I would’ve glared at Bubba, but it would’ve been a pointless exercise and it was partly my own fault for not telling him to stay away from the house when Sookie’s grandmother came back unless there was a threat to be dealt with.
Unless he’d already dealt with the threat and that was his cause to be here?
Sookie’s grandmother didn’t look frightened or upset as if something had happened, but after the way her granddaughter reacted – or didn’t react as it were – to watching me torture and kill four men the night before, I could hardly use that as my cue to relax. It was the lack of any other foreign scents that eased the tension in my shoulders, at least until her grandmother’s gaze came back to me.
Sookie was right. She could probably take me.
“Um…Gran, I see you’ve met…uh…” Sookie stammered at my side.
“Bubba,” her grandmother answered, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
“Yes!” Sookie enthusiastically agreed, as though her grandmother was a game show contestant and had just won the final round. “Bubba and this,” she held up my hand she was still crushing in her own, “is Eric. Eric Northman.”
“Nice to meet you Eric,” she smiled back at me with a knowing look and then added, “I like you already since you made up the bed before you left earlier, so I’ll forgive the fact you didn’t bother to introduce yourself to me before you skedaddled out Sookie’s window.”
“Uh…” Sookie and I stammered in unison.
I didn’t know if it was feeling Sookie’s hesitance or just the woman’s presence alone that had me feeling like I was twelve years old again, caught by my father feeling up one of the village girls when I should’ve been tending to the fields.
Like a pussy, I was thankful her harsh gaze went back to Sookie and I tried to be supportive, even if I took a small step backwards, as her grandmother’s eyes narrowed when she said, “But I know for a fact you don’t make up your bed unless it’s your day off. And seeing as how it’s made and you were at work, I think I can safely surmise you didn’t sleep there last night.” I didn’t realize just how far I’d backed up until Sookie tugged me forward and absolute mortification filled our tie just as her grandmother added, “Now since you didn’t introduce Eric as your beau, you can either show me the engagement ring you all just ran out to get or you can go pick your switch.”
I didn’t have to look at Sookie to know her mouth was hanging open. She felt nothing but shock at the moment and while it wouldn’t win me any points in her or her grandmother’s favor, seeing Bubba’s equally affronted expression that I may have been anything less than a gentleman towards Sookie made me laugh.
Sookie eventually managed to stammer out, “It’s not like that Gran! Eric’s not my beau or even my boyfriend!”
“You say that like it makes it all better,” the woman scolded, while Sookie smacked my arm with her free hand and hissed, “It’s. Not. Funny!”
Turning back to her grandmother, while I reined in my amusement, Sookie timidly explained, “Eric’s a vampire.”
“Again, you say that like it makes it all better. I saw the window upstairs was blocked off when I took a walk around my garden and noticed the Tru Blood in the fridge, so it was easy to put two and two together,” she chided. Her eyes traveled from my head to my feet and back again before turning back to Sookie and saying, “Vampire or not, he’s a man. A good looking one to boot and from the way you two are clutching at each other’s hands, with your lips all swollen, I assume he finds you just as attractive. So tell me again why I shouldn’t take you out behind the shed if he’s not even your boyfriend?”
I could see where Sookie’s spunk came from and I already liked the woman more than I thought would be possible, but wanting to spare Sookie any more humiliation, I took a step forward and said, “Mrs. Stackhouse, I assure you nothing untoward has occurred between your granddaughter and I.” She may as well have yelled out ‘Bullshit!’ because her expression screamed it, so I smirked slightly and admitted, “Not that I haven’t tried, but believe me when I say she’s making me work for it like no other woman ever has.”
My truthful – if not candid – explanation was enough to bring Sookie out of her stupor because she screeched, “ERIC!” and ripped her hand from mine in order to use both of them to mimic a windmill in her wasted pursuit of trying and smack me to my final death. But Sookie’s grandmother smiled back at me with a gleam in her eye and said, “It’s good to know she didn’t let a pretty face make her forget everything she’s been taught.”
Sookie gasped at her grandmother’s words with her hands still hovering in the air, but seeing the woman found humor in the situation, I wanted Sookie to feel it too and looked down at her, waggling my eyebrows, and said, “Your grandmother thinks I’m pretty.”
She relaxed somewhat and smiled slightly, but added one final smack for good measure as she said, “She won’t be swayed by your looks any more than I am, so don’t go counting your chickens before they hatch. She’ll learn what a pill you are and then you’ll be up the creek without a paddle.”
