I knew I shouldn’t be shouting, but watching Eric fall to the ground and smoking like a brisket at Billy-Bob’s Barbecue Pit made me a little unhinged.
More than a little unhinged.
So I tried to calm myself down and quickly ran over everything I could think of that would make Eric blackout and blacken up. What had changed from one moment to the next that would affect Eric like it did.
And I quickly realized that one thing was shining down on me from the sky.
The sun hadn’t seemed to affect him before, but then those fucked up fairies did like to play their games. Preston hadn’t told me much about vampires, other than they couldn’t be trusted and silver would burn them.
It was why the dagger strapped to my hip was made of it.
Eric and I hadn’t exactly had the time to play any rounds of truth or dare when it came to his kind either, but seeing as how he’d been fine one moment and an unconscious smoking mess the next, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out it was the sun that was burning him up.
The only silver lining – pardon the pun – was that he wasn’t awake for what had to be a painful send off.
Knowing I needed to get him out of the sun, I quickly took in the landscape and grabbed onto him, wanting to pop us into the darkest part of the forest I could see.
But I couldn’t see anything but the brightly lit ground on all sides of us.
A part of my mind registered the Weres in the distance, transforming back to their human state. Preston had told me that was when they were the most vulnerable because they tended to be exhausted after shifting.
He’d said it would be the best time to attack them.
But even he had admitted he didn’t know what would be happening in these hellish games. It was the first ever of their kind, so I couldn’t know if that was why he hadn’t told me what sunlight would do to vampires.
Or if he hadn’t told me because he was hoping for this exact scenario to happen.
With the exception of when we’d all be standing on the platforms at the start of the games, their sun was always up in the sky, so why it would burn them now was a mystery. But it was enough to make me concerned over everything else not appearing as it seemed.
But there wasn’t time for me to worry about it now. I needed to get Eric somewhere safe.
Somewhere we could hide.
Somewhere where no one could find us.
So I could only assume my overloaded emotional state was to blame for how I managed to pop us into the most unlikely of places, without even trying to at all.
The place where I’d always felt the most safe.
The place where I’d always run to, to hide.
The place where a purely human monster hadn’t been able to find me.
My Gran’s bedroom to be more specific.
The wallpapered walls and aged floorboards were unmistakable, but nothing about my Gran’s room looked the same as when I’d last seen it.
It was so odd considering nothing more than the linens had ever changed its appearance in my lifetime.
The furniture that had been in my family for generations was gone. Cobwebs had sprung up in every corner of the room and dust had settled on every surface, as though no one had lived there in ages.
Dirt covered the remaining windows that hadn’t been broken, but even so, enough light was filtering through it that Eric’s body was still smoking. So I did what my subconscious mind had brought us there to do.
I dragged him into the large closet where I used to try and hide from my Uncle Bartlett as a child.
It was just as empty as the room had been, so there was nothing for me to use to cover him with. And not knowing if even the smallest amount of light seeping in under the closed door could harm him, I gathered the balled up bits of newspaper scattered around the room and brought them into the closet with us, using it to shove underneath the door until no light could get through.
The fact the sun had been coming through the westward facing windows, told me it would be setting soon, so I hoped that meant Eric would be waking with its disappearance from the sky.
At the moment, it was the only hope I could cling to.
Because while I may have brought us home, it wasn’t the home I remembered leaving behind.
As much as I’d hoped and dreamed of one day returning – and as much as I ached to run from room to room and beyond to try and figure out what on earth had happened – I couldn’t bring myself to leave Eric undefended.
He was completely vulnerable and I was the only thing standing in between him and the possible return of the fairies.
I didn’t know if they were aware of our escape yet, but with every second that ticked by – and we remained fairy free – my hope grew.
I doubted they could see everything going on in their world because then they would’ve been able to see what I’d done in Eric’s cell with my light show.
They would’ve known about Preston’s lies in claiming he’d captured me not long before the games had started, when in reality he’d kept me hidden and prepared me as best he could for what was to come.
But…if I was only one-eighth fairy and had managed to pop us home, why hadn’t it even occurred to Preston to take me home when he was a full-blooded fairy?
The thought gave me pause that maybe he wasn’t everything he seemed.
Acting like he was my friend when in all reality he was my foe.
With any luck I would never lay eyes on another fairy to find out.
In this one instance, I was more than happy to be left in the dark.
