Forcing myself to listen to the man, like I’d promised Eric I would, I ignored the urge snap at Henri and instead channeled a little of my bullheadedness into some classic Bull Durham by trying to breathe through my eyelids or some shit.
But Annie Savoy was a lying liar who lied because it wasn’t working.
Doubling down, I tried again. To do as he’d said – to search for that essential spark him and his drunken Loa claimed I possessed – and bring it to the surface.
But the only thing I managed to bring to the forefront was my memories of Eric.
Leaving him had been hard. Too hard for only having known him for a little over a week, but somehow he’d become my whole world.
In just a little over a week.
But as hard as it had been, my only regret was that I would do it all over again. Jesus H. Christ was I in deep with that man, but I refused to drag him down with me in the deep end of shit creek that I seemed to be traveling up without a paddle.
I’d been staying with Henri in his not-so-secret fortress of solitude down in the French Quarter going on four days now. He owned a little shop that pedaled kitchy voodoo wares to the tourists in the front and sold supplies that would make Severus Snape drool, to the more discerning connoisseurs of abracadabra in the back.
Apparently, Henri was the leading authority of hocus pocus in the area, among other things.
Other things being a vague description for a very precise skillset that became glaringly obvious not long after we’d left Eric’s house.
Four days earlier…
Staring at one another for what felt like seconds and hours, my new soon-to-be roomie eventually cleared his throat to remind us he was still standing there, watching our lives fall apart, before saying, “If there are any of her other line still alive, there is the possibility they could track her as well.”
My other pointed-hat-wearing-travel-via-broomstick line.
Not once did I ever think I would feel anything in common with Lord Voldemort, but I could suddenly see the logic in preemptively killing off your relatives.
I was so tired I couldn’t even find the strength to kick up a fuss at being talked about when I was standing right there. Besides, I was almost certain he was appealing to Eric’s protective nature in order for him to let us go.
Because in no way did I believe we would get a foot out the door, without him letting us.
He may have been clutching me like a childhood blankie, but I had no doubt Eric could throw a tantrum that would put any two year old to shame and turn into the monster under the bed if he wanted to.
We were a lot alike like that.
Just like I also had a protective side where he was concerned, so I swallowed the lump in my throat at the thought of leaving him and said, “You’ll stay at one of your other safe houses.”
My tone was more of the seeking confirmation variety than actual question, but having no idea if my fairy kin could Hansel and Gretel the trail of fairy dust leading them to Eric’s house, I didn’t want him to stay there.
But I did have the urge to find the As Seen on TV Shark Rotator Lift Away vacuum I was sure he had hidden away in one of his closets somewhere to at least try and suck up the evidence.
After all, this whole day was one huge pile of suck. Why break with the theme now?
Eric didn’t answer me though, instead choosing to count my eyelashes or something.
His stare was intense.
I wasn’t one to be cowed by his silence, but I wasn’t going to force the issue. Not when I was pretty sure he could get me to change my mind about leaving without uttering more than the word ‘stay’.
So I forced a small smile onto my face and patted his chest, while I nodded, “So…later with the talking. Got it.”
Pulling away from him was difficult – more so emotionally than physically – but since he didn’t put up a fight, I figured he could see the logic in me leaving.
Did I want to?
Did I have to?
Staying together at that point would only put us both in danger. And having already figured out a long time ago I was a bad person, I didn’t feel nearly as bad knowing I would be putting James Earl Jones in danger.
It only made sense for the dark-side-choosing Darth Vader to be palling around with me and my dark magic blood.
But figuring it couldn’t hurt to remind Eric of the things he could be doing, while I wasn’t hanging around to gorge on the all night buffet his five dollar foot long represented, I reminded him, “You still have to flim flam your queen. I left all of my notes on James Bailey on the coffee table, along with everything I could find on the two guys that grabbed me at the coffee shop.”
Eric had lifted their wallets before he made their dead bodies go kablooey, so I’d been able to use that information to trace a little of what they’d been up to.
