I’d never given much thought to how restful being pulled under by the sun must be for normal vampires, but being anything but normal, I felt exhausted.
When I finally cried myself to sleep, my dreams had been filled with nightmares. Only instead of seeing Gabe’s face, I saw a maenad destroying my family’s home.
Sam’s dead body on my lawn.
Tara’s frightened face running away as fast and as far as she could.
Lafayette’s terrified eyes in Fangtasia’s basement.
Eric may have envied my being a day walker, but in all reality it was just another curse.
The proof was right in front of my eyes at that very moment.
Watching Godric pack a small bag to go claim a kingdom he wanted no part of ruling, just to keep me safe, I closed my eyes and filled our bond with my regret, as I said what felt like for the umpteenth time, “I’m sorry.”
I was sorry.
For many, many things.
Of course, I had no way of knowing how differently things might have turned out had I been able to return to Bon Temps after Dallas. One way or another, I would have died before getting the chance. But maybe if I’d insisted, Godric and I could have come back here while I got a handle on my newly turned vampire self.
But I hadn’t insisted.
Instead I’d selfishly hidden myself away knowing my family and friends would’ve hated my choice.
Hated my choice to walk through life with Godric over choosing to walk through the pearly gates to God.
And maybe some part of me was angry at them, knowing they would’ve shunned us both had we returned. But even if they had, I knew I still would have fought tooth and nail to save everyone I loved.
But now it was too late.
Sam was dead, killed by the same maenad that had nearly killed me once already and destroyed my home.
Tara was gone, having disappeared to parts unknown. I could only hope she was happy wherever she was, maybe even with that guy she’d been seeing, Eggs.
Lafayette was still around, but according to Eric he wasn’t quite the same as before and Eric showed no remorse for that fact. A part of me had wanted to blame him for that – for locking him up in a dungeon and being forced to watch Eric kill a man, before getting fed on and shot himself– but now?
All I had to do was imagine Godric being held captive by a drainer to know I would’ve done much worse to the person responsible.
But Lafayette wasn’t a drainer. I knew it straight from his thoughts that he’d had a deal with Eddie the vampire.
A little of this for some of that.
It was no North American Free Trade Agreement, but it was something.
I didn’t know why Eric spared his life though. Godric taught me that our blood was sacred. The fact the Magister had shown up the night before looking to string Eric up for selling V reiterated that fact, so I knew Lafayette’s punishment could’ve been far worse.
He’d been scared – of course – but if there was anything Lafayette excelled at, it was surviving.
But having lost everything in the span of a few short weeks – his cousin, his friends, his job – I couldn’t blame him for taking a timeout from life.
I couldn’t even be sure him finding out I was still alive would be enough to bring him out of his funk.
Because I wasn’t really alive.
Not in the technical sense anyway.
But there was nothing I could do to fix any of that. I couldn’t bring Sam back. I might be able to find Tara, but there was no guarantee I could bring her back home.
Not that I had one to share with her anymore.
If anything, knowing how much she despised vampires, finding out I was one could very well be the final nail in the coffin.
As it were.
I had more hope at finding Jason and convincing him to see the error of his ways, but it would have to wait.
For now I had bigger things to worry about than my brother’s misguided hatred.
And that bigger thing – which was ironically smaller in stature than my brother – looked back at me with kind, but stern eyes and said, “Your apologies are unnecessary. We are vampire and we will do whatever we must to ensure our survival.”
His gaze and our bond warmed a fraction more when he added, “It is a lesson you recently reminded me of.”
As much as I hated the idea of him taking a kingdom he didn’t want – and I hated even more that he was only doing it to keep me safe – I couldn’t help feeling heartened hearing him talking about doing whatever he needed to do to survive.
Even when I hadn’t known who he was in that church basement – or who he would one day become to me – I still hadn’t been able to accept he would willingly give up his life.
Now the very idea of it made every part of me revolt.
But now I could feel in our bond he had no such feelings of despair. He only felt determined.
The least I could do was try and make things easier on him. Godric was doing all of the proverbial heavy lifting, so I let go of my guilt for now and filled the void with both acceptance and determination.
Not only was he my Maker, Godric had been around before Jesus Christ.
Who was I to question his strategy for survival?
But the thought of his survival being at risk made me say, “I know you’re older than the queen, but won’t she have guards or something?”
Granted, I knew nothing about hostile takeovers, but I highly doubted it would be as easy as strolling into her palace and calling dibs.
Which was why my next thought fell through my lips before I even realized I was speaking out loud, when I said, “Maybe you should take Eric with you instead.”
Eric was much older than Pam and, I suspected, a better fighter.
Pam was only the obvious choice if he was headed into a ‘Yo Mama’ quips battle.
