The more I drank the more I could feel my body coming back to life. But the itching sensation I felt at my wounds slowly knitting back together was nothing compared to the warmth flooding my body. Not from the blood on my tongue, but from the body of another pressed against my side. And with my strength now returning to me, I was finally able to look over at the cause.
The blond I couldn’t be sure I’d had the strength to glamour, but I must have.
Why else would she have willingly fed me from her wrist when I’d been too weak to feed from anywhere else on her body?
But as my body slowly healed, so too did my memories. At my hypnotic order that she not be afraid, she hadn’t blindly agreed, as I had mistakenly assumed.
She had replied of her own free will and oddly, even sounded grateful.
Even with my eyes still closed, the weight of her against me and her soft even breaths told me she was asleep. And the weight of the wooden stake she must have placed in my hand when I was at my most vulnerable told me she was either foolish or honorable.
I had hope it might be the latter of the two and mused it may have been karmic payback for ending Wybert as humanely as I could.
And while I knew the kind thing to do – the humane course I should take – in this instance would be to continue drinking from her. To drain her very life from her body, healing my own in the process, and removing her from her hellish circumstances while she peacefully slept.
But opening my eyes and seeing her there – one hand softly cradling the back of my head with her fingers still tangled in my hair, while the other rested over my mouth to feed me and a small smile on her lips – I found myself curious about this woman who didn’t appear to be afraid of vampires. Inquisitive as to why she chose to help me when she could have very easily ended me. I could recall now seeing the raised stake in her hand. I could remember my assumption she would use it on me when instead she had used it to tear open her own flesh to feed me. I had been too weak to stop her from completing either task. I hadn’t had the strength to even put up a fight when she pushed my hand back down and shushed me like a child, while she soothed me with her soft words of comfort.
I wanted to know why.
So it was with that thought that I stemmed the flow of blood from her wrist with my tongue, licking over the jagged skin to try and heal her wound. But seeing it marring her otherwise pristine flesh – and seeing my own now pristine flesh thanks to her generosity – I pierced my tongue and ran my blood over her arm until it too was devoid of any marks.
I wanted to know why I had felt the need to do that too.
So I would get my answers and then bring her under my will. For her selfless generosity I would find out her greatest wish and then glamour her to believe it was coming true as I finished draining her body.
I owed her my life. The least I could do to repay that debt was to give her a peaceful end.
With her arm now healed, I let go of it and watched – amused – as it automatically moved across my body to encircle my waist and she pressed herself more firmly against me.
Normally I didn’t care for being touched so intimately. The last woman I had voluntarily snuggled with had been my human wife and that had more to do with keeping warm. In my vampire life the only touching I didn’t abhor had to do with what was necessary when fucking and feeding and then glamouring them away when I was through with them.
But the touch from this strange woman, both fearless and clueless, evoked a sensation of warmth that I hadn’t felt in a very long time.
Not since I too was a human.
And seeing the dark circles underneath her eyes, I found I didn’t want to wake her just yet. Not only was she beautiful, but she appeared exhausted as well. Her clothing hung off of her body, indicating she had been held captive for quite some time and not fed adequately. Not quite skin and bones, she would have been if left to languish for much longer. I had no idea of what the humans kept here were put through before being sent to us. For all I knew this was her prize for winning a fight of her own.
That thought only served to make me yearn to unleash my own brand of viciousness against the Fae.
I could hear no movement by the guards and normally I only saw them when they came to retrieve me for another fight. Their magical surveillance system seemed to allow them to know when we were finished with our meal because their bodies were always magically teleported from the cell. My first meal had spent nearly a full day under my glamour before they returned and threw her into Madden’s cell.
Conceivably, I should have at least that much time with her before they showed up.
So I let her sleep. She seemed to need it and my own body was still weary from my fight with Wybert, so I allowed myself to go into downtime while waiting for her to wake, with my mind going over the upcoming battle to be held in their Hunting Grounds.