That’s what they’d been up to.
But homicidal fairies aside, one of my main motivations in separating was the fact Eric was a sheriff. He had responsibilities that didn’t include hiding me away from the world. His world would notice sooner than later that he was distracted. With their queen on the rampage it would be dangerous for everyone if he didn’t get his head out from between my legs and in the game.
Forcing my feet to move, I turned and headed out of the room. But I didn’t need to turn around to know that he’d followed me into the bedroom where I’d left my packed duffle bag. The weight of his stare at my back was heavy enough to make my feet drag.
Or maybe that was just from the rocks in my gut at the thought of leaving him.
So I consoled myself with the idea that it wouldn’t be forever. Not if I had my way.
You know. Just until I murdered a bunch of mythical fairies and witches who were poisoning my family tree.
Taking a deep breath, I held it in for as long as I could, only releasing the air from my lungs when I was sure I wouldn’t scream out all of the fear and frustration I was doing my best to keep bottled up inside of me, and turned around to finally face him.
Seeing him standing there looking like I kicked his puppy, I couldn’t help but think Celine Dion was right.
Goodbye was the saddest word.
So I put it off for just another moment and offered, “Maybe you can smoke and mirror your way into pulling a drainer out of your hat for her.”
And then remembering he still needed to find a mythical fairy WMD, I added, “And order something ridiculous from SkyMall or the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog to pass off as the Fairy Mofo Full of Deadly Magical Mojo.”
His kind believed handing over a bedazzled Ginsu made you married, so why not?
Eric breathed out a long sigh, while he dropped his chin to his chest, before looking up at me through his lashes and forcing a smirk onto his face, as he said, “Do you think Amazon has a magical accoutrements department?”
“Amazon has everything,” I smiled. Then taking a step forward to put me right in front of him, I added, “And with a Prime membership, you’ll get free two-day shipping.”
“Yippee,” he deadpanned.
The automatic response of kai aye, mother fucker was on the tip of my tongue, until suddenly it wasn’t.
It had been replaced by Eric’s tongue in my mouth.
Not that I was complaining.
What started out as a desperately-clinging-to-each-other-all-teeth-and-tongue kind of kiss, eventually morphed into a softer – sweeter – how-will-I-go-on-without-you caress of lips.
I had it.
When we finally pulled apart, Eric didn’t let me go far, with his fingers tangled in the hair at the nape of my neck, while he said, “We will speak every night. I will do what I can to trace your supernatural ancestors and I will see that the queen’s demands are met. You will listen to Decoudreau. He will be able to see dangers coming your way before you will. He is well-versed in the supernatural world and will know who is a threat. He has already offered to teach you to harness your natural magical abilities, so learn from him while you can.”
Then pressing his lips softly against mine, he held them there when he added, “Because, make no mistake. When I have completed the tasks I need to, I will be coming for you.”
“Aww,” I half sobbed half chuckled, blinking back the tears I could feel threatening to fall from my eyes. “I bet you say that to all the girls.”
After all, double entendre was his jam.
But even though we hadn’t discussed it – it being what we were, supernaturally married aside – I didn’t think for one minute Eric would run out the moment I was gone and stick his dick in the next woman to catch his eye.
Dare I say, he’d already been caught.
And if that was a fallacy on my end, then that was my choice.
But his next words let me know I hadn’t been imagining things, when he replied as serious as a heart attack, “No. I don’t.”
My next realization nearly gave me a heart attack.
There was no mistaking it now.
I was definitely in love with Eric.
The farther away we got from Eric’s house, the more forceful the pull was in my chest to go back. As much as I’d acted like I knew it was for the best, on the inside I’d been on the fence. I both wanted to go and didn’t.
But the fact was I needed to go to keep him safe.
I had no illusions about what had really gone down that day. While I kind of blacked out for a good portion of the fighting, I knew that I’d only survived the day on pure luck. The only self-defense training I had came courtesy of Billy Blanks Tae Bo workouts.
