Unspoken Feelings Ch. 1

Chapter One: Crazy Sookie Makes a Friend

September 1996

Sookie Stackhouse had long ago become the Ghost of Bon Temps. Eight years, as a matter of fact, was the duration she had so far haunted the small town twenty minutes south of Shreveport, Louisiana. Though she was entirely visible to all the residents, young, old and in-between, she may as well have been little more than a wandering spirit for all the impact she made around those who encountered her.

“Welcome back everyone!” Mrs. Fleure sweetly greeted her sophomore homeroom. Her eyes bounced to each chair, looking for a flicker of cheer. Several students looked down at their desks to hide that they were not happy about the first day of school, but one pair stared steadily at her. Sookie Stackhouse and her unsettling smile. “Did everyone have a nice summer vacation?” You would think after having the girl in her class the previous year, Katherine Fleure would have become used to the attentively trained eyes of her student, but nothing on earth could acclimate anyone to the Stackhouse girl’s unwavering, unnaturally strained smile.

She was perfectly aware that Sookie Stackhouse always did her work on time and acquired exceptional grades, but never bothered calling on her in class. Even the summer class she’d hosted which had included the strange girl hadn’t eased the strain she felt around her. Sookie would give you her undivided attention, but she would not speak. She had not spoken in eight years.

Not since…

Of course, the accident had been in the local headlines, but it wasn’t until Sookie entered middle school that the teachers were reminded what that car crash had caused other than the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Stackhouse. Both parents had lost their lives, but Sookie had survived. After two weeks in a coma, Sookie had awakened, but did not speak. Principal Clark had used the word ‘traumatized’ several times when he warned all of them, and Katherine felt compelled to agree.

“Well,” the teacher finally continued, “if no one wants to tell us about their summer vacation, I guess we should continue with homeroom announcements. Tomorrow we will have a new student joining the sophomore class. Her name is Pamela Northman, and I want you all to greet her warmly tomorrow!”

“Yeah, Stackhouse, don’t go mouthing off!” Mark Thompson shouted across the room, making several students snicker. Katherine looked worriedly at her student, but Sookie didn’t even bat an eye and her mouth never broke from its deranged grin. She did glance down at her notebook, but that was all.

The infamous notebook, Katherine sighed internally. Whenever Sookie chose to participate in class, which only involved writing answers to questions, she would scrawl the response on her notebook page and hold it up. Katherine detested this method, but had to admit it was better than not being able to call on her at all. In the last school year, Katherine had adapted to Sookie’s needs, but had secretly resented that special accommodations were made. After all, children lost parents all the time and didn’t succumb to such extreme responses. What did Sookie expect to do for a job if she refused to speak? No matter what anyone else said, Katherine was certain Sookie just didn’t want to speak.

Sookie sat quietly throughout homeroom, wondering how long it would take the new girl to start making fun of her along with the rest of Bon Temps. If there was one thing everyone in town could unite on, it was that Crazy Sookie was worth getting a laugh over. Her own brother often got gales of laughter from his friends at her expense, but that was fine. It was one more way to pay for what she’d done. It was one more way to seek forgiveness. It was the only way she thought she could be absolved for the murder of her own parents.

During the fall of third grade, Sookie had been eight years old, and she had been playing somewhere. She couldn’t remember where, the accident had stolen most of her memories from that day. She had screamed and yelled at her parents to the point of tears. She didn’t know why she’d made such a fuss, but the crying had gone on and on. She had thrown such a tantrum about something that surely it was what had caused her daddy to crane his neck around to yell at her. That had to be why they had gone off the road. It had to be why her parents were dead.

The next thing she remembered was waking in the hospital with Gran at her bed side, praying long and hard. Sookie had tried to ask what happened, but parts of her felt disconnected. Her body felt slow to respond, and that familiar path from her brain to her mouth had vanished. In a way, it wasn’t that she couldn’t speak, it was that she couldn’t remember how she’d ever done it in the first place.

Of course, she hadn’t awoken from her coma with the intention of not speaking. At first, doctors believed the silence came from the disorientation and the brain swelling from her head trauma. However, once the swelling had gone down, Sookie still could not remember how to make the words come out. She could comprehend the things around her, but could not turn her own thoughts into words. After two more weeks in the hospital, visits from specialists and dozens of tests, it was finally determined that there wasn’t a physical cause for her muteness.

After the verdict was in, a new set of specialists were filed through Sookie’s room. It was only a few days before they all agreed that Sookie would speak again when she was good and ready. That news had only brought Sookie more anxiety because she felt as though, this too, were all her fault.

It serves her right!” Jason had yelled and cried into their Gran’s shoulder. Her own brother thought the loss of her voice was what she deserved for killing their parents, and Sookie couldn’t have agreed more with him by that point. An inability to hold her tongue is what had caused the crash. God had probably seen her not honoring her parents and decided that she didn’t deserve them anymore. For good measure, he took her voice too so she couldn’t hurt anyone else with it.

“Sookie,” Tara Thornton craned to look back at her, “I need a pen.”

Sookie looked at the girl twisted around to face her and Tara resisted the urge to recoil. There was always some gap between talking to Sookie and receiving a response. The blonde always seemed to come out of a fog whenever someone spoke to her.

Reaching into her bag, Sookie produced a pen and handed it to Tara. Without a response, Tara took it just before the bell rang to signal the end of homeroom and the start of first period. Tara was the only person who spoke to her other than teachers. Sure, it was only in the form of asking for a writing utensil, notes or paper, but at least it was never in the form of insults. They had been very close before the accident, but shortly after Sookie returned to school things had changed. Mostly Tara only looked at her or said a word to her when she needed something. Still, Sookie kept giving things to her classmate because it took some of the loneliness out of her silent life to have someone say her name every so often.

Sookie rose to head for her history class, already thinking about a new picture she could sketch throughout the day. She quickly got to her desk, took out her pen and began to doodle. By the end of fourth period, she had three pages of different flowers drawn in blue, black and red ink. They were good in the sense that she had drawn them so often that they had been perfected to the best of Sookie’s ability, but that was all.

“These are pretty,” Sookie turned her head slowly at the boy who came to her table with a lunch tray. It was Bill Compton, one of her brother’s closest childhood friends. Since the Compton house was only a valley away from the Stackhouse farm, Jason and Bill had palled around most of their childhood despite Bill being a year younger. The two of them and Hoyt Fortenberry were still best friends to this day.

Sookie looked at Bill with hesitation. The only one of Jason’s friends who wasn’t mean to her was Hoyt. Bill had a knack for acting like he had finally outgrown harassing her only to do something cruel. Bill’s tormenting had escalated from a gob of gum ground into her scalp to tearing her favorite book in half down the spine. The most recent, however, had been less about doing physical damages, and more about trying to hurt her emotionally. She had no proof, but she was certain Bill had been the one to put notes with the words, “Mute Bitch,” in her locker in sixth grade.

Sookie felt bad for Bill. Even with a valley of graves between their houses, she could still hear his father beating him on quiet nights. Everyone knew that Robert Compton was a drunk, and they knew that’s why his wife Julia had left him. Sookie was certain that the only ones who knew about the beatings were Jason, Hoyt and herself, although she hoped Bill didn’t know that she knew.

Bill stared at Sookie and she stared right back as if waiting to hear what he wanted. Finally the Junior turned around and walked to his table of friends. Jason and Hoyt as well as most of the football team welcomed Bill as always. Sookie looked at her brother briefly, but there was an obvious air of dismissal that the sister quickly acknowledged by looking back at her food. So, she continued to sit alone, eating her meal in silence.

As her food slowly disappeared, Sookie couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to have someone sitting across from her at the table. Would people point and whisper less? What would her company say to fill the silence as they ate together? Would their inevitable points of silence be companionable or awkward?

When her lunch was gone, Sookie wandered to the library like she usually did and spent the remainder of her free time hunting down a new book to read. The library was her safe haven. No one could hurt her here. It was the one place she felt she didn’t need to sustain the punishment that was her accepted act of contrition for the deaths of her parents. Everyone was silent here, and she could be normal for a few short minutes.

All too soon lunchtime was over, and Sookie found herself wandering to her next class with a new book to read. She perused it all through her english class, and drew more flowers in her math class. The only subject she paid any mind to in the second half of school was her anatomy/physiology class. Dr. Jones would chop her head off if she played around in his class. She liked that about him. He didn’t treat her any different from other students. He asked her questions in class and beamed with pride when she wrote out the answer. All the other teachers seemed happy enough to leave her be as long as she turned her homework in on time. Dr. Jones forced her to participate all throughout her ninth grade biology class last year. Unfortunately, the teacher for Sookie’s summer Chemistry class hadn’t been as insistent about her participation.

“Stackhouse, stick around a minute. Don’t worry, you won’t miss your bus,” Dr. Jones stopped Sookie as she packed up her belongings. She sat patiently while the other students filed out, “As you know, part of this class’s requirement is giving a researched demonstration.” Sookie looked at her hands nervously. She had always had to take an incomplete on class projects like these, but her otherwise perfect grades remained mostly unharmed. “Now, you could partner up with someone who can give the explanation of the demonstration and I will give you a passing grade as long as I am told you helped.”

Sookie deflated further. No one in her science class would help her. It didn’t matter how smart she was. Having to spend several afternoons and a possible weekend with her was unimaginable to her classmates.

“The new transfer student will be in your class,” Dr. Jones pointed out optimistically. “Would you like me to suggest it to her?”

Sookie bowed her head and shook it.

“Sookie, this demonstration is thirty percent of your grade for this semester. That will mean you can only get as high as a C for the semester in this class,” Dr. Jones warned.

Taking her notepad out, Sookie wrote, “Could I just write out my speech like I usually do for partial credit?”

“If I make an exception for you, then everyone will start forgoing the project for partial credit, Sookie,” Dr. Jones sighed. “I’m not trying to bully you, but what are you going to do if you don’t start learning to work with others?”

I just want to draw,” Sookie replied.

Dr. Jones smiled, “I know you enjoy that very much, Sookie, but do you love it because it’s your calling? Or do you love it because it lets you continue to hide?” When Sookie didn’t reply, Dr. Jones stood back up. “Think about it. We won’t even begin handing in papers for it until Homecoming. If you change your mind about pairing with the new student, let me know and I will talk to her for you.”

Sookie nodded as she gathered her things back up and headed for the door. The hallways were already thinning down as more and more students raced to get a good seat on the buses. There were only a couple dozen by the time Sookie got to her locker, and she quickly shoved all her materials inside.

It was a mad dash to make it to the bus, but Sookie managed to take a seat near the middle of the war zone that was Bus 16. The middle of the bus was always the worst. There were always things being thrown around and screaming back and forth. The middle just always seemed to catch all the debris.

Finally it was their stop; an eight minute walk to the house with Jason, Bill Compton, and herself. Sookie carefully trailed several feet behind, knowing better than to have her back to Bill or even her brother. Despite the fact Jason knew that Sookie wouldn’t say shit if she had a mouthful he had never laid a hand on her. He also never stopped or prevented an assault on his sister. That was why Sookie remained cautious of those around her until she was safely at home.

“Whoa,” Bill stopped suddenly to look up at the old Beauchéne Plantation, “the people working on Rosenfont Hall have really done a great job!”

Jason snorted, “You always had a hard on for that place.”

“Rosenfont is the jewel of Bon Temps! It’s the only thing people come to this shit hole to see!” Bill protested. “It’s the epitome of Southern Colonial-”

“Yeah, yeah, you wanna be an architect. I get it,” Jason grumbled with a roll of his eyes. He kept walking home, but Bill remained paused in front of Rosenfont Hall.

Sookie stood frozen as well, but it was not in admiration of the ongoing restoration. If she kept walking then Bill would be able to sneak up on her. She needed a good head start to even hope to outrun him. The girl’s heart thrummed achingly against her ribs. Her house was a six minute walk from Rosenfont, four if she ran full throttle, but Bill was faster by far. If he got the urge to take after her, four minutes was three minutes too long.

Just as Sookie was resolving to make a break for it, Bill snapped his eyes on her. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he asked and Sookie swallowed and nodded in agreement. Without any warning other than his gaze, Sookie already knew that this conversation would not end well for her. “You haven’t even looked at it. Look,” he pointed, but her eyes remained trained on him. Bill snatched her arm and pulled her toward him. “Look. At. It.”

