louisiana night suddenly seemed to loom large, and Mustapha turned to Rick and said, “You sure look a lot like him. Guess you can’t have everything.”
Mustapha and Warren lived some distance from Bon Temps and the ride seemed to take a long time. Warren tried to start up a conversation, but there just didn’t seem to be anything to say. Rick could feel the weight of the day starting to crowd in on him. When they arrived, it was to drive down a long driveway between trees that seemed too close to the road. The house at the end looked pretty normal. There was a garage to the side, but Mustapha left the car parked in front. The lights were on, and Warren turned to him, “Come on in. We’ll get you settled.”
Rick followed Mustapha into the house and down a short hallway to a bedroom. “You’ll sleep in here,” the tall man told him. There was a double bed against the wall and a door open, showing a bathroom.
“Can I get you anything?” Warren was at the door, too.
“No,” Rick said, “I’m good.”
“Well, fine,” and Warren smiled. “If you do need anything, we’ll be right across the hall. Just call out.”
“And don’t try anything stupid,” Mustapha growled. His mouth was smiling, but his eyes were wary.
Rick nodded, and when the door closed, he sat down on the bed. The room was bare. There was a chest and a mirror, but no picture or other decoration to make the room seem warmer. The air conditioner in the window wasn’t running, but Rick figured it wasn’t really warm enough to need it. He took a shaky breath. He could hear the rumble of voices outside the room and he thought about how far away from home he was. He thought about his Mother and Chester, and he felt his tears threaten. Curling up on his side, he pulled the pillow to him and stuffed his face into it. “I want to go home,” he whispered to no one in particular, and he lay there, stiff and still, willing himself to silence as his grief and exhaustion slipped from his eyes, dampening the pillow and the sheets around him.
Rick showered when he got up. His throat hurt, so he drank water from the tap. He could hear the sound of someone moving around in the house, so he figured it was time to get moving himself. Rick dressed and walked out the bedroom door. Sunshine flooded into the open space that dominated the front of the house. There was a huge sectional sofa facing a flat panel television and a kitchen with a breakfast bar that stretched across the back of the room. Warren was sitting at the counter, sipping what Rick assumed was coffee.
“Hungry?” he asked kindly. “Mustapha ran out to get some fresh milk and I asked him to get a couple bottles of blood, too. Do you drink that stuff?”
“I do,” Rick nodded and, for some reason, the feeling and taste of the woman he’d drunk from last night came into his mind. He blushed and ducked his head.
“That doesn’t look like any vampire ever,” Warren pointed at Rick’s pink cheeks. It made Rick blush a little more, but Warren didn’t make a big thing about it. He hopped down from his chair and said, “Well, come over here and take a seat. Pam told us you eat human food, too.”
As if on cue, Rick’s stomach growled, “Sorry,” he mumbled. “Yeah, my Mom says I eat pretty much everything.”
“I consider it an honor to call your Mother my friend,” Warren said. The shorter man was moving around the kitchen, turning on burners, and cracking eggs. “Besides being beautiful, which she is, she has a generous soul. I’ve never met anyone like her. She can make you feel right at home, like you’ve known her all your life. It’s a talent!”
“We run a B&B at home,” Rick found himself telling Warren. “We’re full up all the time. People book to return years in advance.” Rick remembered his Mom the way she looked, laughing with some guest, or swapping jokes with the people at the local market, and his heart hurt. “I miss her,” he said and then fisted his hands, horrified that he might cry again.
Warren had been watching him. He reached across the counter and patted Rick’s hands, “Don’t you worry! We’ll find her,” and then he turned back to the stove and started humming a tune, allowing Rick a few minutes to collect himself.
Embarrassed, Rick stood up and turned, taking a good look at the house. This area was entirely open, columns spaced at intervals to support the ceiling. There was a staircase that led to a second story. Rick wondered what they did with that space since he’d figured out that the two men shared the second bedroom across the hall from the one where he’d slept last night. If you ignored the guns that were mounted on racks on the wall or lined up side by side in cabinets, the space was kind of nice. Rick walked over to the flat-screen to check out the stack of disks that turned out to be video games he’d heard of, but never played. That’s when he spotted the small keyboard and the fiddle set against the wall.
“Do you play these?” he asked.
“Not really,” Warren was busy whisking the eggs in a pan. “Mustapha and I got it into our heads that we could learn, but it didn’t go anywhere.”
“Do you mind?” Rick asked. His fingers were itching to pick up the fiddle.
“Sure,” Warren shrugged, then asked, “You can play?”
