“You’re seriously not telling me where we’re going?” she smiled from the passenger’s seat.
Lifting our entwined hands from where they’d been resting on my lap, I kissed the back of hers before answering her question without answering it all.
“You’re seriously a poor sport when your mindreading is of no use to you.”
I’d insisted we drive to our destination for that very reason, wanting to keep it a secret until we got there. Using her usual method of travel, I would have had to enlighten her much sooner, but we would be there soon enough.
For now I was just enjoying having her all to myself.
Nodding at my non-answer with a grin, she shrugged unapologetically and said, “You would be too if you had your face mashed against my inner thigh, but had no teeth to bite.”
Having fed from her in that very spot just a few hours earlier, it was easier to pretend what I was about to say was the absolute truth, as I smiled knowingly in return, “I’m sure I would find other ways to sate my hunger.”
I’d done that with her earlier too.
But the bigger lie within my statement of fact was an unintentional one. The truth was not a moment had gone by in the last month since we’d left what she’d renamed Machu Pikachu – thanks to my intentional lie when I tried to convince her I’d been there and watched the aliens as they’d built the now ancient ruins (perhaps telling her I had arrived on the back of a winged dragon had been a little bit over the top) – where we hadn’t been together and yet I still wasn’t satisfied.
It wasn’t enough.
I’d gone with her on every assignment she’d been given as the Cleaner.
She’d gone with me on the trail of two separate vampire who had been in arrears, one of which resulted in another job assignment for her at the end of it.
But even if my motives for remaining her constant companion as of late hadn’t been for completely selfish reasons, the fact was I still wouldn’t have left her side, knowing Leclerq was still a threat.
She’d been given formal notice and the equivalent of a ‘Cease and Desist’ order by The Council, but I knew better than to think that would be enough to make her give up her quest.
Like her interior decorating skills had proven, her fuckery knew no bounds.
We’d been spending most of our downtime in New York. The deed to Sookie’s apartment was in her great-grandmother’s name, so a cursory search of property records would turn up nothing. Having been dead for the better part of seven hundred years, I doubted anyone would know of her link to Sookie.
But the queen had been undead for the better part of several hundred years herself, so I knew better than to discount her as a viable threat.
Squeezing my hand made me refocus on Sookie and glancing her way had her saying, “My telepathy might not work on you, but I know your Leclerq face when I see it. She’s not going to get me, so quit worrying about her chicanery.”
“Chicanery?” I asked, feeling the tension in my jaw – that I hadn’t even known I’d been carrying, until she mentioned it – disappear, only to be replaced with a small smile. “That word is a bit old for you, isn’t it?”
“You mean like you?” she smiled back. “Like idling engines are killing our ozone, text messaging is killing our brain cells, so I’m doing what I can to rid the world of OMG’s and STFU’s.”
“Alasdair?” I chuckled.
There was a time I’d gotten so many acronym-filled texts from him, I’d begun to worry he was suffering from the Sino-virus. Because what grown man – a seven hundred year plus grown man – ends a message with TTYL?
Surely his brain had been infected.
But I did chuckle after telling him about the leggy brunette I’d had for dinner a few years earlier and his response had been, “OU812?”
Her giggle snort was the only confirmation I needed to know I hadn’t been off the mark, but before I could get any details from her, she went on to ask, “So, what’s in Tennessee?”
Looking up and seeing the sign on the interstate, indicating we’d just crossed the state line, she didn’t wait for an answer and immediately followed her question with a grimaced, “This little trip doesn’t have anything to do with Bubba, does it? I always feel bad for those little kitty cats.”
“I know,” I smirked with a knowing look.
Had it not been for that mental sack of wet kittens she’d stumbled upon on the top of Machu Pikachu, Compton might not be among the undead right now.
But in the month that had passed since our tête-à-tête, as far as I knew, Compton hadn’t returned to the States. If he was smart, he would take his progeny and disappear.
Argentina had accepted Nazi war criminals once upon a time. Surely they would do the same for a cuntfederate soldier.
Pulling my thoughts away from them, I turned to Sookie and answered, “No, Bubba has nothing to do with our trip.”