Shivering nervously, Sookie needed all her will power to look away from Bill. As her head finally started to turn, she felt Bill’s hand leave her wrist and touch the back of her neck. As she predicted, the encounter was turning sour. Bill pushed her to the ground and pressed her face into the gravel road.

Without her consent, a sharp cry burst from Sookie’s mouth, and Bill grinned. “See? You can make noises just fine. So, why don’t you tell me to stop? Come on! Tell me to stop, you stupid mute!” She felt his hand press harder, and the gravel imbedded deeper into her cheek and temple. Despite the whine that continued to pour from her mouth, Bill continued to mock her. “Tell me to stop and I will.”

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” A cool, bored voice demanded. Bill Compton looked up from the sobbing blonde to see a gorgeous girl staring him down from the gate of Rosenfont Hall.

“Oh… I, uh, was,” Bill stammered at her beauty and blushed.

“Getting the fuck away from my property?” the girl finished for him coldly. Her blue eyes flashed like sunlight gleaming off a sheet of ice.

Bill quickly picked his bag back up and sped away before the mysterious foul mouthed girl could say another word.

“Are you all right?” the girl asked once Bill had ran down the road. She came to stand in front of Sookie, and crouched to start putting things back in the other girl’s bag. “Oh, this is lovely,” she exclaimed as one of Sookie’s earlier drawings floated from between the pages of a textbook. “Did you draw this?” she asked, holding up the picture.

Sookie nodded as she finally began to help putting away her books. When the girl tried to hand her the picture back, Sookie shook her head and pushed it against her savior’s chest. Thank you for helping me, she thought as she silently offered the drawing. The thought startled Sookie. When was the last time she had thought of an actual line of dialogue she wanted to share with another person? This was one of the rare instances in her daily exchanges that had nothing to do with school or responding to a yes or no question.

“Thank you,” the girl smiled. Suddenly Sookie realized who the girl must be. Pamela Northman! “Your face is scratched up,” Pam remarked as she reached forward to brush away some gravel that clung to Sookie’s skin. “Come inside. I’ll clean it up.” Sookie shook her head suddenly and pointed down the road. Pam raised her eyebrows, “I, uh, don’t know how to ask this without sounding offensive, but are you really a mute?” Sookie nodded. “Oh, well, that…,” Pam paused. Could mutes still make noises when they were in pain? “I can call your house for you,” she offered instead. “Please, your face is bleeding.”

Sookie allowed Pam to help her up, and followed the girl past the gate of Rosenfont.

“What’s your phone number?” Pam asked.

Sookie took out her notebook and wrote down the number. Before she handed it over, she wrote, “Please, don’t tell her about Bill.”

The last thing Sookie wanted was Gran mentioning Bill’s actions to Mr. Compton like when Bill had kneaded gum into Sookie’s hair. It had been a afternoon of peanut oil and smelling like Thanksgiving turkey for three days that had kept Adele Stackhouse from shearing off her granddaughter’s hair at the scalp. However, smelling like she’d just come out of a deep fryer was nothing compared to the whooping Mr. Compton had given his son. Bill had come to school black and blue with his arm in a cast. He’d said he’d fallen down the stairs, but he had glared at Sookie the whole time on the bus. She’d been in first grade at the time, and she still remembered that contemptuous look. She still remembered that her tattling on him had caused that broken wrist and all those bruises. Even before she lost her voice, she vowed to never tattle again.

Pam nodded grimly at Sookie’s request before dialing. As the phone rang, Pam suddenly realized she had no idea whom she would be speaking for, nor to whom she would be speaking. Sookie seemed to realize this too because she wrote, “I’m Sookie Stackhouse,” on the paper next to her plea not to tell Gran about the bullying.

Hello?” a rough, old voice came over the phone.

“Hi, is this the Stackhouse residence?” Pam asked politely.

Yes, it is,” came an equally polite reply. “How can I help you?”

“This is Pam Northman from Rosenfont Hall. Sookie tripped in front of my house, and I invited her in for tea and a band-aid,” Pam lied effortlessly. “I just wanted to let you know not to worry.”

Why thank you!” Adele crowed happily, wondering if Sookie might make a new friend, and hoping to God that she did. “If she plans to stay past dark, just let me know when to come pick her up.”

“I will,” Pam assured. “Have a nice day.”

You too, young lady,” Adele gushed at the display of manners.

“Thank you,” Pam smiled genuinely as she hung up the phone.

Sookie stared at Pam in surprise. Not five minutes ago Pam had let two F-Bombs drop as casually as a ‘please’ or ‘thank you!’

“So, what grade are you in, Sookie Stackhouse?” Pam asked casually. Sookie held up all ten fingers. “A sophomore? Me, too. I hope we have a class or two together.”

Sookie took up her notebook again and jotted down, “Homeroom and anatomy/physiology are the only ones I know for sure.”

“Ugh, anatomy,” Pam groaned. “That’s the one where we dissect things, isn’t it?” She looked at her perfectly manicured nails. “I don’t suppose you have a shitty subject I could compensate you for not having to put my hands inside a dead body?”

Sookie paused as she remembered the research demonstration. Playing with her pen she hesitated further to ask. Pam was just joking, right? She didn’t actually want to help Sookie at all, she just wanted to get out of doing any work. Then again, Sookie was planning on doing the research herself anyway. If Pam wanted to be her spokesperson, she would happily give her credit.

There’s a mandatory research demonstration-”

“Fuck my life,” Pam lamented as she read the first line.

If I do all the work, will you read the index cards to the class?”

“Wait, you’re going to do all the work on the project and dissect my frog, but all I have to do is read some index cards you’re going to write for me anyway?” Pam asked. Sookie nodded earnestly. “Well, I’ll need to find some more things than being your representative to pay you back, but I accept your offer.”

Sookie’s eyes widened; not because Pam accepted to take Sookie’s guaranteed A+ in anatomy/physiology, but because she offered to pay her back. No one ever looked at Sookie’s offers as more than compensation for having to spend time with her.

“For now, how about I start by cleaning that face of yours,” Pam laughed as she took Sookie’s hand and lead her to the kitchen. She took out a First Aid kit and quickly cleaned up Sookie’s scratches. Next a soft, square bandage was taped into place and Pam began putting away the supplies. “You should be able to take that off before bed. Just be gentle when washing your face tonight.” Sookie’s smile easily said, ‘thank you’.

The pair stood awkwardly silent for a minute before Pam cleared her throat uncomfortably and began moving about the kitchen to make some tea. “Do you have a preference in tea?” Pam asked and was delighted when Sookie shook her head ‘no’. “Is jasmine tea okay?” Sookie shrugged. She didn’t know anything about tea. All she knew was that Gran drank Earl Grey.

“I can be a bit dominating in conversations,” Pam mentioned as she began filling the kettle, “but I’ve never talked to someone who couldn’t talk back.”

Sookie remained self-consciously standing in the middle of the kitchen while Pam zipped around her making little sandwiches and opening packages of what looked like hard cookies. “Our mother loved tea time. When we were living in England, she fell in love with the idea, and it sort of carried on even after we left. My brothers and I still have afternoon tea every day.”

A pang struck harshly at Sookie’s heart. Pam had brothers. It sounded like they liked her. She wondered what it was like to have a brother that wanted to spend time with her.

“Oh, is that silly?” Pam asked in embarrassment. Sookie shook her head. “You looked upset at the idea of tea time.”

How could Sookie even begin to explain the depths of her envy? It would take so many pages of her notebook to express her despair that she couldn’t have such a relationship with her own brother. Afternoon tea? She’d be lucky to received an afternoon talk.

“Oh no!” A voice called from the foyer as the sound of the door closing snapped through the air. “Pam’s already put on the kettle!”

“Looks like we’re having jasmine tea again,” another voice chuckled. “Although the cucumber sandwiches taste better with it than that chai crap you make us drink.”

“You just have a resistance to being happy,” the first man teased.

“And you have an unhealthy obsession with cinnamon,” the second man answered.

“Guys, we have a guest for tea time,” Pam called as she brought the tray of crunchy cookies and fresh sandwiches out to a rather quaint, round table. Whoa, they do take tea time serious! Sookie thought as she saw the soft, floral printed table cloth dressing the rich mahogany table. Gran would melt over this set-up.

“Oh, hello there,” a man about her height with short brown hair waved merrily before accepting the tray his sister was handing him. “I’m Godric Northman. Pleasure to meet you.”

Sookie’s face blushed softly at his smile. It brought another ache. These people didn’t know just how crazy she was yet. This generous and kind greeting would not continue for long. Oh well, it will make for a nice memory, she reasoned with an air of contentment.

“I’m Eric Northman,” Sookie had to look way, way up as another striking blond stood before her. The former pink stain of her cheeks transformed into a radiating glow as she looked up at the giant. He was tall, lean, and had an artful array of golden strands of hair. “What happened here?” he touched Sookie’s jawline just below where her bandage stopped. His touch made her heart pound briefly against her ribs. What the heck was that, ‘ba-dump’!?

“Some asshole smashed her face into the ground right in front of our gate,” Pam huffed, and Sookie’s face tore away from Eric’s touch to gape at Pam. I thought it was our secret! “Oh, I’ll keep the secret from your mother, but no way is he not getting a beating from my brother at some point!”

Sookie grabbed her notebook and wrote, “Grandmother. My parents are dead.”

Pam grimaced apologetically, “I’m sorry. Ours are gone too. They died at the end of last school year.” Sookie’s hand went to her mouth, and Pam could read the condolences in her eyes. “It’s all right. Well, as all right as it can be. We’re getting right along, and Godric agreed to stay with us until Eric and I finish high school and start college. It won’t be so terrible.”

Eric watched the two girls a moment and stared back and forth between them and the notebook before asking, “Does she not speak?”

“No, she doesn’t,” Pam sighed. “So let’s help out by giving her ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions until we get to know her better.”

“Would you mind telling us her name then, Pam?” Godric sighed.

“It’s Sookie Stackhouse,” Pam smiled.

“A pleasure then, Sookie,” Godric pulled a chair from the table. “Have a seat, won’t you?”

Nervously, Sookie accepted her chair and sat rigidly as a teapot and four delicate teacup and saucers came to the table. Sookie watched as the siblings bustled around her in preparation for their afternoon tea.

Finally all were seated, and Sookie was surprised to be quickly addressed.

“So,” the handsome, blond brother looked at her curiously, “Stackhouse? That’s one of the two houses up the street, isn’t it?” Sookie nodded that he was correct. “I’ve been up here for the last few weeks getting things cleaned up and moved in, and heard a bit about the local families.” Sookie gave him as pleasant of a smile as she could manage. When he returned it, she was surprised. People usually gave her a weird look when she smiled.

Thankfully, Sookie was taken out of the limelight as Godric announced, “Eric picked out his car.” Godric’s snicker made Eric roll his eyes.

“Is it a Corvette?” Pam teased.

Eric’s eyes went glossy the way Jason’s glazed at the car dealership when he saw the fully loaded Chevy Tahoe. Of course Jason had ended up with a small Ford Ranger instead, but he had been grateful to have earned enough to buy even that.

“It’s an Acura Integra GS-R,” Godric laughed, knowing that his brother had despised driving his Jeep for the past month after having driven all the way down from New York.

Sookie’s teacup rattled. She knew little about cars, but she did know that the new Acura was easily over $20,000. That’s more than most of Bon Temps makes in a year… On top of that, the Northmans had not only bought Rosenfont Hall, but were restoring it.

Godric smiled at Sookie’s shaking teacup, “Yes, Sookie, we are quite wealthy.” Shyly, Sookie set her teacup back down so as not to distract the others with its clinking. The china alone probably could buy Jason’s Ranger. “Rosenfont, however, has belonged to our mother’s family for generations. She was a Beauchéne before she married our father.” Sookie’s jaw drooped a bit. The Beauchénes were famous, but it was thought the last of them had died five years ago when Lady Margarette Beauchéne passed away. She had been like Bon Temps Royalty. Gran had even come to Rosenfont on several occasions with care packages the last couple years Margarette had been alive. No one had really known what became of Alice Beauchéne, and Margarette had been rather tight lipped about her daughter’s whereabouts.

“Grandmother certainly let the place go quite a bit those last few years,” Eric sighed. “It took me all summer to strip and refinish the woodwork. Then I had to patch all the plaster after the electrician updated the wiring. I must have driven to and from Shreveport thirty times this summer. Too bad Bon Temps doesn’t have a hardware store worth a damn. I might have actually gotten a chance to meet some locals that way.”