Rick lifted the fiddle, squeezed it under his chin and thumbed the strings, one by one. He closed his eyes, listened to the tone, and then turned the pegs until he was satisfied. The bow looked new and he tightened it a little, then tested it against the strings. The tone wasn’t as pure as Peter’s fiddle, but it wasn’t poor either. Rick walked to the small window in the back of the room. It looked out over a yard filled with rock that gave way to woods. He took a deep breath and then played Ashoka’s Farewell. “I know that song!” Warren called. “I watched the whole Civil War series and I made Mustapha watch it, too.”
Rick was just finishing when Mustapha walked in the door. He stared at Rick who was making a couple more adjustments to the strings. “Was that you?” he asked.
“Breakfast is ready,” Warren announced, and Rick reluctantly laid down the fiddle to take a seat at the counter.
“You could be a professional,” Warren told him.
“Not really,” Rick shook his head. “My friend, Peter, he’s the real star. It’s like he breathes music.”
“Is that the only instrument you play?” Mustapha sat down and grabbed an orange from the counter.
“No,” Rick shrugged. “I can play pretty much anything I can get my hands on. I’m decent with most wind instruments, and I’m okay with guitar and mandolin. I suck at banjo, though,” he told them between mouthfuls of food.
“I always figured your Sire had a bit of the devil in him,” Mustapha grinned, peeling the orange carefully. “Figures one of his would play the fiddle like Old Scratch himself.”
“Don’t listen to him,” Warren chuckled. “Who taught you?”
“No one in particular,” Rick finished his breakfast, then hopped off the stool to carry his plate to the sink.
“Well, I can see your Momma taught you manners,” Mustapha nodded. “Sookie was always good for doing right by people.”
Rick returned to the counter, “So, you knew my Mom pretty well when she lived here?”
“I knew your Father better,” Mustapha popped an orange segment in his mouth. “I worked for him. I was a badass then, and the Viking liked that about me.”
Rick rolled his eyes, “I don’t know,” he whistled, “you look pretty much like a badass now.” Warren laughed, but Mustapha ignored him. “Were you always his Day Man?” It was the phrase Pam had told him.
“No. Fact is, I wasn’t Eric’s Day Man long. I replaced Bobby Burnham. He was with your Father the longest.”
“What happened to him?” Rick asked.
Mustapha looked at Warren before saying, “He got himself killed.”
“My friend, George Hermosa, says that happens a lot with vampires,” Rick said it carefully, not looking up.
“Bobby Burnham wasn’t a vampire…” Mustapha said, and Warren interrupted him.
“Accidents do happen, but I wouldn’t say that final death happens a lot.”
Mustapha made a dismissive noise, but then Warren gave him a look that included an eyeroll directed toward Rick, so he changed direction, “Yeah, not a lot. Just sometimes.”
“Smooth,” Rick mocked them. He strolled over to pick the fiddle up again, and he played a few bars of an Irish ballad he knew. When the two men looked more relaxed, Rick asked, “Can you tell me about my Mom and Eric? I mean, Mom told me some stuff, but Pam told me other stuff. You were there. What really happened between them?”
Warren was loading the dishwasher, “It’s up to you,” he told Mustapha.
“I don’t have any problem telling Mini Me what I know,” and Mustapha grabbed a water bottle from a crate on the floor and moved over to the couch. “Now, I don’t know the whole thing, but I can tell you what I saw. Chances are the whole truth is somewhere in the middle of all the stories you’ll hear.”
“Did he leave her?” Rick asked, anxious to continue now that he’d found someone willing to open up.
“He did,” Mustapha nodded, “but your Mom betrayed him first.”
“That’s not entirely fair,” Warren added. “They were already in a bad place when that last trouble came.”
“You’re right. It really started when Eric’s bastard of a Maker showed up,” Mustapha leaned back, crossing his arms in front of him. “Appius Livius Ocella! What a waste of space! He’s the one responsible for killing Bobby Burnham. He sold Eric to Oklahoma.”
“Sold him?” Rick exclaimed. “What? Vampires believe in slavery? But I thought Eric was important! How could someone who was a Sheriff or whatever get sold? Don’t they have laws or something?”
“Are you going to let me tell it?” Mustapha’s mouth was turned down and Rick forced himself to stop talking. He was practically vibrating with questions, but he sat down on the end of the couch, took a deep breath, and waited.
Mustapha was a good storyteller, his deep voice rolling in a way that made it easy to listen to him. He told Rick about the days after the takeover. He talked about Victor Madden and how difficult the King’s favorite made Eric Northman’s existence. Mustapha also talked about Sookie Stackhouse. He talked about how kind she could be, and how funny, but he also told Rick about her reputation as a vampire slayer. “It’s true,” Mustapha replied when Rick protested, “The bartenders at Fangtasia still talk about how she’s bad luck to them.”