There was a canal I’d much rather be up – no paddles required – but I had a feeling Sookie would abandon her windmill approach and go in search of the silverware if I voiced that out loud. Instead I smirked back at her and said, “Then it’s a good thing I can fly.”
“You can?” Mrs. Stackhouse asked, with a childlike wonder. She almost appeared to have been glamoured as she thought over my confession, but when I nodded back at her she seemed to shake herself out of it and said, “Where are my manners? I’m sorry Eric, would you like a Tru Blood?”
She gestured at the bottle I’d only now noticed on the table in front of Bubba, leaving no doubt she hadn’t taken him for some oddball human impersonator who’d shown up on her doorstep. I’d never witnessed any interaction between him and humans who didn’t know better than to think he’d drink the synthetic blood, so I was left confounded when he picked it up and gave me a look as if to say I’d better accept her offer so as not to offend her. My mouth may have fallen open seeing him take a sip – and swallow – before smiling back at her like she’d filled it with a fresh litter of kittens just for him. But seeing Tina safely curled up on one of the chairs I shook off my own childlike wonder now having witnessed the impossibility of Bubba drinking synthetic human blood.
If I’d taken a picture, it could be used in the vampire version of the National Enquirer with the headline reading, ‘Bubba spotted drinking Tru Blood? Tutti Fruitti or fact?’
“Yes,” I finally managed to answer and even though I now had that blasted song going through my head, I still managed to add, “Thank you.”
But, thinking of Tutti Fruitti…
What I really craved was Sookie’s blood, but I didn’t think her grandmother would be that understanding. Nor did I think Sookie would be willing to feed me with an audience. Her emotions were flitting through her so fast I couldn’t latch onto any one of them to try and figure out what might possibly be going through her mind. It made me want to feed her more of my blood so I could get an even better read of her inner workings, but sadly that too would have to wait. However, I had every intention of doing so before we made our way to Nevada. Sookie’s help with the human presence would be invaluable – if not outright necessary – and there was no way she would be going there without me having taken every precaution to ensure her safety.
And ensuring my ability to find her should something go wrong.
Finally she calmed somewhat and gestured between her grandmother and Bubba, asking, “So, uh…how did you all two meet?”
“Oh,” she smiled and turned, handing me the now warmed bottle of blood. “Bubba came to the door just after dark and introduced himself, asking if Eric was with you.” Her eyebrow rose up questioningly as she added, “He wasn’t sure if his guard duties were just for last night.” Then her eyes narrowed back at her granddaughter when she ordered, “Now explain yourself young lady.”
We each took a seat. Sookie, I gathered, because even I could tell her legs felt rubbery now that she was under her grandmother’s penetrating stare and me because I had no doubt I would be next up in her interrogation. Or inquisition.
I would not admit my legs were perhaps rubbery at the thought as well.
Sookie started at the beginning on the night I came upon her surrounded by Malcolm’s nest on the side of the highway. She explained how she couldn’t hear our thoughts and then what she knew of my position as Sheriff of this area, with me clarifying certain points along the way. Sookie told her how we’d lost contact after that night with the happenings in Dallas and then later heard in Lanier’s thoughts he’d taken me prisoner. Her grandmother’s eyes filled with tears hearing of the state in which I’d been found. And thankfully Sookie glossed over my initial reaction when I came to with her blood in my mouth, as well as the finer points of how she helped facilitate my recovery while in their home.
It wasn’t until she learned of my child’s abduction and the plans the rapist named Gabe had for her that the tears finally fell from her eyes. But that was quickly replaced by her anger when she was told of where Pam was now and what was being done to those held with her. She didn’t question how we learned of this new information. Nor did she ask what had happened to the five Fellowship soldiers we’d encountered at the Were bar in Shreveport. In fact, Mrs. Stackhouse’s only qualms came from how my kind had been treated by humans. She was appalled by the torture I’d suffered at Lanier’s hands. She was thankful Sookie had been able to successfully rescue me and relieved when Sookie alluded he was no longer a threat to anyone. She even managed to find some humor in the situation when she chuckled out loud over her grandson’s reaction to my Come-to-Jesus speech, giving me a wink and saying, “Good for you.” She called Sookie’s telepathy a blessing and was proud of her granddaughter’s Stackhouse backbone for being able to do the right thing. Learning of the existence of Weres and Merlotte’s shifter status only made her wide-eyed with fascination and made her smile even wider as though Christ himself had made an appearance in her kitchen.