He did the refinishing himself!? Sookie felt faint. The Northmans were not only cultured, wealthy and astute, but comfortable with physical labor as well!?

“Our father was a Lieutenant in the United States Air Force,” Eric smiled at Sookie’s shocked expression. “When he married our mother, they agreed that they didn’t want their children growing up with money. Don’t get me wrong, they spoiled us rotten at Christmas and birthdays. Especially Pam-”

“Hey!” The sister protested sharply.

“But they still made us earn everything the rest of the year,” Eric finished as though Pam hadn’t interrupted. “Please, enjoy your tea,” he gestured, “while my sister tells me about some boy I will be beating the crap out of some time this week.” Sookie’s face paled. “Just kidding!” Eric grinned devilishly, and it made Sookie uncertain if he were kidding or not.

“Eric will be finishing his Senior year at your school,” Godric explained. “Are you a sophomore like Pam?” Sookie nodded, even though she was only missing a single credit to be considered a Junior. “I am glad she will start school tomorrow knowing someone already. We have been unpacking this whole time because Eric came down early to start the restorations. He only just finished the patching and painting last week and then helped the movers bring all of our stuff in. It’s been a mad scramble ever since.” There was a very natural pause as he took a sip of his tea, and Sookie quickly took a gulp of her own to maintain the pacing. “Do you do well in school?” Sookie nodded slowly as if not wanting to brag. “Pam only does well in Home Ec. and literature classes.”

“Be fair!” Pam whined. When her brothers looked at her with raised eyebrows, she mumbled, “I do well in orchestra too.”

“Too bad Bon Temps doesn’t have an orchestra,” Eric sighed. “Pam plays the viola.”

“I was surprised she wanted to play something that touches her face since she’s so obsessed with her make-up being perfect,” Godric smiled over his teacup at Pam. The younger sister huffed at her brother’s comment, but still took ladylike sips from her own cup.

Dazzled by the refined family, Sookie tentatively took up her own cup once more and tried to mimic their elegance. She knew she must look like a chicken caught in a fox’s jaws, but she still tried to look normal.

“Stackhouse,” the girl’s eyes flashed on the middle brother, and that scorching blush returned at his blue eyes, “that’s the farmhouse on the northern fork in the road, right?” Sookie nodded. “We’ve never met them. Growing up, we really only visited Grandmother at Rosenfont for Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter when we could. Our father’s responsibilities at the airbase didn’t offer many opportunities to visit for long. Even though our roots are in Bon Temps on our mother’s side, this town is still a stranger to us.”

“Maybe you could give us a tour?” Godric suggested warmly.

Sookie thought for a moment about what sort of tour she could give them. There were only a handful of places that were off the beaten path that she knew about, but they were all fishing holes and hunting hides.

There’s always, Sookie stopped that thought immediately before it could finish. She would never be able to go back to the old willow tree that she had spent her summer days in the boughs with a book or a tape player. She remembered laying at the crest of the hill just outside the shadows of the tree, and letting the sunlight hold her. She missed that tree, but the hill it lived on overlooked the crash sight that Sookie had murdered her parents at. Sookie could never go back there again.

“Sookie?” the girl started at Godric’s concerned voice, and her face adopted a shy, apologetic look. “You went somewhere just now,” he teased.

“Does that mean you’ll show us some places?” Pam asked.

Slowly, Sookie nodded in agreement. There were a few fishing spots that had beautiful scenery. Even if no one here was in to fishing, they could still appreciate the beauty of the area. That was what Bon Temps truly had to offer–beauty.

The sprinkling of homes kept vibrant and beautiful by Southern Pride, and the dark but undeniable history that peppered them with scandal. Rosenfont Hall was special for the area because it was erected shortly after the civil war. It was the only plantation in Bon Temps that had never owned slaves, and because of that had a rather shaky ground among the community. Some spited the Beauchéne family for being the first plantation to pay its workers fair wages despite the color of their skin. Others in the community celebrated the new family for the same exact reason. There had been many fires and threats, but Rosenfont Hall prevailed. It was one of three plantations still relatively intact, and the only one that was still owned by the original family.

As afternoon tea concluded, Sookie moved to help clear the settings, and received immediate dismissal by Eric.

“Thank you, but you are Pam’s guest. Godric and I will clear,” he politely declined.

Faltering for a moment, Sookie was taken by surprise when Pam grabbed her wrist and hauled her toward the sweeping staircase. “Come on! I want to show you my room!” Pam crowed, excited to finally show off her crowning achievement since moving to the South.

Sookie was still dazed by her sudden ascension to the second floor, but that sensation transformed into one of awe when Pam flung open her bedroom door. Pausing in the doorway, Sookie took a moment to appreciate the splendor before she stepped inside.

Pam’s room was a soft pink reserved for newborn baby girls, but with the dark walnut accents and gold filigree; the room was one of regality. Her viola case leaned artfully against her vanity, and Sookie felt drawn to the instrument.

“Would you like me to play for you?” Pam offered sweetly upon seeing Sookie’s focused gaze. “Since the high school doesn’t have an orchestra, I’ll need someone to play in front of!”

Sookie nodded slowly as Pam picked up the case to lay on her bed and extract her viola. She sat at her vanity, watching herself in the mirror as if it were just as important to look gorgeous playing her instrument as it was to look gorgeous the other remaining hours of the day.

There was a tension in the air just before the bow caressed the strings. It was lower than Sookie anticipated, but she quickly remembered that the viola and the violin weren’t supposed to sound identical. There was a richness to the viola that the violin could not match. If the violin was meant to pierce your heart with emotion, then the viola was created to massage and calm you into accepting and experiencing that emotion.

“Beau,” Sookie’s voice emitted before her throat closed like an iron gate around the syllable and choked out the rest of the word. This was only the third or fourth time Sookie could recall that she managed to utter a syllable that wasn’t brought on by injury. As always, the involuntary sound made her heart race and throat close. Pam stopped playing abruptly to stare at the girl. She could have sworn she’d heard a sound come from the silent girl’s lips.

Just a sob, Sookie reasoned anxiously. Sobbing and injury were the only times a noise could be brought from her mouth, and the music had been building a castle of emotion across her chest. The stone fortress had merely torn an audible cry much like Compton’s assault had. Only, this time, the sound that came from her was almost… welcome.

Pam and Sookie stared at each other a long moment before Pam smiled and began putting away her viola. “Would you like to stay for dinner?” she asked.

Sookie hesitated. She really should be heading home. Pam could already tell that Sookie didn’t plan on staying even before she shook her head. “I’ll have Eric take you home. He’s crap at cooking, so it’ll save me and Godric from putting out fires.” An amused smile split Sookie’s lips and Pam was taken aback. Sookie’s mouth had remained in a pleasant upward tilt, but it had just seemed frozen there for most of the afternoon. A grin-and-bear-it smile. Now a genuine smile of joy and amusement tugged at her lips, and it made the silent girl all the more beautiful.

“ERIC!” Pam shouted suddenly, making Sookie jump. “TAKE SOOKIE HOME!”

“FINE!” Eric yelled back, causing Sookie’s head to spin. What had happened to that upperclass refinement at tea time?

“I’ll walk you out,” Pam offered as she ushered Sookie out of her bedroom and to the staircase. Not being swept down the stairs like she had been coming up them, Sookie took the time to appreciate the ornate detail of the spindles. Rosenfont really was a castle.

“Got your bag,” Eric held up Sookie’s book bag by the front door. She hugged it to her chest as she followed Eric out the door.

“See you in school tomorrow, Sookie!” Pam called with a wave.

Pam was presented with another of Sookie’s beautiful smiles just as Eric opened the passenger door of his new car. “You’re my first passenger!” he announced to her. Sookie’s grin turned nervous. “In this car,” he explained with a chuckle. “I’ve driven people around before. Hell, I’ve driven in New York City. I think I can handle some empty country roads!”

Sookie relaxed as Eric made his way to the driver’s side, and she quickly buckled her seatbelt.

“I hope we’re not too talkative for you. Is it just as frustrating for you when people assume they know how you feel?” Eric asked as he opened the door to lean in and push the seat back. His brother was so much shorter, it was comical.

Sookie looked at Eric curiously and drew a question mark in the air.

Eric gave her a rueful smile, “Whenever I’m quiet, everyone assumes I’m in a foul mood. Does that happen to you?” Sookie shook her head. “It must be nice to have time to yourself in your own head without others thinking the worst.” Sookie smiled, but it wasn’t the one of joy she had worn moments ago. “It must be lonely, too.” She lifted her shoulders casually as Eric finally climbed into his seat. “Would you like to ride with us in the mornings? You can walk up to the house instead of the bus stop and I’ll drive you to school.”

Jason would hate that. Sookie knew her brother would be jealous. He only drove his truck to work and not school now because he said he was saving on gas. Sookie knew it was because Gran would make him drive Sookie to school now that they were in the same building. But if I have my own ride, he can start driving his truck again. Maybe that will make him happy? Maybe he would even start driving Bill to school again and Bill would let down on some of the bullying!

Sookie nodded cautiously.

“Great! I’ll see you in the morning then!” Eric beamed as he pulled out of the driveway and down the road. In a moment they were turning onto the northern fork and reached her driveway. “This is some nice land. Very Little House on the Prairie,” Eric teased lightly as they bounced up the gravel driveway. “You need your driveway re-leveled.”

Sookie nodded in agreement, but it wasn’t in the funds at the moment. The old wooden boards of the house needed a new coat of paint before the wood started weakening.

When they pulled up to the farmhouse, Sookie was surprised when Eric hopped out from his seat and jogged to her door. “My mother was from here,” he reminded Sookie. “I know about Southern Gentlemen and manners.”

Sookie accepted his hand that he offered and a new flame grew under her cheeks as their fingers touched. His hand was so warm. It spread heat all the way up her elbow and into her chest. Her skin tingled and her scalp prickled with the spike in her blood pressure. This man was bad for her heart!



Catalyst: Epilogue

Epilogue: Soulmates

February 2027

Eric’s POV:

Leif, Alexis, if you aren’t down here in five minutes to catch the bus, you’re going to school with Mr. Stackhouse and Mrs. Northman like a couple of geeks!” Sookie shouts up the stairs at our children. The mad scamper that results from her threats brings me deep amusement which earns a playful grin from my wife.

You are too good at finding just the right motivators for children,” I tell my wife as she goes back to the study and packs the last of her graded papers from the day before.

It’s a joy of motherhood; knowing how to simultaneously embarrass and motivate your child,” she tells me.

Before I can reply to this sage statement, my children practically fall down the stairs in an attempt to avoid being shuttled to school by, not only their mother and uncle, but also two of the school’s teachers.

Mom,” Alexis is struggling with her hair, “my braid is going sideways!”

Sookie steps behind my daughter to fix the errant plait of hair, and as she does, I look her twin brother over with a critical eye.

Leif,” I frown, “where is your belt?”

My son releases the softest of scoffs and looks sideways in his I’m-not-rolling-my-eyes-Dad way of his that pushes my temper. So, it is one of those days, is it? I think in exasperation. “The teacher confiscated my belt yesterday. He said wearing a belt made of bullets wasn’t school appropriate. I had to wear a stupid woven one all day.”

I told you when you got you that belt you weren’t allowed to wear it to school,” Sookie chimes at him as she ties off the end of Alexis’ braid. “You have two other belts you can wear. Go get one.”

But, Mom, they’re lame,” Leif protests.

Not as lame as your butt hanging out of your pants all day,” Sookie’s voice mimic’s Leif’s whine perfectly. “Now put on a belt!” She points up the stairs and Leif makes that sound in the back of his throat that makes me want to shake him.

Dad,” Alexis distracts me with her dazzling smile, “you don’t have to pick me up after cheer practice tonight, Bella is giving me a ride home.”

My eyes narrow, “Bella E. or Bella S.?”

Alexis frowns, “E. Why?”

Because Bella S. always smells like the entire football team came on her, I say to myself with distaste.

Bella S. seems too undisciplined to me. I do not like the idea of her driving you around if she is going to be distracted,” I shrug. It is one thing to not like one of my daughter’s friends. It is an entirely different thing to trash them. That will probably only make my daughter desire to spend more time with this young woman I cannot stand! Alexis narrows her eyes at me suspiciously, but I am saved from her explosion of defensive shouts when Leif returns. “Much better!” I praise when his pants are held in proper place.

Whatever,” Leif grumbles and I sigh. I think I would prefer Alexis being on the defensive over ‘whatever’. I hate that fucking word.