As far as I knew, he was still barred from even stepping foot into the state. It was thanks to his incessant trips back to Memphis that sparked all of those Elvis sightings and his grainy resurrection on the cover of Weekly World News.
“So are you going to tell me where we’re going?” she asked, digging for information.
So I denied her again, by saying, “No.”
“You know,” she began and then bargained, “If you told me where we were going, I could just pop us there.”
“We’ll be there soon enough,” I smiled. “So to pass the time, why don’t you tell me more about these texts you’re getting from Alasdair?”
I believed her when she’d said they’d never been lovers, but I was still curious about their friendship. Undoubtedly, they were good friends for him to have threatened me if I hurt her, but the fact he’d never mentioned her to me at all over the years, still needled at me.
Why would he have kept her a secret?
“Oh, you know…” she drawled out. “Just the usual. Sookie, I’m so bored. Sookie, why didn’t you tell me my ass looks big in my new jeans? Sookie, I need dick. Be a darling and come be my wingman this weekend.”
Grinning wider, she said, “The usual.”
“So you’ve known him for a long time then?” I questioned, hoping to get something about their relationship that had more substance.
It was there.
He wouldn’t have acted like that with her, if he didn’t consider her a friend.
And Alasdair had very few friends.
Taking a deep breath, I could feel her anxiety levels rise as she admitted, “I’ve known him since that night. He was there when my great-grandfather brought me to Pythia to be healed.”
I didn’t want to interrupt her train of thought – or the fact I was finally getting some more answers to the questions that had been circling my brain ever since I found out her true identity – but I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “You really address her by her given name?”
“Yes,” she chuckled. “What good would it do for me to lie to you when you can feel my deception?”
I almost reminded her of her ability to shut down her side of our blood tie. She hadn’t done it since that night in her childhood home and we’d had a second mutual exchange since then, so I didn’t know if she would even be able to shut it down now.
But I didn’t remind her.
I didn’t ask.
I really didn’t want to know because I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to think of anything else if I had confirmation from her that she could.
But not being able to read my mind, she went on to say, “You know how I said I had the essential spark?” At my nod, she further explained, “Well, I guess you could say it was dormant, like a low watt lightbulb. But when she gave me her blood, being as old as she is, it was like jump starting a beat up Chevy Malibu with the sun. Not only did her blood heal my injuries, it brought all of my fairy magic to the surface. Even my great-grandfather was surprised at all I could do, being only one-eighth Fae, but it took some time for me to adjust. My telepathy was crazy strong too, so I couldn’t be around humans for a long time.”
“How long?” I asked, remembering her explanation of how her cousins came to live here – in this realm, I’d assumed – once she was “good to go.”
I’d thought she’d been referring to her physical injuries, but now I suspected I was wrong.
Her voice was barely above a whisper when she confessed, “I stayed with her for nearly two years.”
My voice was barely a notch below a shout, when I repeated in disbelief, “Two years?”
She’d lived with the Ancient Pythoness – her pal, Pythia – for nearly two years?
Alasdair had kept her a secret from me for nearly a decade, but the fact she’d lived in the secret compound that housed the most revered vampire in the world for two years meant she would have been there when I had been there.
I still visited from time to time when I’d had nothing on my agenda and time to kill. I’d protected her for centuries and had left on good terms, so I had always been welcomed back.
Now – as asinine as it was – I felt a sense of betrayal that they would have hidden her away from me during my visits.
I obviously wasn’t a threat to her. I’d rescued her for fuck’s sake.
“Like I said,” she sighed, reminding me of the actual conversation we were having, instead of getting lost in my mental debate that – while centered on her – had nothing to do with her.
I would get my answers from Alasdair.
“I couldn’t be around humans, without hearing everything in their heads. It was crazy loud and drove me batty. But being around vampires is good for a telepath’s soul. I can’t hear your pity. Your snark. Your anything. I could only hear what was said out loud, so it was the best place I could have been at the time.”
I could see her point. Going from what must have been pure torture, with the cacophony of thoughts bombarding her mind, to the pure silence she said our minds emitted, would have been the equivalent of putting an ice pack on her battered brain.