Perhaps their well water was contaminated by brain altering bacteria?
I’d never felt more baffled. After a millennia of walking this earth I had no similar experiences to fall back on to give me guidance – or even the first fucking clue – of how to respond to her acceptance. So I was left with no words when, after Sookie finished telling her tale, her grandmother turned to me and asked, “So what do we need to do to get your Pam out of there?”
I’d been monitoring Pam’s wellbeing through my blood throughout the night and feeling that she was well – although weak and pissed off – was what gave me the fortitude to take the time to plan her rescue. Pragmatism and strategy aside, if I’d felt one iota of fear or debilitating pain coming from her – now knowing what could possibly be happening to her – I wouldn’t have been able to sit still. Instead I likely would’ve flown off to get to her, laying to waste as many as I could before possibly meeting my final death and sealing her own fate as well. And as much as I loathed the thought of Sookie being in such a dangerous place, I had my child’s welfare to consider and after hearing all that was being done to my kind in that federally funded house of horrors, I had no choice but to accept her offer for assistance. Never mind the fact I loathed the idea of Sookie being hundreds of miles away from me even more. The small tie I had to her now through my blood would be no match for that kind of distance. However, the same did not hold true for Sookie’s grandmother and as much as I found I enjoyed her presence, she would only hinder our movements. But instead of saying that, I explained, “I’ve already sent word to all of the vampires in my fealty to meet with me later on this evening. We need to come up with a plan to extract my child and as many of the other vampires held captive as we can. The location they’re being held presents some problems, but we will find a way.”
I couldn’t find much on Area 51 in my research the night before other than websites dedicated to wild conspiracy theories, none of which had anything to do with vampires and instead centered on alien life forms. Even satellite images of Groom Lake were blurred out, but I could always fly overhead once we were there to get a layout of the area. There weren’t any other vampires in my area who had the gift of flight and not many who were skilled fighters like Thalia, but most were at least a century old. The younger ones would be called forth as well because, if anything, they’d be enough of a distraction to the humans so the more experienced warriors would have a chance at freeing the captive vampires. I would do my best to get them all out, but the whole lot of them could be left as puddles on the ground and I wouldn’t care so long as my child was free.
“Eric,” Sookie said as she turned towards me. “Earlier today, when I was leaving for work, I sort of lost my temper with Alcide and ended up telling him some of what we learned last night. I heard him think he was going to speak to the Colonel? He thought they should help us since they could be next if their kind is found out.”
“Colonel Flood,” I nodded, not at all surprised Sookie had lost her temper. Given the Were’s obvious contempt for us the night before, I didn’t have to wonder what would make her angry. So I didn’t bother to ask and instead explained, “He is the leader of the Weres’ Long Tooth Pack.” It could explain the message I had from Flood upon rising earlier this evening, requesting an audience. And given Herveaux’s disdain, it only made me realize Sookie’s appeal didn’t just extend to me if he’d been willing to call his pack leader in regards to having them offer us their assistance. Given her scorn of him the night before, I tried to push away the possessive feelings that thought provoked and focused on the possibility an alliance could be formed with the Weres. I’d assumed his call was to squabble over what had happened at the Hair of the Dog Were bar the night before, but now I had to wonder if it was for a more advantageous reason. An allegiance with the Weres would certainly be helpful, considering they blended in with the humans and could move about during the daytime hours. But after the massacre in Dallas, relations between our two species had been strained at best.
“Is that like just a title or is he in the military?” Sookie asked.
“Military,” I replied and added what else I knew, saying, “Out of Barksdale AFB.”
Another thought occurred to me and Mrs. Stackhouse voiced it out loud when she said, “A man like that would have connections. Do you think he could know someone working out at that place in Nevada?”
One could only hope. I’d put off contacting de Castro for now, not wanting to have to deal with any potential takeovers by admitting our numbers were lessened at the moment. They were busy dealing with the fallout from Dallas as well, but de Castro was a greedy son of a bitch. I wouldn’t put it past him to try and take advantage of our weakened state, no matter what he was dealing with on his own turf. I was still mulling over the possibility of contacting Edgington and Threadgill for their assistance. I trusted Edgington as much as I trusted any vampire and rumor had it he would soon be aligning his kingdom’s with Indiana’s, so they would be a boon to our offensive. The King of Arkansas had been in marriage negotiations with our former monarch before her untimely demise, but he represented a wild card as well because I suspected his interest in their alliance was only a ruse in order to gain a more profitable territory. Vampire politics were usually nothing more than a deadly chess match where there could only be one winner, which was why I’d done my best to stay out of it as much as I could. I didn’t want the headache of dealing with my own monarchy, even though I could’ve had one if I’d wanted it, and it only brought to mind the fact I hadn’t been willing to work for it.