Rick told Mustapha it was hard to wrap his head around the idea of his Mother as a vampire killer. “Your Mom didn’t have any problem being strong,” Mustapha told him. “Not about plotting, not about taking vampires down, nor doing the deed. She was a legend and folks knew not to mess with her. No one, not even your Father, would push her around. You know she refused to admit she was married to him? She wouldn’t share a house or name with Eric Northman. She was Sookie Stackhouse and folks had to respect that.”
The woman Mustapha was describing sounded harsh. “Maybe Eric didn’t ask her to marry him human style or move in with him,” Rick suggested when Mustapha went on to describe about how Sookie chose to live in her family house on Hummingbird Lane with male relatives. “My Mom can be kind of funny about that. If someone doesn’t ask her for what they want directly, she won’t make the connection. You think everything’s arranged, but if you don’t spell it out for her, Mom just doesn’t get it.”
“Yeah, maybe that was part of it,” Mustapha went along, “but however it went together, I know it cost Eric big time. No one believed his marriage to your Mom was real. No one except him. Then, when it was really turning to shit and all his supposed friends were turning against him, it turns out your Mom had this super-magic fairy thing that could have fixed everything.”
“She did?” Rick’s eyes were wide. His Mom had told him she was Fae and that made her supernatural, but Rick had never seen or heard any evidence of it. “So, did Eric ask her to use it?”
“Eric beg for a favor? Hell, no!” and Mustapha shook his head. “I don’t know why he didn’t. Maybe he figured if she loved him, Sookie should have volunteered it, but she didn’t. She didn’t even admit she had it, but Eric knew. Your Mom’s fairy grandfather made sure Eric knew. Niall Brigant! He was another nasty piece of work and he sure didn’t like the idea of your Mom being married to Eric Northman! He thought your Mother should be thinking about mating with some nice fairy man. In the end, Niall got his. Everything went to shit for him, too, and he had to hightail it out of this world altogether.”
“So, what happened to it?” Rick asked, “The fairy thing?”
“She used it to save Sam Merlotte,” Warren piped up.
“What?” Rick was stunned for a moment, and then he said, “How did that happen?”
“There was a fight.” It was Warren who picked up the tale. “The woman Sam was involved with, Jannalynn, she was Were. She was also trying to take over the Pack. She was working with outsiders… anyway, she was caught. Mustapha fought her.” Warren glanced at Mustapha, and although they didn’t touch, it cleared up any questions Rick had about the nature of their relationship. “It was done in the traditional way, with swords. Mustapha almost had her when Sam Merlotte got in the way. Your Mom, she just fell to her knees, and she wished Sam Merlotte back to life, and that was it. The magic was gone.”
“What did Eric do?” Rick asked.
“What could he do?” Mustapha shook his head. “Your Mom may have thought she was doing some good, Christian act, but for Supes? She’d just told everyone where Eric Northman stood in her book, and it wasn’t by her side. Eric didn’t have any argument left against that contract. All he could do was press for terms that would protect your Mom.”
“He still argued for her?” Rick found himself starting to see things a little differently. It still didn’t exactly jibe with what he’d heard his Mother say, but he could start to see there might be another side to the story.
“He was pretty mad,” Mustapha chuckled. “His house took all kinds of damage that night. If it were me? I would have kicked her to the curb and never looked back, but Eric? Your Mom is under his skin, even to this day, I’m betting. That kind of love is a powerful thing,” and Mustapha looked at Warren again.
“I can’t think of what he’ll do if…” and Warren stopped. He glanced at Rick, embarrassed, and said, “Well, we’ve been talking so long it’s almost lunchtime. Would you like to take a drive out to see where your Mother grew up?”
Rick thought about it. He thought about the hostile stares and thoughts he’d heard last night in the restaurant that belonged to the man his Mother saved. He thought about the way the man, Sam Merlotte, hadn’t asked about his Mother much. He knew if someone had saved his life, he would consider himself in debt to them. He would go out of his way to try and repay that debt, but Sam Merlotte wasn’t out beating the bushes to find his Mother. Sam Merlotte was standing behind the bar, serving people who hated vampires. “No,” Rick shook his head, “I’m good.”
He glanced at the fiddle again. It brought him comfort to have an instrument in his hands, and then he thought of Aunt Lora and George. “What I would like is to ask if I can borrow a phone. Mine was stolen… well, I guess confiscated, in New Orleans. I’d like to talk with folks and let them know I’m okay. I have money…”
“Don’t even think about it,” Warren shushed. He handed Rick his phone and unlocked the screen. “You can take it in the bedroom if you want.”