Sigebert would be the one I had to watch out for the most. His need for retribution would be strong, but I’d meant what I said to his brother. If there was a way to free us all, I would do what I could to make that happen. Madden had been taken a few weeks earlier and didn’t return from his battle, so I suspected he lost that round. And the other cells nearest my own had slowly been emptied of their occupants. I had no idea of who else might be in attendance, rounding out the vampire numbers to five in the main event or who any of the Weres were. As much as our two species tended to disdain one another, in this instance – fighting against the same foe – it would be prudent for all of us to put our differences aside. It was our only hope because if we could all find a way to unite, we all stood a chance at getting out of there. But I would only campaign so much. If my hand was forced, I would do whatever was necessary to win.
But the thought of giving Breandan and his sycophants any more pleasure at our forced servitude to entertain them with our demise ate at my core.
I wanted to return the favor and eat them at their core.
All of them.
“What’s wrong? You’re tense.”
The sleepily whispered words from my human blanket drew my attention back to her. Her eyes were still closed, but her change in breathing pattern alerted me she was slowly waking. And her southern accent told me she was from Louisiana.
What were the odds?
Astronomical, I decided, but so was the fact she had willingly fed me her blood when she could have just as easily ended me.
Was that the battle she had been meant to fight? Had she been promised her freedom if she managed to do so?
The wooden stake was still gripped in my left hand – precisely where she had placed it – so either I was mistaken or she had a death wish.
For some reason I had never hoped more to be wrong because the thought of her wishing for the latter didn’t sit well.
I wanted an answer as to why that was too.
But now that my body had been given the chance to heal and my mind had the chance to unwind, I noticed something else strange about the stranger at my side.
I had spent enough time in their realm to not be unhinged at the constant scent of the Fae, but the humans still smelled human. It also meant drinking from any one of them when my nasal cavities were filled with the scent of fairies made their blood almost unpalatable.
But not as bad as the synthetic blood our kind had been planning to feign drinking to appease the human world with our existence when we revealed ourselves to them. I had been given a sample of it in the days before the Fae Realm fell to the Water Clan.
It tasted like shit.
But this human didn’t smell so human. I had been there long enough – fed from enough – to know that it wasn’t the same as the scent of the Fae guards clinging to her skin.
She smelled mostly human.
Running my tongue across my teeth, her flavor was still present and I only then realized she didn’t taste completely human either.
She tasted sweeter.
I suspected like her personality.
When I didn’t answer her question or her spot-on deduction, two pale blue eyes moved to stare back at me and she smiled asking, “So what’s up, Buttercup? Is it waking up to a strange cuddle bug that’s got you put out or my fingers taking liberties with your hair when you were too tired to protest?”
The smile – however – didn’t reach her eyes, like she knew she was on borrowed time and was choosing to overlook it.
So I chose to do the same.
“Did you just call me Buttercup?” I smiled in return.
In a thousand years.
“Do you prefer Daisy?” she grinned. “Or Violet? There’s always Pansy, but considering how I found you, I can only imagine what the other guy looked like, so Pansy doesn’t seem fitting.”
There was still a spark in her eyes that belied her own dire circumstances. One that was missing from most humans I had the misfortune of dealing with in my previous time on earth. Most humans weren’t content with their present circumstances. Bigger, better, more seemed to be their mantra, whether or not they spoke that truth aloud.
But this girl – one who had healed a monster meant to kill her – seemed perfectly content to be where she was.
I knew because she had yet to stop cuddling me.
“Since Rosebud is already taken, I prefer Eric,” I returned.
“How apropos,” she softly chuckled. “This place is pretty Orwellian. For us anyway.”
She was lumping our two kinds together. It made sense given her attitude upon arriving in my cell, but I still hadn’t expected her to be so…
I hadn’t had a conversation with a human just for the sake of conversing in I didn’t know how long. And I disliked how much I was enjoying talking to her, knowing our conversation could only end in one way. But still not knowing anything about her – and still not knowing why the more she spoke, the more I wanted to know about her – I asked, “And you? Do you prefer to be called Blankie? Woobie? Or perhaps, given your affinity for my tresses, Vidal Sassoon?”
Her soft laughter was followed by a delicate snort, the sound of which only made her laugh harder and I found myself smiling back at her.
And already regretting how it all would end.
“Vidal Sassoon is a little too rich for my blood, but telling you to call me Suave seems a little arrogant on my part,” she chuckled. “So you can just call me Sookie.”