Like I was willing to work for Sookie’s affections.
However, adding the Weres to our fold would only work in our favor and seeing they all were still waiting for a reply, I answered, “Perhaps. Many Weres tend to gravitate to careers in the military, law enforcement, and construction so he might have deeper connections than just professional ones. I had a message from him when I first rose this evening, requesting we meet, but I haven’t returned his call yet.” I didn’t want to go into any details as to the reasons why I’d thought he’d called initially, since Sookie had done such a stellar job of sparing her grandmother the details of our encounter with Lanier’s group, and only said, “I assume Herveaux has already spoken to him and possibly that is the reason for his call.”
I wasn’t sure I could trust them fully either, no matter how much they would be paid for their service, so I looked back at her and asked, “Would you be able to read their thoughts to ensure their offer is sincere?”
I knew she had difficulty reading her shifter boss’s thoughts, but her level of acuity the night before made me believe she could do almost anything. So I was bolstered somewhat when she nodded and said, “I think I can. I might have to touch them to be sure, but if anything I should be able to pick apart their emotional state and feel if they’re hiding something.”
Staring back at her, vampire politics and Were alliances were quickly forgotten, with my thoughts centering on what a truly wondrous creature she was. The synthetic blood held within the bottle in my hand did nothing to alleviate the ache I felt in wanting her. Seeing her blush under my intense gaze only made my fangs threaten to descend, but the sound of her grandmother’s chuckle pulled me from my lustful thoughts, with Sookie blushing even more when she said, “Oh boy, you two have got it bad.”
“Gran!” Sookie squeaked in embarrassment.
I could only grin, while I pulled my eyes away from her to come to rest on her grandmother, when I nodded, agreeing, “You have no idea.”
Even I had a difficult time reconciling all of the feelings she managed to pull from me. I wanted her in ways I’d never wanted anyone and the things I was willing to do to make her mine left me without words. Which is why I may have silently gaped a little when Mrs. Stackhouse asked, “And what are your intentions for my granddaughter?”
While the woman still seemed accepting of my race, I wasn’t sure that would extend to her granddaughter having any kind of relationship with a vampire. After the Great Revelation, it was the elder generation that had the most difficult time tolerating our existence and approval was completely unheard of. My eyes flicked back towards Sookie and I didn’t need to be a telepath to hear her thoughts, simultaneously smirking, ‘I told you so’ and shouting, ‘Don’t you dare say future lover!’ at the same time. Even Bubba seemed interested in my answer and as true as the latter statement would have been, I respected both her and her grandmother enough to not be so crass. Instead, I offered, “I have walked this earth for a thousand years. I have seen and done many things in that time, but I can honestly say nothing and no one has ever captivated me as your granddaughter has. My intention is to make her mine, but I know her well enough that she won’t make it easy for me. The difference lies in the fact that this is the first time I am willing to do the work necessary to convince her otherwise.”
My truthful words made Sookie gape at me in return before a small smile came upon her face, but I could also feel a twinge of arousal coming from her. However I couldn’t explore that at the moment and we both felt varying degrees of shock when her grandmother chuckled and said, “Well then, good for you for knowing her so well. Personally, I think you’re perfectly suited for one another.” Seeing Sookie’s bug-eyed expression – I would only admit to my brow being arched at her unexpected approval – she added, “Don’t look at me like that young lady. You’d be lying if you said you haven’t resigned yourself to living your life alone because you couldn’t get away from hearing everyone’s thoughts. You can’t hear Eric’s and he seems willing to overlook your hardheadedness. Even a blind man could see the chemistry between you two, so why not?” My unintentional snicker only drew her calculating gaze to me and I found myself straightening up in the chair as she added, “And as for you, I have a feeling you haven’t come across many that didn’t just fall at your feet and give those blue eyes anything they wanted. In fact, I’d be willing to bet the only challenge you’ve ever come across is on a battlefield, so Sookie’s stubbornness is good for you too. You may have walked this earth for a thousand years, but I would be willing to bet having to go the extra mile to win her affections will be the longest of your existence. So it will be the most rewarding.”