“I’m okay out here,” Rick shrugged, “As long as I won’t disturb you.”
Rick called Aunt Lora at the B&B first. He apologized about a dozen times, but she kept telling him it was okay, although it was hard to understand her, she was crying so hard. When she finally calmed down, she told him that she had heard from Aunt Fran. Amy Ludwig had been to see her. Fran was still in the hospital, but doing better. “That doctor fixed her right up,” Lora told him. “Fran will be so happy to hear that we spoke. She asks about you every night.”
Lora told him there was no phone in Aunt Fran’s room yet, but she expected that would happen soon. “If you can, call me again tomorrow. As soon as I have a phone number for her, I’ll let you know,” She asked what happened to Rick’s phone, and when he told her, she waited while he got pencil and paper and wrote down all her numbers.
“I haven’t heard any news about your Mom,” Lora told him. Rick wasn’t surprised. No one here would have the number at the B&B. No one except his Mom, and maybe Mr. Hermosa, would know to call.
Rick called George next, and that was the harder conversation. George had been put in a car and driven to Mississippi the same night they arrived at the palace. “Something happened two nights ago,” George told Rick. “Mom went crazy. She said she knew that Dad was gone, something about her bond. Anyway, when the new King called tonight and told her Dad had been working for him all along, Mom got really angry.” George stopped talking and Rick almost thought the connection had dropped when his friend sighed, and said, “I don’t think she’s going to let us see each other again. She was really mad about the train. I told her it was as much my idea as yours, but she’s pretty much blaming you.”
Rick felt a tightness in his chest. George was his best friend. They conquered rock walls together, alternately laughing and then concentrating on helping each other. “I heard some Weres say that everyone here is looking for your Dad,” Rick said. “We’re near Shreveport and someone said they know your Dad and my Mom were around here. I think we’re getting close.”
“Mom thinks he’s dead,” George told him, and Rick’s friend’s voice cracked. “If he wasn’t finally dead, he would have found a way to contact us by now. It’s been too long.”
“He could be a prisoner,” Rick said hopefully. “Things are still weird here. I’m staying with…” and Rick realized he hadn’t told George who his father was. He hadn’t said the words, ‘my Father is Eric Northman,’ and for some reason, he felt funny about doing it over the phone. Instead he said, “There are vampires, Weres, some Packmaster, they are all looking for our parents. They are going to turn up. I’ve got to tell you, I don’t think they’re dead. I think I would know if she was. I’d feel it somehow.”
“Yeah,” George sniffed. “I don’t believe he’s gone, either. Like you said, I just feel like I would know.”
“I drank someone’s blood,” Rick blurted out. “George, I was so freaked out, but then, it was so good.”
“My Mom is saying she’s done with vampires,” George replied. “She said she’s done with the lying and violence. She wants a normal life.”
It wasn’t the response Rick had hoped for. “Do you think she’ll start really hating them?” Rick asked, thinking about the people at the restaurant last night.
“No,” George said, “No, she’s just angry…and sad. She can’t stop crying.”
“Hang in there,” Rick reassured his friend. “They are sending folks out again tonight. They have someone, a tracker, and Pam said she was sure they would figure things out.”
“Have you met the King?” George asked.
Rick drew a breath. He hadn’t volunteered the information earlier, but now, if he didn’t tell the truth, it said things about their friendship. “There’s something about that, George,” Rick started.
“You going to tell me he’s your Father?”
“How did you know?” Rick stammered.
“I told you I knew who your Mother was,” George said it in that ‘told you so,’ way he had. “It’s pretty obvious your Father was a vampire. It’s not like there were a lot of choices. My Dad told me a story about how he helped your Mom kill some guy that was their boss. He was telling me about the importance of secrecy with vampires. Mom took Maddie and Frank to the store, and it was just the two of us. He told me that seeing your Mom and Eric Northman made him believe that relationships between humans and vampires were possible.”
“I heard some stories about what went wrong. It’s all sounds complicated. Magic and curses and some fairy shit,” and Rick laughed a little, hearing how odd it all sounded.
“My Dad said the reason it didn’t work was that your Mom could never get over your Father being a vampire. He said that, in the end, she didn’t like vampires much and didn’t really want to be part of their world.” Rick thought about that. In some ways, it explained how things turned out.
“I think that may be been true,” Rick nodded, “but I think she changed her mind. She told me that she wouldn’t mind being a vampire, now that I’m becoming one.” It wasn’t exactly what his Mother had said, but Rick believed it was what she meant. He thought about her face when he asked her if she’d left his Father because he was a vampire.