All right, all right, everyone out of here. I’ll see you two at school,” Sookie shoos them out the door. “Wait, Leif, do you have your lunch money this time, or does mommy need to drop it off in your homeroom again?” she taunts, making Leif’s ears go red. He pats down his pockets and pulls out a ten dollar bill.

With that, my children file out of the house and I let my head drop against the door frame. “When do they stop being teenagers?” I moan to my wife with something that feels suspiciously like exhaustion.

Sookie smiles and leans in to kiss me, “When they are paying their first mortgage.”

I groan a bit louder, “Shall we kick them out after graduation?”

My wife wraps her arms around me, “No, they have college to go to, and then we can talk about giving them the boot.”

Your son has me about ready to spit nails,” I comment.

Why is he my son when he’s difficult and your son when he places in track?” Sookie demands laughingly.

It is the same reason Alexis is my daughter when she punches a man in the face, and is your daughter when she wins the Spirit Award at cheer camp,” I reply.

Are you saying I’m the more difficult of the two of us?” Sookie raises her eyebrows.


She snorts on a laugh and pulls me in for a kiss just when Jason pulls up to our driveway honking. With a disappointed sigh, she pulls away and smiles before grabbing her bag, telling me she loves me, and leaving for school.

I watch the car pull away and look around the empty house. The past seventeen years have been a real adventure. Our home in Ohio has truly become a family home with scuffs on the banisters, dings in the walls, and marks on the ceilings that I still have not gotten a confession from either child on how they came to be there.

As I go to the study and begin my day’s work of conference calls and emails, I am delighted to see a message from Quigley. Apparently he is going to be joining Diedre in her visit this weekend.

Admittedly I am just as apprehensive as I am delighted. Diedre will be meeting my son for the first time, and I am curious how it will pan out. My children have had very little interactions with vampires that are not part of the Gaul line, and for good reason. They smell exceptionally good. Even Weres turn their heads when my children pass by.

Thankfully the vampire community is aware of my children and understand the ramifications of touching them. It was a lesson taught with extreme prejudice when a Youngling tried to snatch my daughter. Even though the vampire community protested and yowled at my swift murder of the young vampire, I silenced their shouts with my own roar. I made it clear that loss of impulse control is always a dangerous thing, and I would make sure it resulted in death one hundred percent of the time if that loss was experienced around my family.

Our children had only been a few years old at that time, and Sookie had been understandably protective of them for several years after the incident. Thankfully, the vampire in question had been young enough for Sookie to hold him at bay until I arrived, and Alexis had been left unharmed in the scuffle. That is probably why Sookie only shut us into the house for two years instead of twenty.

That evening had involved a very difficult conversation with our four year old twins about what daddy, Aunt Pam and Uncles Godric and Jason were. Somehow Sookie managed to explain in a way that our small children could understand, and even now, thirteen years later, they identify us as Daywalkers instead of Vampires.

Of course, they have learned more and more over the years, and so has the rest of the family. We have learned the curious attributes our children have acquired having been bred between an angel/fairy and a vampire/Daywalker. Both Leif and Alexis are considerably more athletically able than the average humans their age. They have also been able to function on less sleep than children their age since hitting puberty. Between the ages of eleven and thirteen they slept ungodly amounts of time, but then around fourteen and fifteen, they required as little as three hours sleep a night. It has been like that the past two years now.

Another curious trait they have gained is an affinity for drinking blood. This strange impulse only hits them when they sustain injuries (like when Leif broke his leg at a track meet), but it had also been quite strong when they went through their growth spurts. The consumption of blood seems to allow them to heal faster than their mother or Camilla, but still not at vampire speeds. Where Sookie’s broken nose her first year of college healed by the end of the night, Leif’s leg snapped back into place only an hour after drinking two bottles of blood.

Ludwig has had theories now and again, but her biggest curiosity is if our children could initiate a Bond of their own with non-vampires. Of course, I have already come up with my own solutions if any children Sookie and I have find a Mate that is not a vampire already. Jason or Pam could always turn them and the Youngling could perform the Bonding ritual. Hopefully that is a very distant problem!

I have already accepted that my son will be Diedre’s, and perhaps I am not as at peace with it as I thought I would be. Again and again, I try to remind myself that he is the same age Sookie was when I began courting her, but there is a strange weight on my heart. I can feel it on Sookie’s heart as well from time to time. It is the weight of parenthood. No matter how much you may like your child’s mate, there is a displeasure at seeing someone else care for them. The idea of Diedre straightening his tie instead of me, or smoothing his hair instead of his mother; it creates an ache in my chest.

It makes me confused why I never felt it in my human life with my human children, but I know the answer is simple. When I was human, life was stronger and more brittle simultaneously. You were strong and hard, but at the mercy of injury and disease. Now with eternity to live, I just want my children to stay babies that much longer. I want them to stay in my and Sookie’s care just a few more years.

Sookie’s POV:

A smile tugs at my lips as I read my work e-mail for the tenth time and gaze fondly at the link attached. It is a free electronic copy of Spirit Snare by none other than Jason’s ‘Snow White’, or as I knew him, Jeremy Lintner. He emailed me when he published his first short story with a word document copied so I could read his first official publication ten years ago. Though he’s written several short stories and three unheard of novels in these past eleven years, I’ve actually heard mention of his newest novel in popular online blogs and a few news broadcasts! Though it’s no New York Times Best Seller, it is a tremendous accomplishment for my former student!

~Thanks for always believing in me, Mrs. Northman. Thanks for seeing something in me when no one else did.~

It was a short letter, but it still tugs at my heartstrings. Who would have believed a kid I taught almost twenty years ago still thinks about his sophomore English teacher? I open my drawer and look at the hardback cover of Spirit Snare. Jeremy has no idea I’ve bought a copy of every one of his publications to show my support. I’ve written praises to the magazines that published his short stories and comments on websites that have featured his work. Maybe one day I’ll send him a copy of this book to have signed.

The bell rings, announcing that my students will start trickling in, and I bound to my feet with Jeremy’s book clutched in my hand. When the bell signaling the start of class shrieks throughout the room, I hold up the novel with the biggest grin I’ve worn this year.

Good morning, class!” I greet excitedly, “I have a special announcement!”

You’re retiring?” Jacob Keaton calls from his back corner.

Haha,” I sigh. “I’m nowhere near old enough to retire. I’d just be given the boot. You need to learn more about the joys of becoming a teacher.” A few students snort laugh, but since I have everyone’s attention now, I hold up the book I want to gush about once again. “Now, the special announcement is a student I used to teach at this very school, who learned in this very room just had his first hardback publication!” I brandish Spirit Snare through the air like a banner.

Uh, good for him,” Bella N. says politely. All these damn Bellas! How did a book grossly misrepresenting vampires become so freaking popular!? Of course I know the answer to that. The vampire community had actually plugged the book themselves because it encouraged vampire/human relationships among a very susceptible group- i.e. teenagers. Tons of ‘Bellas’ went searching for their ‘Edwards’, and vampire/human marriages quickly became legalized all throughout this country and several others. Eric said some good came from it, and several of his Ancient friends found their Bondeds, including the Vampire King of Sweden to whom Eric is particularly close.

Do you guys not realize this could be any of you down the road?” I ask of them. “Any one of you could be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King! A-den, A-why-den, A-eye-den,” I point to the three boys who share the same name with different spellings that we joke about constantly, “you could write the next big comedic screenplay. Bella, you could become the Jane Austin of the twenty-first century. Jacob,” I look at my number one antagonist of the year, “you could send an entire generation to the stars with the right words!” My class is suddenly very quiet, and I flip open my book to a passage that I love.

~Luke knew he would never have the powers that were wielded by his new friends. He knew without a shadow of a doubt that his body was fragile and incompetent by comparison. However, he also knew that in this moment he could save them despite his short-comings. As Finley tried desperately to keep his soul from being torn from its borrowed vessel, Luke stepped between Finley and his corrupted lover.

Evelyn,” Luke opened his arms wide, “not Fin. Don’t hurt him!”

Luke!” Finley called in horror as he watched the young boy’s life force glow and flutter around his physical body. “Get out of there!”

The boy closed his eyes as he accepted his fate. If Evelyn needed a soul to appease her inner demon, then she could have his. After all, what more could a human offer to the Guardians of the Gates of Hell?~

A-why-den snorted, “The hero’s name is ‘Luke’? What is this? Star Wars?”

Shut up!” Bella G. snapped at her classmate, “It’s supposed to be an everyday name! It’s the writer’s way of showing that anyone can be a hero!”

I smile as the class argues over the passage without the context of the rest of the book. By the end of the period, everyone writes the name and author to borrow or buy their own copies.

As my day goes on, I ignore the impending weekend, and what it might bring. Ever since Eric told me Diedre would be coming by, I’ve done a pretty good job through most of the week not thinking about what her visit might lead to.

That is until lunch and my stupid brother.

So,” Jason nudges me, “it’s gonna be a pretty big weekend, huh?”

Cammie sighs and rolls her eyes for me, “Come on, Jason, don’t make her think about it!”

I will remind you that I didn’t even know if I could stand Eric when I first met him,” I point out to my brother.

Jason snorts and nearly throws his head back with his laughter, “You’re joking, right? You had ‘fuck me’ written all over your face. It just so happened to be underlined with ‘fuck off’.”

One of the older teachers glares at Jason’s language, and I can’t say I blame them. Jason’s voice has a habit of carrying, and with teachers coming and going out of the lounge, a wandering student could easily overhear such a crude statement.

Regardless of all that, it doesn’t mean there will be some instantaneous occurrence,” I press.

Have you told Leif anything?” Cammie asks even though she knows Eric and I have kept our mouths shut about the whole thing. I only bother to shake my head negatively.

Obviously both of our children know what Bonding is, and we have expressed that we want nothing less for either of them. To be honest, I think I’m more worried about Alexis than Leif. I can only hope she’s as supportive of her brother as Jason was of me when I met my Bonded.

Alexis’s POV:

Great lifts today, Lexi!” Bella E., or Belly as we call her, gives me a grin as we head to the locker room to change. “Hey, I need to give the other Bella a ride home tonight too,” she adds as she reaches for the zipper on her skirt.

Oh, okay,” I shrug. I hang with the Bellas all the time, so I’m not particularly surprised by this turn of events.

You knoooow,” Bella S. leans in as I take my top off and change from my uniform to my street clothes, “my brother is back from his trip to Germany.” My face goes suddenly hot. Ethan Sims is the most gorgeous guy I’ve ever seen! He was a Senior when I was a Freshmen, and I won’t even pretend I didn’t have the biggest crush on him in the world. It would be a lie if I did because every girl in the entire school crushed on him at some point.

Ethan graduated midterm that year and headed straight off to college that January. He’s already graduated with his Bachelor’s in Engineering and took time off to travel abroad before continuing on with getting his Master’s degree!

And did I mention he’s gorgeous!? He’s got dark blond hair and just has this self-assured way about him that reminds me of my dad. His confidence is just so… I don’t even know a word for the attraction it spurs in me!

Lexi?” Belly gives me a tiny shove and then giggles. “Y’know, we could always hang at Sims’ house for a bit. Maybe you could flirt a little, ask him about his trip?” she suggests with a little wink.

Images of Ethan disemboweled in our living room pop into my head with my father standing over his body with a bloody sword. “Uh,” I pause, “I kinda promised to be home right after practice.”

Bella S. rolls her eyes, “Come on, where’s your inner rebel? Why can’t you be more like your brother? He sticks it to your parents all the time!”

That’s a crock of shit, I think in frustration. Every single time he’s ‘stayed out past curfew’, he texted Dad and asked if it was okay. Since Leif and I need very little sleep, our parents are lenient as hell about us staying out. Leif just likes to look like a badass. I mean, he can be moody, but so can I!

Dad will ground you for forever if you go to Bella Sims’ house, I remind myself of this morning’s exchange, and how disapproving Dad had looked when the Bellas came up.

Okay,” I sigh, “but only an hour tops. Okay?” I finally consent and take out my phone to text my dad and let him know I’ll be hanging with Bella E. for a bit after practice. He promptly responds back to be safe and call if I need a ride home.

Belly squeals and claps her hands as we leave the locker room. Out in the parking lot I take a deep breath and climb into the backseat of Belly’s car. I just lied to my dad! I think nervously. Well, it wasn’t a full blown lie, I try to reason with myself as my throat tightens up. That won’t matter if he finds out! He’s gonna ground me for forever!