The woman was more perceptive than I cared to admit – I looked forward to the day Pam would be in the hot seat opposite her – and I was saved from having to form any sort of answer by the ringing telephone. Mrs. Stackhouse glared at it for interrupting us, but she still sounded graceful as she stood up and answered, “Stackhouse residence.”
Sookie sat at my side like a proud peacock hearing her grandmother’s all too accurate depiction of my experiences thus far, so like an ill-mannered child I looked away from her only to see Bubba staring at me. He nudged my elbow at his side, lifting his bottle of blood and taking another sip while he looked at me as though I should do the same.
Perhaps I was delirious, still strapped to Lanier’s table in the woods, and this was all a dream?
That would make more sense than the reality I’d found myself in, but Mrs. Stackhouse’s voice broke through my thoughts when I heard her say, “Maxine…you don’t say. And Arlene has no idea where he’s run off to? Well, it’s sad to say, but it’s not the first time a man has run off on her. I’m sure he’s around somewhere.”
Pieces of him were, in any case.
She winked at us and paused again, with her eyebrow lifting up as she asked, “Reverend Newlin? He’s in town? Whatever for? Tonight? Where?” Hearing the hate monger’s name made me tune in to both sides of their conversation and I watched as she continued to nod at what she was being told before she ended the call by saying, “Well maybe we’ll see you over there. Bye now,” and hung up.
“No,” I said before she could even open her mouth.
But just like her granddaughter she didn’t give a damn either and ignored me to look at Sookie, saying, “Go change out of your uniform. We’ve got reconnaissance to do.”
“What? Where?” Sookie asked, still standing up regardless of not hearing any answers to her questions, just as I repeated, “No.”
The elder Stackhouse only acknowledged my statement with a flutter of her hand in my direction, saying, “Sookie’s right. You are a pill. Now hush.”
Since I was inarguably hushed at the moment, she turned to Sookie and explained, “That was Maxine. I’d call him a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but that would be insulting to Were’s. It seems the good Reverend Newlin has come to town looking for several members of his flock who’ve gone missing.” She raised her eyebrow at me before continuing with, “When Arlene got home and Rene hadn’t turned up, she put in a call to the reverend and now he’s having a meeting tonight to put out the call that vampires are up to some shenanigans. We’re gonna go over there and see what other shenanigans he’s up to.”
I felt like…Bubba. I couldn’t make heads nor tails of the elder Stackhouse woman and I couldn’t even blame it on a foreign blood tie. Her granddaughter was perplexing enough.
But it was easy to see where she got it from.
“No, Mrs. Stackhouse,” I said, standing up so I could glare down at them both. She was just as unfazed as her granddaughter at my tactics, but still I pressed on with, “It’s not safe.”
“Horse puck,” she waved back at me. When I continued to silently scowl at her, she smiled innocently with a twinkle in her eye and said, “Why I’m just a little old lady. Of course I’d be frightened to death of the big mean scary vampires and my sweet little granddaughter and I want to know what’s being done to keep us safe. Who better to hear it from than the Reverend Steve Newlin himself?”
She had no idea of just how SWEET her little granddaughter was.
“It’s not safe,” I repeated and even Bubba managed to nod along with the veracity of my claim.
But Sookie jumped on her grandmother’s bandwagon and said, “Nobody knows you’re here. Other than Sam, nobody even has any idea we know any vampires and he wouldn’t say a word. If Maxine is there, she’ll be asking enough questions of him that I won’t have to say a thing at all and I could hear something that could help us.”
I almost repeated her grandmother’s words of ‘horse puck’ when she took a step closer and wrapped her arms around me, not caring we had an audience when my arms did the same. She leaned into my chest and tightened her embrace of me as she said, “We’ll be fine. We can’t ignore this opportunity when we have so much on the line.”
It was the one word that still baffled me. I’d heard it not only from her, but from her grandmother as well. They’d both unexpectedly chosen the side that would undoubtedly see many of their own kind slaughtered, all for the simple fact they both believed they were doing what was right. Without being asked and with no benefit to be had for them, they chose to take it upon themselves to do what they could to help me save my child and others of my kind.
Gratitude and worry warred within me.
She was right. Having her read Newlin’s thoughts was an opportunity we shouldn’t squander and had it been anyone else in the line of fire, I wouldn’t have hesitated. Pam’s survival was the tipping point and I could feel victory rise up within Sookie just as I felt my shoulders slump in defeat. But that feeling faltered within her when I said, “Fine. But first you’ll take more of my blood.”