After all that she’d been subjected to, it was an ice pack she would have needed, both inside and out.
Picking up where she’d left off, she said, “And Alasdair, he became like a pseudo-big brother. He teased me mercilessly. He said things around me that would make Satan blush. He didn’t hold back and made it his mission to make me laugh. He treated me better than my own brother treated me at times. That doesn’t mean Jason didn’t love me though and I loved him, but I knew from his thoughts he wished I could be normal. Everyone thought I was a bit touched in the head from either answering their thoughts or forcing an insane smile onto my face just hearing their thoughts. Jason got into a lot of fights sticking up for me, but more so because he thought that was what he should do. Not because he wanted to stick up for me. And I hate feeling that way about my own flesh and blood, but I wouldn’t trade Alasdair for anything. I don’t think I would be who I am today without him.”
I didn’t know how to feel about that either.
Grateful that he’d helped her to heal.
Pissed that he’d kept her to himself.
But it explained his attachment to her, so I found a small patch of middle ground and admitted, “He has his good points.”
“He does,” she agreed with a small laugh. “He used to spend hours telling me stories. Battles. Orgies. It didn’t matter. He’s the one who taught me about all of the different Supes there are and about vampire blood and all that it entails. In fact, it was at his suggestion that I become The Council’s Cleaner.”
“How is that?” I asked, holding off on getting angry until I heard her explanation.
But if he thought she was only bright enough to clean up after others, I wasn’t sure I would be able to stay my sword the next time I saw him.
Feeling chagrinned, she rolled her eyes at herself and said, “I was in the midst of my teenage angst Pitiful Pearl routine, woe-is-me-ing how I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. With my situation, I hadn’t been back to school, so I never even finished high school, much less went to college. I liked to read, but what kind of job could you get doing that, even if you fairy poofed yourself a diploma? So when he’d had his fill of hearing me whine, he said, “Just shut up already. What did you use to do before you became this wretched harpy? Surely you have some skill.” So when I reminded him we were no longer in the Stone Age, like when he’d been a boy, and that the only real job I’d had was my weekly chores helping my Gran clean the house, he said, “Well then, there you go.””
Sighing, her emotions shifted into a sad acceptance when she added, “I didn’t really get it though. Not until I’d gone back to visit the house. There wasn’t a single thing out of place. No signs whatsoever of the violence that happened within those four walls. It was my cousin Claudine who’d cleaned it all up using magic and she showed me how.”
Then sitting up a little taller in her seat, she was back to feeling like herself, when she looked at me and shrugged, “The rest, as they say, is history.”
Now I was angry that I couldn’t be angry at Alasdair for helping her to find a way to feel productive.
He was still an asshole though.
She’d likened him to a brother – a category far worse than the friend-zone – but my irrational jealousy stemmed from the fact I wanted to be the one who had helped her. The one who taught her about the supernatural world and the one she relied on.
My only saving grace was not knowing for sure if we would be where we were today, if I had been the one to see her through all of those times.
I could have very well found myself firmly entrenched in the friend-zone.
But finding we were nearly at our destination by then, I found a place to park the car along the side of the road and said, “We’re here.”
“It’s…lovely?” she smiled, making me think I was getting to see a glimpse of what she looked like as a girl, trying to hide the fact she was hearing other peoples thoughts.
Getting out of the car, I was at her door a second later and helped her out before taking her into my arms. Then gesturing to our surroundings, the wooded area at the base of The Smoky Mountains, I rolled my eyes and said, “Alright, we’re almost there.”
There was a shuttle service to the Elkmont viewing area, but like ferries were unnecessary to reach vampire summits, my fairy needed only a vampire to reach this summit.
I’d taken her flying on more than one occasion, so she didn’t startle when I shot us up into the air and within moments, we were hovering over the National Park.
I could feel her curiosity, but she remained silent and it was only seconds later when the show began.
One by one the forest base slowly lit up, until it was awash in a dazzling display of nature’s version of fairy lights.
“What is that?” she whispered in awe.