While I sit having a panic attack in the backseat, the Bellas gossip in front of me.

Oh em gee,” Belly shrieks, “did you hear Sophia Blanc cheated on Ayden!?”

With who?” Bella asks excitedly.


Which one?” Bella demands impatiently.

Just an A- Aden,” Belly answers.

I tune out the chatter and return to the problem I’ve created for myself. Just stay for a half hour, run home and confess to everything, I haggle with myself. Tell him you realized he wouldn’t like it if you hung out with Bella S. and you came straight home.

Great, and now you’re just neurotic, I sigh.

Everything okay back there, Alexis?” Belly calls from the driver’s seat. “You’re being super quiet?” Her voice hikes at the end, questioning my silence.

Yeah, just thinking about the back tuck at the end of the routine. I feel like I could get it tighter,” I reply automatically. Get out of your head for five seconds, Alexis, I tell myself firmly.

Before I can wimp out completely and ask to just be taken home, we arrive at Bella’s house, and I follow them in with fake enthusiasm. Oh, God, what if they think about this tomorrow and Mom hears? I feel faint at the disappointed look on her face.

I’m about to turn out the door when Ethan strolls down the stairs. He’s walking around without a shirt on, and his jeans are hanging low on his hips without a belt to keep them up. His feet are bare, and I swallow hard at the teen heart throb in front of me. It’s February, isn’t he cold? Some shrewd part of my brain chimes in and my mouth blurts, “I’d be a popsicle walking around like that this time of year.”

Ethan looks at me with that throat tightening grin. Why is he so gorgeous!?

Cold doesn’t bother me,” he says while closing the distance between us. As he gets closer, the Bellas scamper off to the kitchen.

H-how was Germany?” I ask as Ethan puts a hand on my shoulder and pushes me toward the living room. I stumble a bit since I can’t seem to take my eyes off him, but I find the couch in my peripheral vision and sit down.

A lot of fun, but the downside is the beer over here tastes like piss in comparison now,” he laughs, and my heart hits my ribs in time with his chuckle. “I don’t know how I’ll be able to handle another kegger with Bud or Miller.” I laugh a bit too high and his smile softens. He almost seems to take pity on me. “How’s school? Almost ready to graduate?”

Oh, uh, yeah,” I mumble. “Leif and I are going to have a really easy last semester. Only two classes on our schedule are requirements for graduation. Everything else is either electives o-or, um, um,” Oh, brain, come up with the word! You can do it! Spit it out!

College credits?” Ethan finishes for me.

“Yeah,” I squeak.

I knew you were smart,” Ethan nudges me playfully. My arm feels warm where his elbow pressed against it. That warmth spreads all the way up to my shoulder. “Any idea what you want to go to school for?”

I want to be a doctor,” I reply. “A surgeon.”

Woah!” Ethan laughs in surprise. “That’s pretty ambitious!”

My brow furrows at that, “What do you mean?”

Ethan snorts, “Well, wouldn’t you rather be a nurse?”

Now my face tilts into a frown, “What year do you think this is? 1960? A woman can be a surgeon!”

Yeah, but you’re a cheerleader!” Ethan laughs a bit harder and instead of making my heart race, it makes my ears burn.

I also have the highest GPA of my graduating class, which is higher than yours ever was,” I tell him angrily as I rise to my feet.

Hey, hey,” Ethan tugs at my hand, “I’m sorry. Sometimes I find it hard to remember not all cheerleaders are as stupid as my sister.”

I HEARD THAT, ASSHOLE!” Bella S. yells from the kitchen.

I really am sorry,” Ethan says again like he didn’t even hear his sister’s shout, but I find it hard to forgive him.

It’s fine,” I say, but I don’t mean it. Not really. I won’t hold a grudge or be rude to him about it, but something’s gone. Suddenly his smile doesn’t seem so beautiful, and his physique doesn’t look so perfect. Is this what disillusionment is?

You don’t seem like you forgive me,” Ethan pouts playfully, but it doesn’t make me laugh.

I do,” I assure him, “but I need to be going. I sorta lied to my dad about coming here, and I don’t want to push my luck,” I explain as I take back my hand.

Aw, come on, Alexis, I said I was sorry,” Ethan scowls. “Why are high school girls so fucking sensitive?”

My face scowls once more, “Probably because college boys are so fucking insensitive!”

With that I rise up to my feet, grab my bag and storm out of the Sims house. No one comes after me, no one freaking texts me, and I’ve walked nearly a block when I realize that bothers me more than my argument with Ethan. The Bellas don’t even care that I walked out…

Setting down my bag, I sit on the retaining wall of one of the Hill Houses and stare at the ground. My throat feels like there’s a rock in it, and my eyes itch like I’m going to cry, but I refuse to let that happen. Instead I tilt my head back indignantly and stare across the street.

It gets cold quickly sitting on the wall, and some snow is melting into the seat of my jeans. When I finally stand up to finish walking home, a car pulls up to the stop sign in front of me. I wouldn’t think much of it, but the driver looks at me, tilts his head and then rolls down the window.

Oi, are you Northman’s kid?” An Irish accent croons at me, and I hate that it makes my heart flutter. Apparently I am a fickle teenager, I think bemusedly.

I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I tell the stranger and begin making a beeline for my home.

Haha, I guess your father was wrong. He was so sure his first born would be a boy!” The man’s car lulls lazily down the road alongside me, and it takes all my effort not to reply that technically my dad was right because Leif popped out before me. Instead I keep my shoulders squared and continue walking briskly down the road.

I’m in such a hurry to get away from this stranger who’s following me that I run through the next intersection.

STOP!” I hear yelled at me, but I’m in a blur of headlights and honking. I brace for the impact, and wonder just how many bottles of blood I’ll have to chug to heal from this accident.

Instead of the collision I was preparing for, I find myself lifted and moved through space like a rocket. The last time I felt like that was when my dad caught me as I was falling out of a tree in our yard.

You silly girl!” the stranger yells in my ear. “Didn’t your dad teach you to flee properly?”

I stare up, stunned at the vampire holding me in his arms. He has a broad jaw covered with a full beard and a barrel chest dusted with similar blondish red curl. Everything about him is thick and sturdy. Even his voice has a strength to it that commands respect. It’s that command that made me scared. It was that strength that made me run.

H-hi,” I whisper up at the stranger.

His scowl breaks into a rueful smile, “Hey there.”

I’m Alexis,” I tell him.

Quigley,” He laughs again.

Suddenly I’m back on my own feet, “Your dad still live on Rose Acre?”

Y-yes,” I answer as I’m tugged along.

We’re almost there. I’ll take you the rest of the way,” he tells me.

Thank you,” I pause as he opens my door for me. Before I get in, I try to think of some security question. Something only friends of the bloodline would know. Quigley stares at me as I remain frozen in front of the passenger’s seat. He seems to understand my hesitation.

I’m going to whisper something only me and one other person know about your family,” Quigley leans in right against my ear and says in a voice so soft, I doubt another vampire could hear from two feet away, “Your mum and your uncle…” He taps his temple with an intense look in his eyes, and I know what he’s implying that he knows.

I jerk away at that and gape. No one is supposed to know that! Hell, mom and dad haven’t ever said it out loud before! It’s an unspoken family secret, and if this vampire knows it, then he must be a friend of the family!

Finally I take a seat in the car, and I’m surprised when Quigley shuts my door for me like a gentleman. My dad always does that for my mom, and Godric does it for Cammie all the time, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else do it. It makes that swooney feeling happen in my heart again, and I chastise the traitorous organ because I know Quigley will be able to hear it.

So, why were you sitting on a wall all by yourself?” Quigley asks as he settles back behind the wheel.

My face reddens a bit, but I answer, “A boy I liked turned out to be a jerk. I left, and no one seemed to care that I did.”

Quigley glances at me and smiles, “Most people your age are jerks, Alexis. Don’t let it bother you none. With your upbringing, maybe you’re looking for more maturity than boys your age can handle.”

Oh my God, is he flirting with me?! I wonder in shock and awe.

What’d your crush say to hurt your feelings?” he asks while I flounder with the notion that this vampire might be interested in me.

Oh,” I let my eyes wander out to the street, “I told Ethan I planned on going to medical school to become a surgeon. He laughed and said cheerleaders aren’t smart enough to be surgeons.”

Quigley suddenly roars with laughter and I glance at him in surprise and maybe a little hurt. Does my dream really seem that impossible?

Your father. Eric the Fucking Viking Northman… He let’s his teenage daughter jump around in those little skirts?” Quigley laughs even harder.

Mom made him let me,” I reply dumbly and he just howls even harder.

I knew that woman had him by the dangly bits, but this is just too good!” Quigley chuckles, but seems to sober from his laughing fit.

As we get closer to my house, I turn to my, now quiet, driver and ask softly, “When you talk to my dad, can you not mention the thing with Ethan and me being upset?”

Quigley looks at me in surprise, “Why’s that, Storeen?” The way that foreign world rolls off his tongue brings some of my earlier clumsiness back.

Uh,” I fumble for my words, “well, dad will probably get upset with them for…” Calm down, Lexi, and find your thoughts! “not bringing me home like they promised. I don’t want him to be mad at them. It’s my fault. Not theirs,” I explain lamely.

Just a little ways up the street from my house, Quigley pulls up to the curb and smiles, “You’re a lot more like your mother than I would have thought. I only got to talk with her a little bit while we were working together, but I thought you would grow up to be more like your dad.”

Why’s that?” I wonder.

There’s a bit of hesitation in his reply, but he recovers and says, “Your dad reminds me a lot of my Maker is all. Calculating risks, prioritizing those risks based on how they’d benefit him or his family. I suppose I just expected you to be more like that,” He pulls away form the curb. “I won’t say anything,” he promises as we drive the rest of the way down the street.

Why does he look so disappointed?

Leif’s POV:

Jeeeesus, Leif,” Liam whines as he hops up and down, rubbing his arms briskly, “how aren’t you freezing! Let’s go inside!” he pleads.

You’re such a wimp,” I grumble as I stub out my cigarette in the ashtray and shove at my friend while we walk into the convenience store.

Mom can’t stand that I smoke, and she can’t stand even more that there’s no health related excuse for me to stop. Pam finds it hysterical and occasionally bums a smoke off me when we hang out. Dad… Well, he just shrugs and says if I want to waste my allowance on cigarettes, then I’m not as financially responsible as he thought. He then proceeded to tell me not to expect a raise in allowance as long as I’m a smoker.

Alexis makes ten dollars more a week than I do now, but she gives me five of it because she feels guilty. She doesn’t know that I keep the five dollars every week to spend on her. It’s always little stuff so she doesn’t realize I’m not spending her money on myself. A couple dollars on a pack of gum, or an extra cookie for her at lunch. Shit like that.

Liam holds his hands near the hot dog turner, trying to warm them up, and I wander over to the ICEE machine to pour some blue slushy into a cup.

How can you drink that shit in the winter?” Liam calls at me and I just shrug. The truth is, doing stuff that’s out of the norm is just something to do. Like egging my dad on, or annoying my mom. It’s not that I don’t like them or think they’re lame, I’m just bored. I want to do something. Anything. Everything.

Instead, I’m here, trying to act like some sort of badass, but it’s really just to relieve the tedium until I’m eighteen. That’s the agreement between me, Alexis, and our parents. If we can make it to eighteen without any incidents that could alert the humans to our otherness, we’re allowed to jet off on a summer adventure by ourselves before going anywhere we want for college. All we have to do is get into that college on our own merits and not our parents’ check book. I’ve already been scouted by Yale for track and field, and Alexis is looking to be our Valedictorian so she’s going to have her pick of colleges too.

I guess that, aside from being bored, I’m also scared. Alexis seems to know there’s some path out there for her, and everything in front of me feels so empty and dark. I don’t know why I feel so blind to my future when she seems able to see it so clearly.

If there’s a word for what I’m feeling, I can’t find it. Mom probably could, I think with an internal snort of a laugh. Too bad I can’t ask her, I grab a bag of Doritos on my way to the counter with my ICEE. Mom would tell me I’m a kid and an immortal; there’s no rush to find myself. “Life moves too fast as it is. You don’t have to run through it,” she’d say.

Dad would be even less help. He’d tell me to go wandering or something. I don’t want to wander, I want excitement!