“I will have the Magister with me, as well as his guards,” he reminded me. In the next second his eyes flashed, showing the predator he was truly capable of being, when he added, “But even without them, I could decimate the entire palace on my own. Their presence is what will keep the bloodshed to a minimum.”
There was a time when both the look in his eyes and his words would’ve scared me, but now I only felt relieved.
If I had anything, it was my faith in him.
So I could only return his small smile when his lips quirked up on one side, giving him a much more youthful appearance, when he added, “And I am sure Pam’s presence, witnessing the end of her reign, will be the true thorn in Sophie-Anne’s side.”
“No doubt,” I chuckled, unable to hide my amusement.
Eric and I would probably hear her shouting Yahtzee from here.
But there was no ‘probably’ about Sophie-Anne Leclerq’s reign coming to an end. The Queen of Louisiana would be dead before dawn.
A life for a life.
Hers for mine.
Human Me would’ve been abhorred by the very idea.
Vampire Me thought she deserved it.
After all, she’d started it by sending Bill after me.
He would be getting his the next time I laid eyes on him.
I had forever to exact justice.
I still wondered how she’d even known about me to begin with. Bill was the first vampire to come to Bon Temps. The void of his mind told me so, so even if vampires were gossip hounds, that didn’t explain how she’d known about me or where to find me.
Maybe they’d have time for a brief Q and A before she became DOA.
Picking up his overnight bag, Godric headed out of the room like it was any other night, so I followed him out to the living room, while acting like my Maker wasn’t going to be a king in just a few short hours.
Nonchalant – thy name is Sookie Stackhouse.
Eric and Pam were already waiting and the look on Eric’s face told me he was worried. But in spite of everything there was to be worried about, I suspected his concern might have more to do with what he may have overheard that morning when I cried myself to sleep.
Because he had yet to look at anyone other than me.
I didn’t know what to think about that.
Eric wasn’t anything like I imagined him to be. Like I remembered him to be.
So maybe I’d imagined how I remembered him to be?
Godric had told me the Eric I knew wasn’t how Eric truly was, but in all honesty, I’d thought that meant he was likely worse.
More crass. More violent.
More of an all-around ass.
But instead he seemed thoughtful. Respectful even.
They weren’t words I would’ve ever thought to use to describe Eric.
The fact he hadn’t tried anything when I kissed him the night before was just as unexpected as the kiss itself.
I didn’t know what to think about that either.
Maybe it was because I was his vampire sister now that made him less attracted to me. Or maybe it was because – like Bill had once told me – it was unnatural for two vampires to be together like that.
Maybe Eric preferred Human Sookie to Vampire Sookie.
He wasn’t the only one.
I had a feeling everyone else I’d ever known would feel the same way when they found out what happened to me.
Thankfully, he didn’t say anything – crass or kind – and only handed me a glass of blood that I brought it to my lips before I said something stupid.
Like ‘Why don’t you like me anymore?’
Honestly, I didn’t want to know the answer to that because I had a feeling I wouldn’t know what to do with any answer he gave me.
So I tried to channel some of my alter ego, Nonchalant.
But my attempts – like my backbone – crumbled a second later when Godric turned to face Pam and said, “We should go. The Magister will be waiting.”
My stomach was in knots and I couldn’t stop fidgeting where I stood, worried for Godric – and even for Pam – at what they would be facing. My only frame of reference was what I faced when walking into a house full of vampires – both Bill’s house early on in our relationship and the nest in Dallas the night before I met Godric in the church basement.
Neither experience had given me the warm fuzzies and nothing about that had changed in spite of becoming a vampire myself.
But I didn’t have to give voice to my apprehension. Godric could feel everything I was feeling, so he only reached out and placed a comforting hand on my shoulder, giving it a slight squeeze as he said, “All will be well.”
Hearing his assurances had the opposite effect of calming me down. I wanted to beg and plead for him not to go, but I knew better than to question him.
He was my Maker. His word was the final word.
Logically, I had accepted that fact not long after I’d risen as his child.
In practice, I was horrible at believing that fact.
But my instincts were screaming at me that we shouldn’t be separated. I couldn’t explain why or what was at the root of my fears, but something told me to stay by his side.
But my instincts had failed me time and again. There was no reason to think now would be any different.
So I said nothing and tried to convince myself it was only because we hadn’t been parted by more than a few miles and a few hours before now.
It was separation anxiety.
Not the lynchpin signaling the end of the world as we knew it.
At least I hoped.
So after giving Eric what looked to be a silent command to keep me safe, Godric and Pam left for the bar, where they would be meeting the Magister.
Eric was dressed casually, in an olive green t-shirt and jeans. It wasn’t a color I would’ve imagined him wearing, but in spite of the drab shade, he still managed to look good in it.