“Synchronous fireflies,” I whispered in return. “They are the only species in America that can synchronize their flashing display. What you’re seeing is their mating ritual. The males fly around, flashing their lights at the females, who remain stationary and flash their lights in return.”
“So I guess you’re not the only fella around these parts who can fly,” she teased, never taking her eyes off of the show beneath us.
It truly was a sight to behold. There wasn’t much beauty left in the world that left me in awe, but this was one of those things.
The beauty in my arms was another.
Lowering us into a wooded treetop to keep us hidden from prying eyes, I kept my hold on her and simply watched her watching them.
Her expression was pure.
It was innocent.
It was yet another item to add to my ‘All things good’ column.
But watching her watching them I was overcome with what was likely a subconscious emotion that led me to taking her there that night.
The mating ritual.
We had already mated in the carnal sense of the word – many times – but I couldn’t deny that I wanted her in every sense of the word.
So it was what led me to say, “I want to complete the blood bond with you.”
“What?” she asked, startling more then, than she had when I shot us hundreds of feet into the air.
“A permanent blood bond,” I repeated, with a small smile. “I want one. With you.”
“I…I…” she stuttered, with her emotions in turmoil.
Elated and fearful were running neck and neck.
Wondering if perhaps I’d misread the situation – the situation being she was mine, as I was hers – I simply waited for her to find the words she was searching for.
I wasn’t about to add my two cents of sudden unease.
Forgetting about the light show completely, she stared back at me and finally said, “I can’t.”
Hoping she was doing a stellar job of bamboozling me yet again, like she had on Machu Pikachu, I merely waited for the punch line.
But it never came.
Instead I felt a metaphorical punch to the gut when she said, “I haven’t been completely honest with you.”
“About?” I questioned, when she let that bomb hang in the air in between us for an insufferable amount of time.
Taking a deep breath, her eyes looked away from mine as she admitted, “About my time living with the Ancient Pythoness.”
I may have been immortal, but she wasn’t and with the amount of time it was taking her to explain herself, she could very well be old and gray by the time she finished.
So I may have been somewhat gruff when I said, “Just say what you have to say.”
A permanent blood bond was something I never would have thought I would want. To want to be tied to someone in that way was pure insanity.
Until she came along.
So to hear her say she didn’t – or couldn’t – want the same thing was upsetting.
Putting as much distance between us as my hold on her would allow, she sounded almost robotic while she explained, “Her first words to me that night were, “I have been waiting to meet you for a very long time.” I didn’t know then what she could do, so I didn’t understand the meaning behind her words. It wasn’t until later that she told me she’d seen me hundreds of years before.”
Meeting my gaze for a brief second, she added, “Ten hundred years before.”
Ten hundred years?
No longer stuck in her throat, the words poured from her lips like a broken dam as she said, “She’d seen you, as a human and then as a vampire. And she’d seen me, when you rescued me and…after. She said that we were always meant for one another. That we were fated to be together.”
Rocked by her words, I had to focus on keeping her in my grasp, but it still felt like I was freefalling.
Like we both were.
“I’ve been called stubborn more than once in my life,” she went on to say. “I refused to believe I didn’t have any say in who I would end up with, so I did what I could to prove her wrong. I didn’t go looking for you. Not at first, anyway. But I was intrigued when our business dealings became less professional in nature. I found myself hoping you’d offed someone, just so I would have the chance to talk to you, which is wrong on so many levels. But I told myself I could handle it. It was just flirting. And then I found the little mouse charm on the desk and fooled myself into believing I could handle it. It was just fucking. But it wasn’t just fucking. Not for long anyway and when I’d still been in denial – before I’d ever laid eyes on you for the second first time – Alasdair had made fun of me, saying I was just like you. That if you’d known all along you were fated to be with someone that you would have fought tooth and nail against it.”
Meeting my eyes again, hers were rimmed with unshed tears, as she said, “That’s what he’s had stuck in his craw, so now you know. You should have known all along. And now that you do know, I think it’s only fair for me to give you the time you should have had to fight tooth and nail against it.”
Gently holding my face in her hands, she pressed her lips to mine and whispered, “No matter what you do – what you decide – I love you Eric. And fate had nothing to do with it.”
And then she was gone.