I want to sleep under the stars, in the wilderness; maybe fight a bear! I want to go out on a shitty little boat on the ocean and deep sea fish. I want to… My thoughts freeze, and my ICEE drips a bit from the small opening on top of the globe-like lid. I barely even hear the clerk shout about what a dumb ass I am for dripping all over the floor.

All I can see is this girl walking from the gas pump to the station to pay for some gas or buy something to eat.

Her hair’s black as the night around her and as flat and glossy as glass. She’s got a tan, but it lacks the right luster. It’s then that I realize she’s a vampire, and I finally seem to bring myself back under control.

Woah,” Liam is suddenly beside me, watching the female vamp come into the store and gaping like he’s found the newest deposit for his spank bank. We both watch, unashamed, as she walks toward the cooler, and I wonder if she’s going to buy a blood for the road?

Before she can open the door to the fridge, she suddenly pauses and turns to look at me. She’s young looking, but I know that doesn’t mean anything because Godric looks younger than dad, but he’s way older. She looks my age, actually, maybe a year or two older?

The vampire turns from the fridge and approaches me and Liam.

Hello,” she greets, and I watch her eyes turn completely black as she smells me. Dad’s warned me about hanging with unfamiliar vampires. One tried to snatch my sister once because we allegedly smell good to vamps. Even though Alexis and I both drink blood from time to time, we don’t think either one of us smells good at all. We’ve only exchanged blood once, and that was when we were doing survival training with Godric in the woods. Alexis had missed a branch on a treetop leap and fallen about seventy feet to the ground. She drank my blood to heal up faster.

H-hi,” Oh, shit, my voice broke! My voice hasn’t broke since I was fifteen! Why did it have to squeak the second the hottest female I’ve ever met speaks to me!?

Are you Eric Northman’s son?” she asks, seeming to forgive my throat for its sudden loss of control.

Yeah,” I reply, but I’m not all that surprised. Dad made quick work of explaining my and Alexis’s parentage, and also assuring everyone that if a supe so much as rustles a hair on our head, they’ll be dead before they can hand us a comb.

I am Diedre,” she holds out her hand to shake mine, and the wonderful coolness of her skin calms the heat and perspiration of my own.

Leif,” I whisper my own name as her dark lips tilt in a small smile. There’s this strange urge to reach up and touch her lips. They’re thick, dark and shining with this brownish, red gloss on them. Her bronze skin glows with her vampirism, and makes that gloss seem all the more ethereal…

Oh my God, stop thinking about her lips! I realize in a panic that my musings are rushing blood places I don’t need them to right now.

A-are you, uh, looking for my dad?” I ask. I wonder how old she actually is?

Diedre shakes her head, and her straight, black hair fans slightly in sharp wisps. Don’t look at her hair either! I think wildly as another pulse throbs through my groin. I focus on her eyes instead, but they’re reflecting the light from the LEDS above us. That shimmer just about makes me lose my mind.

No,” Diedre tells me with that small smile that real teenagers don’t wear, “I know where he lives. He is an old friend of the family,” she explains discretely because my friend next to me is looking between the two of us in complete disbelief.

Will I see you again then?” I ask with more than a little too much hope bubbling into my voice.

Diedre stares at me a moment before that small smile of hers splits into a big, bright one. “I am certain this is not the last we will see of each other.”

As she spins away, and that flurry of flat, black hair slices through the air, all I can think is:

That’s the adventure I’ve been longing for.

The End… For Now

Catalyst Ch. 56

Chapter Fifty-Six: Announcements

Sookie’s POV:

“Wow,” is what I manage to mumble once the doctor has left.

“Yes,” Eric agrees solemnly as I feel like someone who has just been rolled over by a tidal wave.

My eyes narrow as I look at him suspiciously, “You knew, didn’t you?”

Eric sighs and pauses a moment before replying, “I had my suspicions, but I did not want to say anything unless I could confirm it. It appears Cassandra anticipated my doubts.”

I sigh as I take in the past twenty-four hours. Not only did I discover I was pregnant, but I had my crisis of faith resolved once and for all, witnessed my husband returning home with his arm torn off, watched my friend reattach his arm, and then found out I am carrying the reincarnated spirit of a two-thousand-year-old vampire Seer. Yup, sounds like a normal day in the eternal life of a telepathic angel…

“What are you thinking?” My husband asks me in a rather soothing voice. No doubt he’s worried I’m about to be overcome with some type of hysteria.

“I’m thinking this has been a really long day, and I’m going to try and catch a nap before Godric gets back here with Victor,” I answer with a yawn.

“And Diedre?” Eric presses as he follows me out of the living room and up the stairs to our bedroom.

“What about her?” I ask, stripping out of my clothes for the millionth time that day.

“Are we going to tell her about Cassandra?” he asks anxiously.

“Of course we’re going to tell her,” I reply in exasperation. “We have the opportunity to ease some of her anguish. This might be the thing that keeps her from killing herself after she rips Victor apart!”

“What if she tries to interfere with how we wish to bring up our child?” Eric insists I consider the repercussions of the situation before moving forward with my nap. I’m reminded distantly of the night we were still deciding to Bond. Eric has always tried to make me aware of all the negatives. I’m constantly trying to remind him everything has negative aspects, and his arguments are only exhausting.

“Eric,” I sigh and press my forehead into the door frame of our room, “every single person who has ever brought a new life into this world had to put up with every Joe-schmoe out there telling them how to do it right. This won’t be any different than that. We ignore her and do it how we want. If she has a problem with that, that’s her problem. We’re the parents, and she’s got to be old enough to respect that.”

My husband looks at me in surprise before he laughs and nudges me the rest of the way into our bedroom, “You are far wiser than I give you credit.” He gives me a guilty smile as he pushes me into bed and curls around me.

“To be fair, the baby thing is not something you’ve had a thousand additional years of practice,” I reply as I snuggle into his side.

“Are you scared at all?” Eric asks me curiously.

“Sure,” I mumble. “I’m scared about the things we don’t know and how much it will hurt. Mostly I’m nervous the baby will have powers I can’t compete with,” I confess. “What if he can fly?”

Eric shakes his head doubtfully, “I think he will be more like you. He will be stronger than you once he’s grown to a man, but as a child, I think he will be relatively human. After all, vampirism is not genetic.” I can hear and feel his doubt. Apparently I have planted a seed of concern in him. “Sleep, Sookie. I am sure we have plenty of time to worry about these things.”

“All right, all right,” I close my eyes and hug him a bit tighter. “Love you.”

“As I love you,” he answers and kisses the top of my head.


When I wake up, Eric’s still in bed with me, raking his fingers through my hair. “Hey,” I greet him with a half-asleep smile. “What time is it?”

“Almost four in the morning,” he says. “Godric just got in, and they are storing Victor at Pam’s for the day. It is too close to dawn for Diedre to remain aware much longer with her injuries.”

I nod with another yawn and crawl out of bed. “Shoot!”

“What?” he looks at me worriedly.

“With everything that happened, I never got around to grading papers!”

“Oh, I did that for you,” Eric assures me. “I have watched you enough times to grade on your scale.”

“Eric,” I whine, “they’re my students.”

“And our child needed you to rest,” he answers my protest with little concern. “I can fill in the time you are going to lose. I do not want you working four times as hard to maintain your usual habits.”

I pout a bit, but go about getting ready for my day. By the time I drip my way out of the shower and dress for work, Eric’s gone, but I can smell yummy food being cooked in the kitchen. My nostrils guide me downstairs, and I’m soon sitting in front of a pile of eggs and sausage.

“Thanks, Darlin’,” I smile until I see my usual cup of coffee is now a mug of tea.

“Decaffeinated,” Eric announces when he catches where I’m looking. He holds out Ludwig’s list of “NO” foods, and I sigh in resignation. This part of pregnancy is going to suck. I want my coffee!

After breakfast, I finish my morning routine in time to hear Jason honking for me to come out. Eric gives me a kiss goodbye, hands me my lunch bag and then kneels down to kiss my belly. This new addition to our morning routine makes my face flush in exhilaration. Eric wraps his arms around my hips and nuzzles my stomach a little harder before rising back to his feet.

“Have a good day today,” Eric tells me with another kiss goodbye.

“I will,” I answer. “Love you.”

“Love you both,” he opens the door just as Jason lets loose another impatient honk. My brother throws his hands in the air with an exasperated look as I come skipping to the car.

“Jeez, did you sleep in or something?” Jason asks as I buckle my seat belt and he pulls away from the curb.

“Yeah, actually. After everything that happened yesterday, I decided to sleep a few hours last night,” I confess.

Jason throws a surprised glance at me. I’ve had far more physically taxing days without the need for a nap. However, instead of interrogating, he shrugs and heads for Cammie’s house. When she’s in the backseat, I finally ask about Vegas.

“So, what happened with you guys last night?” I ask.

Jason shrugs, “Got to Felipe’s estate, explained that we believed their king was in danger, and next thing I know; I’m getting an earful of suspicious murmurs.” Jason doesn’t need to tap his head to imply he means he heard someone thinking incriminating things. “I do my ‘threat gesture’ at Godric, and Godric manages to beat a confession out of Victor. The third in command gave us permission to take Victor, and Godric called the Council for further instruction. They said it was cool to put Victor to death and granted permission to take him over state lines so Diedre could do the deed,” Jason explains rather simply.

“It was that easy?” Cammie asks with a low, surprised whistle.

“Well, I’m not gonna go into all the boring shit,” Jason laughs. “After all, we didn’t get in till four in the morning, and that was because we had to wait for all the Council members to throw a verdict and then debate over letting us take Victor out of state. If we hadn’t had witnesses hear him confess to orchestrating the Pythoness’s death, we probably wouldn’t have been allowed to take him.”

Cammie nods, accepting the story. “I got to put Eric’s arm back on last night.”

“I heard about that!” Jason reaches back to offer Cammie a high-five, which she enthusiastically returns. “I’m proud of you!”

“Thanks,” Cammie glows pridefully at her accomplishment, “I was real nervous I’d screw it up. I’ve never reassembled something that was animated.”

“You did awesome,” I assure her.

Cammie grins at me, “Which, reminds me, that I finally finished my series of enchantments that I’ve been practicing the past few years!”

“Which is?” I ask politely.

“Well, I’ve enchanted my and Godric’s wedding bands,” Cammie begins slowly, holding up her hand to show off her stunning ring set. “They’re layered with a few different spells to do what I wanted, and Rose had to help me with a few of the more advanced enchantments that I can’t quite do myself yet, so it took a while…But it should be working.”

“What should be working?” Jason asks impatiently.

“It’s like a glamour, but a witch glamour, not a vampire one. It changes how we are perceived by mortal creatures. It works a little different on two-natured, but it does work. It will let us appear to age!”

“The fuck we want that for?” Jason asks in disgust.

“How about so we can stay in the same location longer,” I tell him pointedly. “We won’t have to move every ten years or less.”

“That’s right! We can live out entire lifetimes!” Cammie gushes happily.

“Oh, Cammie, this is the best news yet!” I praise, feeling relief and happiness at the realization that I can raise my child in a family home instead of having to tear him from his roots every few years. I won’t have to pretend he’s not mine when he gets old enough to be my brother instead of my son.

“Are you crying?” Jason demands and I wipe at my eyes in surprise.

“I’m just having a girly moment,” I reply lamely. Maybe I should just tell the whole family about the baby tonight. It seems mean to let Diedre in on the news and not my family…


I am the most distracted teacher the rest of the day. My students are even noticing that they can get away with just about anything today, and Mrs. Eyes-in-the-back-of-her-head-Northman is powerless to stop them.

It’s just impossible to concentrate when thoughts of babies are on your mind. Every time I look at my students, I wonder about the type of child my baby will be. Will he be bright and quiet like Joshua? Will he be boisterous, but deceptively brilliant like Christopher? Will he be withdrawn and struggling like Dustin? A class clown like Kevin? Maybe he’ll be an annoying little shit like Jimmy. Ugh, please God, not like Jimmy! Give him flight before he turns out like Jimmy!

At mid-day, my mind wanders from the personality of my child to the place I would like to raise him. Eric had insisted that we move out of Louisiana so we could return when we had our first child, but had promised to return there to raise him. Now I’m not so sure I want to do that. As a teacher, I don’t want my child to go to Bon Temps High School. It has so little to offer, and our son will have even less in common with the majority of his classmates than I did. At least I was able to bond with a lot of them with our lower middle class status.

School in Shreveport was a little better, but only because Jason and I nearly killed ourselves to afford to live in a good school district. Currently, we are all working at a good public school, and I’m pretty sure it will stay that way for quite a while.