Her blood was rich, even if her financial status wasn’t. She, of course, seemed completely unaware of that fact.
However I was very aware had we met under different circumstances, she was the first human I had come across I would be willing to pursue for more than a feed and fuck.
The Orwellian landscape was rapidly fading into the Twilight Zone.
But wanting to know more about her – perhaps I was a masochist at heart – I asked, “So Sookie, what part of Louisiana are you from?”
She sat up somewhat in surprise, but she still had yet to release me from her embrace and only returned, “How did you know?”
“Your accent,” I explained. “I’ve spent the last few decades residing in and around Shreveport, so it’s unmistakable to me.”
“Shreveport?” she gasped. “I…I grew up in Renard Parish. Bon Temps. It’s only a hop, skip, and a jump from Shreveport.”
Her eyes suddenly filled with tears. An odd contradiction to the genuine smile on her face that actually reached her eyes that time, when she returned to her cuddle bug positioning and squeezed me in her arms, whispering, “At least when I go, I get to go with a little piece of home.”
I didn’t know why, but I was too stunned to speak. Perhaps it had to do with how at home she seemed to be wrapped around a vampire. Perhaps it had to do with how she’d somehow managed to find peace with what lay in store for her.
Perhaps it was my own internal feelings of mutiny rising up at the thought of killing her.
But could I stand the thought of her being taken and given a much more horrific end at the hands of another vampire?
Or worse…the Fae?
She was yet another way the Fae were fucking with me?
An accent could be faked. And how likely was it the human sent to me lived within my territory?
My preference for buxom blonds was no secret and her actions thus far would be explained quite easily if this was all a ruse.
She’d been immune to my glamour.
She tasted better – smelled sweeter – than any human I had ever come across.
It had Fairy Fuckery written all over it.
And fuck with me, she had.
I knew it because it pained me to ensnare her in my grasp and flip her body underneath my own. Pinning her beneath me, I let my fangs snap down and snarled, “What are you?”
I didn’t believe her to be full Fae. If she had been, she would have been drained. Even desensitized to their scent, I wouldn’t have been able to stop myself from completely gorging myself on her blood until there wasn’t a drop left.
But seeing the fear in her eyes as they stared back at me took me aback and I automatically loosened my grip.
But she didn’t look away. If anything, she straightened her spine and lifted her chin when she answered, “A telepath.”
Well…I certainly wasn’t expecting that.
And not knowing if it was my earlier weakened state at the root of my failure, I pushed my will at her own and asked, “You are a telepath?”
Instead of answering me, her eyes narrowed and she shook her head slightly while asking, “Is that you? Are you doing that?”
So, she couldn’t be glamoured. But she could feel my attempts?
And I took a page from her book and ignored her question in favor of asking one of my own with, “Why were you sent to me?”
Glamouring the truth from others was the easiest and most expedient way to get answers, but the human body always gave away any dishonesty. And after a thousand years of studying human behavior, I knew exactly what to look for.
It was how I knew she was being truthful when she replied, “I assumed I was sent to be your dinner, so maybe you should just call me Dominoes instead!”
Even with a snarling vampire pinning her to the floor, her defiance – her open hostility – was refreshing.
And yet still disconcerting.
“Then what am I thinking?” I asked, while filling my mind with something simple. Something she had already mentioned, but something I would not have thought of if it weren’t for her.
“I don’t know,” she gritted out through her teeth. “I can’t hear you, which is why I was so happy to be snuggled up to you. Your giant empty head blocks out everyone else’s thoughts, but if you didn’t like it, all you had to do was just say so. No means no. I get it! And now that you’ve ruined my little break from reality, I would really appreciate it if you would just get on with it already. We both know how this ends.”
When she turned her head and offered me her neck, it was the first time she broke our mutual gaze.
But her offering me her life, while berating me for ruining her brief reprieve from our mutual hellhole, broke something inside of me.
She was immune to glamour.
I couldn’t give her a fantasy in her final moments.
Only her harsh reality.
She didn’t struggle. Not once had she attempted to free herself from my grasp. She wasn’t clueless as to how her life would end and had only tried to make it more palatable to herself by finding her own silver lining.
She had called me a piece of home. Something that while not quite accurate was as true as she would be able to find in that moment and it had given her peace.