The snug fit did wonders for his arms and chest.
“See something you like?”
Lifting my eyes a fraction higher and seeing the smirk on his face, I knew I’d been caught staring.
But given his reaction – or rather, non-reaction – to our kiss the night before, I knew it wouldn’t matter if I liked what I saw.
Not when Eric didn’t like what he saw when looking at me.
So instead of getting flustered or angry at being called out – like Human Me would’ve done – I let him know Vampire Me was at peace with who I was now – whether he liked me or not – when I casually shrugged and truthfully admitted, “You’re easy on the eyes, but you know that.”
God only knows how often he’d used his looks to his advantage over the years. God knows I’d heard the thoughts of more women than I could count – both when I was still a human and just the night before – of just how many of them he’d had sex with. But looks could be deceiving.
The fact I still appeared to be a human at first glance was proof of that.
But I had a new sense of admiration for Eric. He didn’t make any apologies for who he was or try to pretend he was anything other than a predator.
He reminded me a lion when he sat on his throne, lazily watching the gazelles dance in front of him, until his hunger drove him to his feet and his fangs into his chosen prey.
It wasn’t his fault. It was theirs.
They should’ve known better than to tease the king of the jungle.
But it was a trait of his I could only appreciate now. Not because I was a vampire too now, but because of Bill’s deception.
I’d stupidly admired his attempt at retaining his humanity. At trying to blend in and act like he was nothing more than a proper southern gentleman.
He was the worst kind of predator there was.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing.
At least with Eric, you knew what you were signing up for.
And thinking about Bill and all of the ways I wanted to make him pay, I looked back up at Eric and asked, “Will you teach me how to fight?”
Godric had shown me a few things in the weeks we’d been holed up together, but I knew he’d been going easy on me. Not just tempering his strength – he could easily kill me otherwise – but I knew he’d been tailoring his attacks in a way that I wouldn’t be reminded of how Gabe had come at me.
With the nightmares I’d still been having at the time, I was sure he could tell I wasn’t ready for those kinds of offensive maneuvers. But given everything Bill had done to deceive me – had already taken from me and had planned on taking from me – my very freedom – I wouldn’t put it past him to do much of anything.
I doubted Eric would have the same hang-ups that Godric did when sparring with me. He didn’t care about me like our Maker did and he couldn’t feel me like our Maker could.
Like I could with Eric, he could only feel my life force.
Not my emotions.
So even if I felt panicked on the inside, Eric wouldn’t know about it and I needed to learn how to fight with it – through it – past it, if I was going to come out on top in the end.
Eric had yet to do or say anything to my request, so I thought a nicely aimed taunt would get him going and smiled like a sweet little gazelle, poking the lazy lion, when I added, “Unless you’re afraid of messing up your hair. Did Pam help you style it tonight or did you manage to get all of that gel into it all on your own?”
His eyes narrowed just a hair, but I thought it was more from excitement than anger. Just as quickly though, he wiped his expression clean and said, “Now is not the time. If Godric were to feel your fear, it would only distract him from his mission and could end up costing him his life.”
“Who says I would feel fear?” I volleyed back.
I had no doubt Eric could hand me my ass on a silver platter in any fight between the two of us, but I also knew without a doubt he would never hurt me.
Not in a way I couldn’t heal from anyway.
He’d proven himself as my…brother? Friend?…something or other the night before, so no.
I had no fear of him.
And like me, I was sure Eric could feel the rapidly growing distance between us and Godric. My worry for him was growing in tandem to the miles separating us and Eric had not only our Maker’s wellbeing to be concerned for, but his progeny’s as well.
We could both use a distraction.
So I added a bit of vampire logic to the equation by saying, “If anything, feeling our combined bloodlust would just feed his own. Don’t you think?”
“Who says blood is the only thing we will be lusting for?”
That was something else Eric had proven to me the night before.
He didn’t feel those kinds of things for me anymore.
But rather than opening up that can of worms, I mocked him with, “I said you’re easy on the eyes. I didn’t say anything about being easy, so you can just lock up your Lothario for the night and either put up or shut up.”
His eyes danced – reminding me a lot like those harlots wrapped around the poles in his club – but I figured debauched was probably his default setting. He’d been using his good looks to get his way with women from the time wearing fur pelts was a necessity and not a fashion crime.
I would not be swayed.
Slowly shaking his head, like I was a misbehaving child – and, in comparison to his age, maybe I was – he slipped his phone out of his pocket and tapped on the screen. When it buzzed a second later, his smile grew reading what I assumed was a text before he tucked it away again and said, “Godric has no objections to me putting up.”
Seeing the look behind his eyes then, I tried once again to act nonchalant, but it was hard to do when only one thought filtered into my mind.
I just opened up a big ass can of worms…