Not to mention, if we stay here, we already all have jobs, I consider. I don’t want the whole family to be uprooted by this, after all, and I want us to all be near each other. Certainly it’s important for extended family to be part of a child’s life? Especially since we’ll all be with each other for a very, very long time.

By the end of the day, I don’t think I’ve taught a single student anything. I climb into my brother’s car later that afternoon, and fall asleep on the drive home, hugging my mail carrier bag.

“Hey, Sleepyhead,” my brother’s voice drags me back into awareness.

“Hey,” I mumble back.

“Are you okay?” Jason asks as I jerk awake. Camilla’s sitting in the backseat still, staring at me worriedly.

“Why are we at my place? Cammie gets dropped off first,” I answer confusedly.

“We were worried about you,” Cammie replies, and I can hear the concern in her voice.

“Sorry,” I sit up a bit straighter, “I should go in and go back to sleep.”

“Here, I’ll help you,” Jason jumps out of the car, and so does Camilla. My best friend grabs my bag, and Jason practically carries me into the house.

“Guys, I’m not that weak,” I chuckle tiredly. I don’t remember being so tired. Not even when I was still a mortal!

Eric meets us at the front door and scoops me out of Jason’s arms and into his own. “Come in,” he tells our family. Jason and Cammie glance at each other nervously, but follow us to the sitting room.

“Sookie, if you are not even able to make it through an entire work day and stay conscious, perhaps keeping this news to ourselves is pointless,” Eric tells me.

I can only nod in agreement. Cammie and Jason are staring at us expectantly.

“So,” I say in as nonchalant a way as possible, “I’m pregnant!”

My best friend and my brother both yell in surprise and then they’re hugging me excitedly.

“This is amazing!” Cammie says. “Oh, I finished those enchantments right on time!”

“I’m gonna be an uncle!” Jason crows happily. “I’m gonna get this kid is so much trouble!” he declares.

I giggle at their reactions and accept another round of hugs. “There’s more-”

“Twins!?” Jason asks excitedly.

“Oh,” I frown, I hadn’t considered that yet, “I don’t know about that. I’m only a couple weeks along, and we only just found out yesterday.”

“Ouch, bad timing,” Jason flinches.

“What’s the other news?” Cammie tries to get me back on topic.

I take the last letter written by the Ancient Pythoness that I’ve been carrying all day and hand it to them. They read it silently and then look up at me for some sort of additional explanation.

“So, apparently my baby is the reincarnation of Cassandra,” I tell them.

“Shit,” Jason’s jaw slings open, “you guys are having a boy!” he laughs and I remember the vision Cassandra showed him.

“Eric! You were right!” I laugh as well now.

“Of course I was,” Eric teases.

“That or your daughter is freakishly tall with very masculine arms,” Jason pokes his tongue out at my husband.

“My daughters have always been lovely,” Eric assures us. “If I have one in this existence, she will be even lovelier because Sookie will be her mother.”

“You’ve had daughters before?” Jason asks in surprise. Of course I know about Eric’s human life, but Jason has always only been entertained by Eric’s historical accounts, not his personal ones.

“Yes, three daughters and two sons,” Eric nods and I watch with a twinge of sadness as Jason and Cammie lean in curiously. I hate hearing this story. “My youngest son died in infancy. The older son and second daughter were taken by disease. The youngest girl perished in a fire with her mother. My oldest daughter was killed while I was away.”

I watch the shock consume my brother and my friend, and their jaws slacken before their expressions turn somber.

“That sucks, Eric,” Jason finally comments.

Eric shrugs, having come to terms with it long ago. “Yes, but it is probably what lead me back into battle. It is more than likely what gave me the ferocity in battle that Godric admired. Quite possibly, the loss of my human family is what turned me into a vampire. Now I have the loveliest wife, and a family much stronger and closer than my human one ever was. So, I am thankful for their sacrifices because they have brought me here.”

I lean my head against Eric’s shoulder and take his hand in mine. Despite his speech, there is this deep undercurrent of something like sorrow. It is ancient like him, and perhaps he doesn’t feel it himself anymore. He is so used to that sorrow being there, it is merely a part of him now that he has accepted and no longer acknowledges.

Still, it is that sorrow which is still new to me that makes me love him even more every time I feel it swell like a gentle ripple of a pond. It makes me love him because even after a thousand years, he still loves and appreciates the family he lost. They will be written on his heart like an old tattoo for the rest of time, and I will happily write our own family alongside them. I will never try to cover their existences, merely create our own, permanent art to accompany what has always been there.

Eric’s POV:

Jason and Camilla stay at our home for the remainder of the afternoon. They work in companionable silence over their grading papers, breaking the quiet for an occasional comment or joke. Sookie seems to perk up with the company and activity, and I have to wonder if her exhaustion is merely the result of her abrupt loss of caffeine.

Soon, grading is finished, lesson plans are made, and the three teachers rise from the coffee table to head for the kitchen. Camilla is practically hanging from my wife’s waist, rubbing her belly and talking in a childish whistle of a voice. Jason is all smiles, and the glow of excitement shines in his eyes as he warms a bottle of blood in our microwave.

“So, what are you going to name him?” Jason asks curiously as Sookie and Camilla make their own snack.

“Leif,” my wife replies immediately and makes my heart swell with love. She is still willing to use the name!

Jason looks at me suspiciously, “Your choice, I take it?”

“I suggested it a long time ago,” I confess without guilt. “It was never set in stone.”

“I love the name,” Sookie injects. Her voice is an annoyed huff at her brother, and it makes me chuckle. “You know I’ve always liked family names.”

“Oh,” Jason glances, “who was Leif?”

“My brother,” I answer.

“That’s cool,” Jason loses some of the earlier distaste for the name. “Got any girl names picked out?”

I glance at Sookie curiously and she shrugs. “I don’t really know,” she replies. “I really like the names Alexis or Alexandria.”

“Those aren’t family names,” Jason teases.

“So?” She pouts. “I still like them. Besides, they sound like strong names. Pretty, but strong.”

“I think they’re perfect,” Camilla pipes in, and I have to admit that I like them too.

“I like the name Alexis,” I offer. “It is a beautiful name.”

“Good, it’s settled then. When we have a girl, we’re naming her Alexis,” Sookie says with finality on the topic.

I chuckle at her fake sternness and continue to discuss the day as everyone enjoys their midday snacks.

When the sun begins to set we all pile into Jason’s SUV to head over to Pam’s house. Rather than trying to move Victor around while he’s bound in silver, we decided to have everyone convene at the makeshift prison Pam fashioned out of her basement. I have the feeling she will be expanding on that prison now that we have finally had a need for one. Suburb Secrets, I think with great amusement. The idea of Tribunals taking place beneath the ground of our gated community in these modern times brings a rattle of laughter to my chest. Sookie glances at my sudden chuckle, but shakes her head as if she has thought better than to ask what is so funny.

When we arrive at my Child’s home, we file in and wait in the living room for Godric, Diedre and Quigley. The sun has only just set, and I know it will probably be another half hour, so we decide to let Pam in on our news while we wait.

“Pregnant?” my Child says in surprise. “I thought Ludwig would have been able to predict this before it happened. Everyone made it sound like it would be noticeable when you went into heat.”

Sookie snorts, “I’m not a dog. Could we not say ‘in heat’?”

Pam shrugs, “Whatever. So you were stealthily fertile?”

“Apparently,” Sookie laughs. “We both just felt like something had changed and we both called Ludwig only minutes apart to request some tests. She showed up, and we found out we were already pregnant!” she gushes.

“Well, congratulations,” Pam nods. “How far along are you, and when can we expect the little devil to make an appearance?”

Sookie shrugs, “Well, I’m only about two or three weeks. It’s super early in the pregnancy, and with all the unprecedented variables, Ludwig has to watch the development before she can begin guessing at a due date.”

Pam nods again, but does not ask any further questions. I can feel in our Link that she is too busy doing the math and arriving at the same curious conclusions I did yesterday.

Before Pam can begin asking further questions, I sense Godric on his way and assume that Diedre and Quigley are with him. When my Maker arrives, he is alone.

“Where’s Diedre and Quigley?” Jason asks, poking his head through the curtains to look out the window.

“She needed more time,” Godric sighs, “I fear that she is planning far more than how she desires to end Victor.”

I glance at my wife and know what she is thinking. The letter from Cassandra is still folded in her purse, and I have a feeling that it will be read several times this evening.

“Sookie,” I look to my wife, “let Godric and Pam read the letter. It is better we are all on the same page this evening.”

Sookie nods and pulls the paper from her bag. Godric and Pam press together to read it, and it only takes a second for them to look up in surprise.

“Is this real?” Pam asks in a soft daze.

“Yes. Ludwig brought it to us last night,” I assure them. “Apparently it was given to her several months ago with the order not to read it until yesterday. The same day we would discover the pregnancy.”

“Do you think Diedre will believe it?” Pam asks.

“She will believe in a letter from Cassandra. The envelope even had her seal,” I tell them.

“This is unbelievable,” Godric murmurs as he hands the letter back to Sookie. “We need to show this to Diedre before she kills Victor.”

“Agreed,” Sookie chimes in. “Part of me wants to believe she doesn’t need this to find a reason to keep living, but another part of me doesn’t want her to go on without hope when we can give it so easily.”

Though I do not like how freely we are speaking with Victor in earshot, I know his permanent death is a relatively short time away. Still, this openness with an enemy nearby is putting me on edge.

Thankfully, there is soon a knock on the door, and Pam opens it to reveal Diedre and Quigley standing on the doorstep.

“Where is Madden?” Diedre demands even as she is hopping into the house with Quigley’s assistance.

“Wait,” Sookie rises from the sofa, “there is something we need-”

“After,” Diedre snaps impatiently.

“Now,” Sookie responds in the commanding tone she uses mostly in the classroom. Diedre blinks several times as she is surprised that Sookie would use such a tone on her.

Quigley helps Diedre come sit in the living room, and Sookie wastes no time leaning over the coffee table to hand our most revered ancient the letter that has brought so much dispute in its short time in our lives.

Diedre takes the paper and looks at all of us curiously. I watch her eyebrows rise higher and higher on her forehead as she reads, and then finally looks up. “What is this?” she demands.

“It’s a letter Cassandra gave to Dr. Ludwig. It was given to her with the instruction not to read it until yesterday; the day we found out we’re pregnant,” Sookie explains calmly. The rest of the family remains in a spectators’ silence.

“Was there an envelope?” Diedre whispers.

Sookie reaches back into her purse to produce the envelope and all of us watch as Diedre examines the pouch with yesterday’s date. Diedre carefully pulls apart the seams of the envelope until it is a large paper and gazes at a single word that had been scripted in small, delicate letters: ‘Eshe’. Diedre’s name back in the days of ancient Egypt; a name I had forgotten until it was spelled out in front of me.

Diedre finally seems to accept the authenticity of the letter and begins to openly weep in front of us. Quigley pulls her against his chest as she sobs, and small wells of blood are collecting in his eyes also.

“We wanted you to know before you went ahead with executing Victor,” Sookie whispers to her gently. “We wanted you to know there will be someone worth living for in just a few months-”

“No,” Diedre sits up sharply, wiping at her eyes, “not months. Years,” she declares as she seems to hesitate to stand.

“What are you talking about?” Sookie asks in surprise as she instinctively cups her belly. I feel my own spine tingle as I angle my body between my wife and Diedre.

Diedre’s lips tilt in pained smile. “My love for Cassandra does not evaporate just because her soul is on the edge of rebirth. I am and will continue to be in mourning,” she explains. My body relaxes as I lean back and sit beside my wife. “Just yesterday a wise woman told me that I need to discover who I am without Cassandra, and that is still true. Your child will grow and become an adult. They will become their own person, they will not become Cassandra.

“I think it is important,” Diedre continues, “that I find out who I am as they become who they will be. That way, we can fall in love like we are meant to.”

Sookie’s lips tug into a soft smile, “That’s beautiful, Diedre. Oh, and we’re about ninety percent positive the baby is going to be a boy.”

That information seems to light up behind Diedre’s formerly vacant eyes, and I could swear that Camilla just snorted on a laugh.

“I look forward to knowing him in, oh…. Seventeen years?” Diedre requests aloud. I personally have no problem with my son courting his future Bonded at seventeen, but I look to Sookie curiously.