Their arsenal included magic.
Dark magic in my veins and a case of thunder ass aside, I was clearly the underdog.
But since I was too tired to think about that at the moment, I mentally invoked the first rule of Fight Club and turned to my new – roommate? Sensei? – whatever and asked, “So what’s up with the knife I handed Eric last night in the woods?”
It was so…illogical to put it politely – stupid to put it bluntly – that the mere act of passing the equivalent of silverware to someone else made you hitched.
But if there ever came a time where I was someone’s dinner guest, you could bet your bottom dollar I wouldn’t be passing anyone anything.
‘Get your own damn salt’ would be my mantra.
“The pledging dagger?” he asked, like it was the most normal thing in the world.
And perhaps sensing my case of what the fuck, he smiled kindly as he explained, “The supernatural world has existed since the beginning of time. And while the races have undoubtedly evolved, many of the ancient traditions have stood the test of time. The pledging dagger among them.”
He seemed satisfied with his explanation.
I let him know with one look that I wasn’t.
But he at least didn’t seem put out when he went on to explain, “A blade can be used both to cause injury and to deter violence from occurring at all. When you presented the dagger to the Northman, symbolically you were handing over your absolute trust in him to guard your alliance to one another and to put its sanctity above all else. By accepting the dagger from you, he was declaring to the supernatural world that he would kill to protect you. By kissing the blade, he was both promising to hold it in defense of you and assuring others he would deliver unto them the kiss of death should they seek to do you harm.”
Then turning his eyes from the road back to me, he ended with, “You are his wife, as he is your husband, in the supernatural world.”
I guessed that kind of made sense.
If you squinted.
But more in the same way that pulling petals off of daisies in a quest for ‘love me/love me not’ could provide clarity of the heart.
And mentally speaking of hearts, mine was throbbing painfully in my chest. And not in a waxing poetic I miss Eric kind of way.
More like in a holy shit that’s not normal, is there an ER nearby kind of way.
Proving he wasn’t telepathic, instead of racing us towards the nearest hospital, I felt the car slow down before we pulled to a stop on the side of the road, with him turning to me to say, “They are coming.”
The ‘who’ had barely formed in my mind – much less my mouth – when he asked, “Do you trust me?”
While one might infer my presence in the car and willingness to leave the security of Eric behind would show my trust in the man at my side, they would be wrong.
I didn’t leave with him because I trusted him.
I left with him to give Eric a fighting chance to survive.
My own personal safety hadn’t really factored all that much into the equation, be it from stupidity, naïveté, or just plain old experience.
I had a knack for winning fights to the death.
Even so, while I might not have trusted him absolutely, I trusted him enough to nod my reply. I didn’t have the time to second guess my answer when I watched him pull a knife out of nowhere and quickly – but carefully – nick the palm of my left hand.
Already chanting, he ignored my yelp of surprise and dropped the knife to toss a small bag of what I recognized to be fairy dust in my lap. Tearing it open, he then grabbed onto my wrist and held my hand over the top of it so that my blood dripped down onto the dust, with his free hand grabbing ahold of his shillelagh stick and his chants becoming more forceful.
I briefly wondered if he was magically married too. Maybe carrying a dagger around was the equivalent of wearing a wedding band?
Either way, I wasn’t sure what was going on – how could I – but the pain my chest was already lessening, so I wasn’t going to question it. But as much as I’d already seen and done in the last week – hell, since last night – feeling the pulse of something otherworldly surrounding us still surprised me.
So it was no wonder when I jolted in my seat seeing we were suddenly surrounded on all sides by a veritable army.
An army led by a woman I’d met just the night before.
Smiling at us through the windshield, sitting astride her horse Satan, there was a wicked – and decidedly scary – gleam in her eyes as she said, “No Fae or witch will dare to engage in battle with us. We will see you to your destination.”
And that was when I decided Henri was no joke.
RIP Darth Vader.
Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he pressed it into the palm of my left hand and put the car back in drive, acting like it was perfectly normal for us to be shooting down the highway in the middle of a herd of spiritual horses and their Loa intermediaries.
It really wasn’t.
Putting his phone to his ear in the next moment, his only greeting was, “She is fine. I will call you when we arrive.”
So Eric, I assumed.
But before I could fully make an ass out of myself, he put his phone away and turned to me to ask, “Is the pull gone?”
I was sure my expression was one of confusion – more than just from his question – but he only said, “I should have prepared for the possibility sooner. I apologize.”
Ineloquent, sure. But it was all I could manage at the moment.
“I noticed your discomfort,” he explained. “While much is not known about the Fae, it is known that using their blood to find kin will not cause any pain. I believe someone from your Fae side has made contact with someone from your sorcery side and used their combined blood to either call you to their side, or to incapacitate you in order to take you themselves.”
But hearing him talking about combined blood brought to mind Eric’s explanation about blood bonds and my head whipped his way, with me nearly shrieking out, “Can they find Eric that way?”
We hadn’t completed a bond – according to him – but we had shared blood.
As much as that whole ‘till death do we part’ part had scared me initially, had I had my ‘I’m in love with Eric’ epiphany sooner, we could very well be feeling each other up in a way that didn’t involve any hands at that very moment.
He eyed me in a way that was filled with both shock and awe before saying, “I do not believe so. You have not permanently bonded to him and considering your…chemistry, I doubt they would even think to search for a vampire who has had your blood.”
Because – technically – any vampire who’d had my blood would be dead.
Not no-heartbeat-but-still-able-walk-around dead.
I didn’t know what I felt more.
Happy or sad.
A part of me was grateful we hadn’t completed a permanent blood bond, but the other part of me was depressed at the thought that we might never be able to. It was something I knew Eric wanted – he’d come out and said the words only a few hours earlier – but I would never agree to it if there was a chance one of my crazy kin could find him because of it.
How would I ever know if they were all dead if I didn’t even know who any of them were?
Would Eric ever be truly satisfied if I couldn’t give him the one thing he asked of me?
“You’re not focusing, Sookie.”
The sound of Henri’s voice pulled me from my thoughts and I automatically said, “Sure I am.”
Omitting the part where I’d essentially been focusing on Eric and not the essentially nonexistent essential spark he claimed was inside of me.
Closing my eyes once more, I did as he’d been instructing me and cleared my mind of everything. It seemed like a pointless exercise, in my humble opinion, since I definitely wouldn’t be able empty my head if I was attacked. But he’d assured me that once I was able to locate the spark, I would be able to access it at will.
I tried to find my inner Zen or chakra or something, but the most I found was the equivalent of some spare change and a few dust bunnies in the couch cushions of my brain.
I’d zoned out so much that I was sure I would fall asleep standing up, when I felt more than heard the slight tap of Henri’s magical ode to Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’ stick against the floor.
Whatever juice powered it made something flash inside of me and I quickly latched onto it, tracing the tendrils emanating out from it all across my body to my very pores.
“Well,” he chuckled softly, causing my eyes to open and I heard myself gasp, just as he added, “I wasn’t expecting that.”
Wasn’t that the understatement of the year?
Because I was glowing like a goddamn firefly.
Not sure just yet what it would get me – other than a lit path on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night – it gave me hope that maybe I would have an offensive skill, rather than a defensive one.
Having to bleed or otherwise excrete bodily fluids in order to protect myself was getting old.
But this – if this was something useful – could come in handy.
Something Henri seemed to believe given his look of approval, with both of us finally feeling like we were making progress. The longer I concentrated on it, the more tangible it felt.
So when I could hold it with little to no effort, I looked up at him and grinned. Making the light pulse and then dance across my fingertips, Henri laughed heartily when I let my inner geek out and the Firefly quote to fall from my lips.
“I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I will end you.”
Proving his geek and my geek were bros, he nodded and added with a knowing smile, “I believe you have finally achieved Serenity.”