Scooting as close to Eric’s side as I possibly could without actually sitting on him, I kept my ears and mind open for the slightest of sounds, while gripping the dagger in my hands.
Fairies could appear in the blink of an eye.
I had to be quicker if I wanted to take one out.
While their magic had them acting invincible, Eric had told me their powers weren’t as strong in our world, so I could only hope I would be able to stand up against one if they came looking for us before Eric woke up.
But knowing my fairy powers hadn’t really shown themselves until I’d been brought to their world, I couldn’t be sure if I would still have them now that we were back home. So I dug deep and concentrated on that bit of strength from within I’d since come to learn was my essential spark.
As inane as it was real, I could feel it pulsing.
Not as brightly as it had been when I’d first learned to look for it, but it was there.
But I wasn’t willing to try and pop myself away from Eric to see if I still could.
However a part of me thought if I could, then maybe there was a way we could save everyone else we’d left behind.
But it would have to wait – seeing if there were any pops left in me and their subsequent rescue – because the farthest I was willing to part from Eric had narrowed down to inches.
In all of my time in captivity, I never would have imagined being able to once again sit in my family’s ancestral home and Eric’s presence being the only thing that would give me any kind of comfort.
As inane as it was real.
There wasn’t anyone around to gauge whether or not my cloaking abilities still worked, but I only needed my own eyes to see if I still had the force of the Jedi in my hands.
Closing my eyes in concentration, it took more effort than before, but not as much effort as when I’d first learned I could do it at all and when I opened my eyes for confirmation I could see the slight glow I’d already been able to feel in my palms.
So the light sabers still had some juice in them.
They would come in handy if we had an unexpected – and uninvited – guest.
There wasn’t much more for me to do and the minutes managed to both drag on and fly by, so it felt like forever and only moments had passed when Eric finally began to stir.
My eyes had long since adjusted to the dark and the slight glow he emanated I’d only noticed when I’d sealed us up in the closet allowed me to see him bolt upright.
My ears were what clued me in to his fangs snapping down.
As frightened as I probably should have been of him at that moment, it wasn’t fear I felt.
It was relief.
His eyes landed on me – as did his hand – but when his mouth opened, I didn’t need to be a telepath to answer the question I was sure he was seconds away from asking.
“Home,” I whispered, sounding just as unsure as I felt, despite all evidence to the contrary. “I popped us home.”
The tears I’d been fighting off broke free with my admission and even though I was sure he had more questions – questions I may or may not have had the answers to – he didn’t ask them.
Instead he gathered me into his arms and pulled me onto his lap, letting me sob against him until I managed to choke out, “Everything’s different. We’re in my house – my Gran’s bedroom closet – but everything’s different. The furniture and everything else is gone. I didn’t see more than the bedroom, but it was enough for me to guess the house is probably falling apart. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t know how long I was gone, but it couldn’t have been long enough for everything to go to shit.”
“Sixty-one days, give or take,” he murmured against my head. So when I pulled back to look at him, he added, “By my rough estimate, that is how long I had been trapped in their realm.”
A brief Q and A in the next second told us we’d been taken on the same day.
Was it really just a coincidence?
Northern Louisiana was the only thing we really had in common before then, so I couldn’t imagine it was anything else.
But I was still trying to figure out how so much could change in just two months’ time.
Maybe a hurricane had come through and forced Gran out of the house?
A tornado even?
But I knew her well enough to know even if a natural disaster had forced her to relocate, she would’ve done whatever was necessary to fix what was broken.
I really didn’t want to think about what else might have happened during my absence that would make her not be there.
So I was both grateful and terrified when Eric hugged me to him, softly asking, “You haven’t explored the other rooms yet?”
“I didn’t want to leave you,” I admitted in a small voice. “I don’t know if they figured out we were gone or if they would come looking for us here.”
His only acknowledgement was pressing a tender kiss to the top of my head, so I wasn’t prepared for the harsh reality of his next words when he said, “I don’t know if it was your Fae magic that allowed me entry, but unless my kind is issued an invitation, we cannot enter a human’s home.”
He didn’t ask if I’d invited him in. It was pretty obvious I hadn’t, considering I hadn’t known of such a thing.