And I had ruined it for her.
“I am sorry.”
My own foreign accent had come through in my emotional response that was just as foreign when those three words fell from my lips. In fact, I couldn’t recall a time when I had ever uttered those words and meant it as I did now.
The scent of her tears wafting towards me only furthered my guilt, but she didn’t acknowledge them at all. Nor did she acknowledge me with her gaze once more and instead she closed her eyes and only offered, “I forgive you. I doubt you came here of your own free will any more than I did. This is no one’s fault but theirs. Thanks to my curse, I already knew this would be how my story ends. I’m just grateful you weren’t too big of a jerk and let me pretend, at least for a little while, I was normal.”
Something neither of us could claim.
“Sookie,” I softly entreated and when she didn’t look at me, I reached out and turned her chin to face me. When her eyes finally met mine, I repeated, “I am sorry. Had I known you could not be glamoured, I would have continued to drink from you while you slept and spared you from the knowledge of what was happening to you. I had planned on glamouring you into believing you were in the midst of a happy memory, but now…”
There was nothing – nothing – I could do to spare her anything. Short of knocking her unconscious or snapping her neck before she could realize what was happening, there was nothing I could do to make anything easier on her.
Neither of those options would be easy on me.
I had never felt so helpless.
Or so I had thought.
Because at that very moment the sound of the Fae guard teleporting to stand right outside of my cell door rang out softly in the air and I instinctively hissed, while shoving her body behind me when I saw who it was. Lochlan was one of the most sadistic fairies I had ever had the displeasure of meeting and my actions only seemed to amuse him because he chuckled and shook his head, saying, “Now now Northman. This isn’t one of those all-day buffets. If you aren’t going to finish her off, there are plenty of others down the hall that will gladly take her.”
His eyes moved to Sookie when he added, “We only want the best for an abomination like you.”
The growl erupted unbidden from my chest, both from hearing his disparaging remarks about Sookie and from feeling the invisible binds take hold of my body. The reason we didn’t lash out at them was because we literally couldn’t. Vampires were no match for the Fae’s magical powers while in this realm, something we all learned quickly. On earth they weren’t able to magically restrain us, which was why they had taken us while we rested for the day when we were vulnerable to anyone. But in the Fae realm, we were their puppets, no matter how strong we were.
We weren’t strong enough to defeat their magic on their own turf where it seemed to be amplified within their own realm.
Another apology to Sookie fell from my lips when he entered the room. There was nothing I could do to stop him. Nothing I could do to keep him from taking her and throwing her into any other vampire’s cell or doing anything he wanted to her. Even if the vampire was merciful enough to glamour his meals, it would be a wasted effort on her.
And all of it was my fault.
My need for answers, instead of just bringing about her peaceful end while she slept.
My own distrust over her intentions, causing me to lash out and ruin her little fantasy of something so seemingly insignificant and yet as powerful as a tornado.
The want to feel normal.
Both my actions and my inactions had sealed her fate, one I would never wish on the likes of her. And as pointless as I knew it would be, I still attempted to lash out at the smug fairy when he reached for her and at the same time roared out, “She is mine!”
His eyes grew big – his smile was even bigger – and I saw the malevolence behind them when he reached for the silver dagger strapped to his waist.
“She’s yours, huh?” he smirked. “So then I guess if I take you out of the equation, she’s free for the taking?”
I braced myself as much as I could for the pain I knew I would feel when his hand thrust forward and hearing Sookie’s scream of the word, “NO!” wasn’t really unexpected.
But the room lighting up like a supernova was.
Temporarily blinded by the white light that shot through the room and shimmered off of the iridescent walls before it faded away, it took a moment for my vision to return. And when it did it took another moment for my mind to register what my eyes were seeing.
Standing with her hands still outstretched in front of her body and aimed towards where Lochlan once stood.
Where only a scorched mark on the floor now resided.
She was panting air into her lungs and I could hear her heart racing in her chest. However nothing in her body’s movements gave away her internal distress when she moved forward, but her eyes were distant and she seemed to be in a daze when she looked down at the charred floor and eventually spoke three of her own little words before she fell to the floor unconscious.
“He is mine.”