When he hung up the phone, Rick sat back at the counter. “Do you think my Mother doesn’t like vampires?” he asked Mustapha. “I mean, deep down.”
“Are you asking if I think your Mother is carrying some kind of prejudice against them?” and Mustapha waited for Rick to nod. “Well, what I think that when I knew your Mother, she believed she accepted vampires. She was quick to take up with vampires and I believe she loved your Father, but, yeah, I think there were some things that were bone-deep that she just couldn’t get over. She hated it when he fed. She hated it when he acted more vampire. I don’t think she ever gave learning about being a vampire a fair shot. She could have moved in with Eric and stood by his side, but she kept him at arm’s length, so, yeah. I think there was some part of her that couldn’t really accept what he was.”
Warren was making sandwiches and listening intently, “That doesn’t mean that’s how she feels about vampires now,” he added. “Just having you in her life would make a difference. She doesn’t mind living with you and you’re a vampire, right?”
“The vampire thing with me is pretty recent,” Rick said slowly. For a minute, he wondered if his Mother would reject him once she learned about his drinking blood from a person, but then he thought about how she helped him set up his room with a small refrigerator and how she teased him about his fangs. “But, yeah, I know my being a vampire doesn’t bother her at all. She accepts me, no matter what.”
“You’re lucky,” Mustapha nodded. “My mother was Were, but when my Father found out what I was, he walked away from our family and never looked back.”
“I never knew my Father until now,” Rick told him. “My mother told me he was dead, then, later, that he left her. Turns out there was more to the story.” Rick chewed his lip, then, figuring there was nothing else to say, he decided to take advantage of where he was. “So, what was it like growing up Were? Did you always know what you were? How do you turn into things?”
“Slow your roll,” Mustapha held up his hands, but then he grabbed plates to help Warren, settled them all on the sectional, and started to tell Rick about living Were.
The drive to Fangtasia didn’t take too long. Rick rode in the back seat and Mustapha rode shotgun. The parking lot was loaded with cars and Rick said, “You know I’m underage in pretty much every state there is.”
“Bar’s not open tonight,” Warren told them. When Warren stopped in front of the place, Mustapha leaned over and kissed Warren on the lips. It was the first open display of affection Rick had seen, and it worried him that Mustapha chose now. “I’ll be right across the street,” Warren told his companion.
“High and out of sight,” Mustapha said back, and then he got out the car and pulled the seat forward, so Rick could get out, too. Rick walked beside him to the dark glass door, and it opened as they approached. There were vampires crowded in the entry way. There were vampires crowded in the hallway and there were vampires crowded in the room that served as dance club and vampire bar. They were milling around, but at one end of the room there was a dais and there, sitting under a spotlight, was Eric Northman on what appeared to be a throne. There were vampires in front of him, on their knees.
Pam and the other one, Karin, were standing behind him, just on the edge of the light. Pam leaned forward and said something to Eric, and the King’s gaze shifted to him. He raised his hand and gestured to Rick, beckoning him forward.
The vampires around him were looking at Rick with the same intense scrutiny that Jason Stackhouse had used, but this time Rick couldn’t feel anything other than their presence all around him. Rick’s head felt like there was one huge, glaring dot of vampires and it made him feel light-headed, but he threw his shoulders back and walked toward the dais.
When he stepped up, the vampires who had been there before him stepped down. They were openly curious about him and one licked his upper lip in a way that could only be interpreted as sexual.
“Have you fed today?” Rick’s Father asked him.
“Bottled,” Rick stammered.
“They treated you well?” and Eric was looking over Rick’s shoulder, Rick assumed at Mustapha.
“They’re great guys,” Rick replied, and he turned around and held his hand out to Mustapha, figuring this was goodbye. “Thanks again for everything,” he told the Were. “I really appreciate it. Tell Warren thank you for me, too.”
Mustapha glanced down and shook Rick’s hand, but he spoke his words to Eric, “Not every day I get to help out an old friend.”
Eric stood and laid his hand on Rick’s shoulder. It seemed a little thing, but every vampire in the place went very still, almost like they’d been frozen. “I thank you for watching over my son,” he said. “I am in your debt.”
Rick released Mustapha’s hand, and Eric steered him toward Pam. Behind him, it was as if the room had exploded into a thousand snakes, all hissing at once.
“Welcome, Brother!” Pam said clearly, and then she glanced at Karin.
Karin seemed to be trying to avoid eye contact, but then she gave it, “Brother,” she said once and nodded.
Eric sat back down on his throne and Rick watched as the vampires queued up, first to bow to Eric Northman, and then to bow to him and his sisters.