Even so, it wasn’t obvious what he was getting at – what I’d been doing everything in my power to deny was the truth – until he said, “I don’t feel the natural magic surrounding this home as I have felt in others. Even an issued invitation can be withdrawn, which would propel us outside, so that barrier – even when opened to us – is always present. This house…”
He paused briefly before pulling back and tilting my chin up to look in his eyes, right before he delivered his softened – and yet painful – blow of, “This house is not owned by any one individual.”
“Of course it is,” I argued back. “It’s belonged to my family for a hundred and fifty years. It’s always belonged to the Stackhouses. Even if I was gone – even if my Gran was…wasn’t around – it would still belong to us. My brother. Jason. He would have…”
But I couldn’t finish that statement.
Because I honestly couldn’t imagine a world in which I’d lost everyone.
What if they were both dead?
Whatever Eric may have seen on my face or felt coming from me thankfully kept him from pushing the issue and instead he pulled me to my feet with him and only said, “In any case, the Fae knew who you were when you were taken, yes?”
And at my nod, he squeezed my hand in his and said, “Then here is where they will look for you first when they realize we’re gone, so it isn’t safe to stay here.”
My first inclination was to argue with him. To fight for my home and my right to stay in it.
Home was the one place I’d longed to return to.
But even if it was still the home I’d remembered – which it wasn’t – Eric was right.
They’d snatched me right out of my car the first time.
Surely they’d known where to find me.
So maybe it was the sag of shoulders showing my defeat or the will and hope fleeing my body like rats from a sinking ship that made Eric hug me to him one more time and whisper promise, “We will find out what happened to your home – your kin – but we need to remain vigilant. Just because we are no longer trapped in the Fae Realm does not mean we are safe.”
Pushing the closet door open, I followed behind Eric as he stepped into the room and took a good look around, but I didn’t bother.
It was just how I remembered it.
A couple of hours earlier.
It was nothing like I remembered it from before then.
Never letting go of my hand – be it for my comfort or his – Eric led me from room to room, with all of them looking the same as Gran’s.
The entire house was completely empty except for a few boxes and bags of trash. Nothing of my possessions or anyone else’s remained.
It was like I’d never existed at all.
There weren’t even any lines on the walls to indicate the family pictures I knew had once hung there because of Gran’s penchant for cleaning.
She would always take each one down once a week and give them and the wall a good scrubbing.
Now dust covered everything to include the floors, which was how I knew no one had walked on those floors in a long while.
It only made my anxiety grow over finding out what happened.
What happened to my family?
“Merlotte’s,” I blurted out and tugged on Eric’s hand to bring him to a stop and his eyes to mine. “It’s the local bar where I work – used to work at. If anyone knows what happened…here…we can find out at Merlotte’s.”
Sam would surely know.
Even Terry, if he wasn’t having one of his spells.
Hell, maybe even Jason would be there.
With Hoyt and Rene, laughing about whatever that always made them guffaw like hyenas.
“If the fairies knew of you before taking you they would know of not just your home, but they would surely know where you work,” Eric replied in a way that wasn’t quite argumentative.
But I argued back just the same.
Gripping his hand in both of mine, I stared straight into his eyes and said, “I have to know, Eric. I can’t stand…I just…”
As odd as it was – I’d only known Eric for a week, by our best guess – the thought of going anywhere without him scared me to death. I didn’t want to leave him behind.
I didn’t even know if I could now and I couldn’t even bring myself to make the empty threat of doing just that.
I may have brought us home, but it was looking just as foreign to me as the fairy world did. He was the only constant I could cling to.
Both literally and figuratively.
But the fact of the matter was, Eric was the only thing that made me feel safe, no matter how much danger I knew we were still in.
So whatever he saw in my tear filled eyes or felt in his magic vampire blood inside of me made him sigh out his agreement of, “Very well.”
I was both elated and terrified because I both wanted to know what happened to my family and didn’t.
The old saying, ‘Be careful what you wish for,’ came to mind.
But I was suddenly terrified for a completely different reason when something else came to mind.
And it was rapidly approaching.
We were standing in the hallway just down from the foyer and my mouth opened to raise the alarm I was sure he could feel sounding off inside of me, just as I raised my hands up prepared to cut down the advancing Darth Vampire with my Jedi powers.
But I didn’t get the chance.
Because Eric’s eyes widened just a tick and he used his arm to push both of mine back down, just as the front door blew wide open.
And when the dust settled we were staring at none other than a windblown Alice in Wonderland, with blood leaking from her pretty blue eyes.
It was just as odd of a sight as it was hearing her choked out whispered word.