“That’s how old I was when I met my future Bonded,” Sookie gazes at me fondly. “I think it’s a lucky age.”

Diedre smiles, “Then Quigley and I will leave tonight after I have executed Victor. It is time for me to start my journey of self-discovery.”

With that statement, Diedre rises to her feet with Quigley and I follow them to the basement along with Godric. Diedre makes no protest as my Maker and I follow, and I am grateful. After all the information that has been explored within his range of hearing, I am quite in need of reassurance that he is dead and gone.

As we arrive in the basement, Victor jumps to his feet and snarls. The smell of his flesh searing against the silver shackles which was only a faint aroma upstairs is a pungent odor in the darkness.

Diedre hobbles forward in a strong stride that belies her injuries, and reaches out with her intact arm like a striking cobra. Victor stares in shock and only has a split second to see his own heart ripped from his chest before he turns into a waterfall of blood an tissue. Diedre drops the mush that was Victor’s heart on the ground and turns to incline her head ever-so-slightly at Godric and I.

“Thank you for your sanctuary, your kindness, and the hope you have brought me. I will see you in 2026,” Diedre teases.

“He will most likely be born in the beginning of next year,” I tell her with a laugh. “Ludwig has doubts it will be a quick pregnancy.”

“Then I will see you in 2027,” she smiles politely.

“Before April, please,” I request. “My biggest regret from when I first began courting Sookie is that I missed the opportunity to take her to Prom. Thankfully, she became a teacher and I chaperoned a few with her,” I joke and manage to steal a chuckle from Diedre’s lips.

“I will remember,” she promises.

After that exchange, Diedre and Quigley head back upstairs, and a moment later, I hear the front door open and shut. Godric and I look at one another and each let out a sigh of relief that everything is finally settling into place. The small, intimate world we have created is finally coming back to a time of peace; just in time for the arrival of my first child.

On to the Epilogue!

Catalyst Ch. 55

Chapter Fifty-Five: The Coincidence

Sookie’s POV:

Pam and Camilla keep looking at me like I’m supposed to know more than I do. The truth is, I barely comprehended much of what happened after Quigley left our house. I was just about to restart celebrating my and Eric’s first pregnancy, and then my world got turned on its ear. As he packed, all I could think was, Don’t leave me!

With Eric by my side, the pregnancy was a beautiful miracle that I was excited about. Now that I’m left to my own thoughts, it’s scary and unpredictable. Will this pregnancy be rougher than a human pregnancy? Will it go faster or slower? Will the baby have any gifts? If so, how am supposed to deal with that? What if he can fly!?

As far as the family goes, I’m definitely the least active contributor. Everything I offer is mostly in a passive sense. There’s no physical strain to what I do, and I don’t have to continue educating and training myself like Cammie does.

“Did Godric tell you anything, Camilla?” Pam finally stops giving me the suspicious looks and turns them now on Cammie.

Cammie shrugs, “I know he took Jason to Vegas to survey if the attack on the Big Mark was meant to take place there. I guess some vamp named Felipe was the main target.”

Pam frowns a moment, “That makes very little sense.”

“What do you mean?” I am glad to turn the interrogation tables on Pam.

“Well,” the vampiress pauses, “it makes sense if you look at the attacks on individual vampires. A few ancients freckled in with younger vampires.” Her eyes glance above us, silently mentioning the Ancient Pythoness. “But Rhodes is still the odd one. By targeting the.. big names,” she grimaces at almost slipping and saying Cassandra’s title with Diedre within earshot, “the Rhodes Summit was guaranteed to be canceled.”

Cammie and I both cross our arms over our chests as we think about this.

“It sounds,” a voice makes all three of us jump, “that the one who hatched the attack on Rhodes is not the same one who had Cassie killed,” Diedre appears at the top of the stairs and gracefully slides down the banister to the main floor rather than hop down one-legged. If I had tried that, I probably would have fallen backwards off the banister and broke my neck.

Cammie gapes at Diedre like she’s a painting that’s just come to life. I know from a few conversations at school that Diedre has not left her room since arriving. Quigley brings her bottles of blood regularly, but other than maintaining a diet that will help her heal faster, Diedre has shown no interest in returning to the world. Eric theorized grimly that Diedre’s intention of healing was only so she could overcome any attempt to stop her from killing herself.

“After all,” Diedre approaches us in an unnaturally fluid manner and comes to sit in a vacant recliner, “the Fellowship of the Sun was a marvelous scapegoat for anyone who needed another vampire assassinated. They needed no motivation to attack a vampire other than the fact it was a vampire they were attacking. With all of their contacts throughout the country, anyone could have come up with addresses and new marks. It would not have necessarily needed to be another vampire who sold out their own kind.”

“You think two different vampires were using the Fellowship of the Sun to follow through on their personal hit lists?” Pam asks slowly.

“I believe,” Diedre answers, “that Rhodes was one vampire’s target, and everyone else was a second vampire’s targets.”

“But-” I begin to protest.

“Rhodes was a tactical hit. No one specific was meant to be killed from what I have gleaned from your whispers,” All three of us try to look nonchalant at attempting to keep her in the dark. “However, Rhodes is attended by many Regents. I would guess the attack was meant to weaken a kingdom– perhaps any kingdom so that it could be taken over.”

“You are saying you believe Rhodes was a play for a coup?” Pam demands.

“Quite possibly,” Diedre nods. “However, Cassie and Felipe were part of a hit list. I believe Cassie was killed because she could have outed the one who contracted the murders, and Felipe is probably being marked for his Kingdom. Everyone else was more than likely a diversion; a smoke screen around the intended targets.”

We three all sit in quiet consideration to Diedre’s suspicions. After all, would it be that impossible that two vampires thought to use the same hate mongers to achieve their goals? How many times have similar books or movies come out at the same time? How many times have inventors needed to race to the patent office to be the first with their name on a design many worked on at the same time?

Great, we couldn’t even figure out who the conspirator was when we believed there was only one. Now there’s two?

Then again…

“So, looking at just Cassandra and Felipe as targets,” I begin slowly, “who would are prime suspects be?”

Pam and Cammie shoot a glare at me by mentioning the Ancient Pythoness by name, but Diedre seems relieved. I suppose everyone refusing to speak of Cassandra as deceased could be even more stressful than dealing with reality.

“Cassandra was simultaneously an enemy to none and an enemy to all,” Diedre answers my question. “Small transgressions would not bring her focus, but the murder of a Regent would. Rhodes would have brought an investigation too, though,” She points out.

“So either conspirator could be responsible for Cassandra’s murder?” I groan.

“Yes,” Diedre nods solemnly. “However, if you can find both of them, your brother could easily determine who will suffer my wrath.” A shudder runs down my spine at the gleam in Diedre’s eyes. It is the most life I’ve ever seen in them.

“Okay, who would want to kill Felipe?” I ask instead.

Pam takes out her phone and makes a call. I’m only able to hear her half of the conversation.

“Billy,” Pam greets in her usually bored tone, “any chance you might have a list of vamps wanting to end de Castro?” She pauses as he replies and snaps her fingers at me and Cammie before writing in the air for a pen and paper.

Bouncing to my feet, I retrieve a steno and pen from the kitchen to bring back to her. Cammie is on my heels, but I’m quicker.

“Good job, Billy Boy,” Pam hangs up and finishes jotting down the names Bill Compton had given her. “It’s a surprisingly short list, but amazingly, the ones who want you dead gets shorter and shorter the more ancient you become.”

“Why’s that?” Cammie asks curiously.

“Because they know if you survive, they will not,” Diedre answers as she snatches the paper from Pam’s fingers. “And this one is definitely highest on my list of most likely to come after Felipe indirectly.” She makes a big circle around the name and holds it out to us.

“Victor Madden?” I read aloud. “Why him?”

“He is Felipe’s second in command, and Victor does not want to be second,” Diedre replies. “Felipe had contacted Cassandra a few times these last couple decades asking specifically if she could see Victor betraying him.”

“Why would he keep him around if he didn’t trust him?” I ask dumbfounded.

“Because Victor is also very good at his job,” Pam replies. “He’s an expert at weeding out competitors and finding lucrative gains along the way. Some of his ventures are not always so profitable, but they accomplish shutting out others who do not have a capital to compete in a split market. Anytime a new outfit tries to put up real estate in Vegas that could hurt their annual tithe, Victor has pounced and bled them before they could even break ground.”

“He’s sickeningly ambitious, though, for one who has eternity to gain wealth and acclaim in the community,” Diedre explains. “Young enough to be impatient, but old enough to become a Regent. I suppose that is what his ultimate goal is to become a Regent, but with no open positions-”

I think we all realize something in that moment Diedre holds her tongue.

“You don’t think,” Cammie begins slowly, “that Victor put out a hit on Felipe so he could take over Vegas, and Felipe wanted to attack Rhodes to weaken a kingdom so he could take it over and give it to Victor as a peace offering; do you?”

“If so, that is the most bastardized Gift of the Magi scenario I have ever heard,” Pam utters.

Before I can reply with even the simplest of silent nods, I feel Eric explode with grief and anger. I know that he is feeling great emotional pain, but I also can tell that he’s been attacked physically as well.

My arms wrap around myself as I shake with an abrupt sob. As I try to pull myself together, Pam has already jumped from her seat and retrieved the television remote. She flicks through the channels until she finds a news report. We only need to wait a moment before the news anchor stops his story.

“We are receiving reports that a bomb has been detonated at JFK airport in New York City,” the anchor announces. Cammie comes up behind me and wraps her arms around me.

“It will be okay,” She whispers into my ear and squeezes me tightly.

“Bystander reports say that a group of terrorists arrived at several gates strapped with explosives-”

“How did they get past security?” Pam snarls angrily.

“How they managed to get to the gates is undetermined,” The anchor continues as if he heard Pam and is trying to protect his reputation as a journalist.

“Is Eric injured?” Diedre asks from her seat. She is the only one that didn’t pop up as the mood in the room shifted.

“He doesn’t feel much worse for wear physically,” I answer. “He’s really upset, though.”

Eric’s POV:

“Which was it, Felipe? Rhodes or the Pythoness?” I snarl from my, presumably, safe distance.

“What are you talking about?” Felipe demands, still feigning injury. He is trying to lure me in closer. My only advantage against de Castro is that I can fly and he cannot. As long as there is enough distance for me to become airborne before he can lay his grasp on me, I am relatively safe.

“You as though you thought I had come here to detain you,” I accuse. “The only matter my family has been looking into is the Fellowship of the Sun conspiracy. If you felt the need to avoid me then you are one of the traitors responsible for leaking information. Either you had the Pythoness murdered, or you coordinated the attack on Rhodes, but not both. So, which is it? Rhodes? Or were you the one who had Cassandra assassinated?” I am growling by the end of my questioning.

There is a long silence between us, only interrupted by the sirens and screams still echoing amid the chaos of the explosions. Finally Felipe utters, “Rhodes.”

“Why?” I demand, and keep my body from closing in. Proximity will not make a vampire three times my age feel intimidated. The only thing I will have accomplished is reducing my chances of leaving this place intact. If only I had thought of Felipe as a suspect and not just another victim. I would have brought silver with me.

“The Pythoness had warned me that Victor was growing restless. She saw him attempting to overtake me,” he answers. “I knew the only way to placate him from his attempts was to give him his own state to govern, but I needed a Regent to be weakened enough for an overthrow.”

“Then you did not care which Regent it was, so long as you could take control,” I nod. Godric and I had deduced as much while we were still uncertain who was behind the leak.

Felipe does not reply to my accusation, but he does not need to. After all, he has already confessed. There is no need to be redundant in our confessions.

“The Council will strip you of your status as Regent,” I point out to him. “I am quite confident that you will never be recognized as a Regent again.”

The older vampire snorts on a laugh, “Aside from Diedre, I am the oldest vampire in North America. Do you think the Council would ever dream of banning me from holding an office?” He seems to accept that playing injured will not lure me in, and finally climbs back to his feet. Felipe wipes at his ash darkened face with the clean part of a handkerchief that had been folded in his breast pocket.

“Victor is your subordinate,” I point out, “and he is not only the most likely responsible for this mess,” I gesture to the ruin around us, “but also the murder of the Ancient Pythoness. You will be held accountable for that.”

Felipe actually laughs at my suggestion, “Victor tried to kill me too. The Council will lump me in with the victims. Besides, Rhodes never happened. What leg do they have to stand on?”

“Turncoat or not, Victor is still your responsibility. If you cannot rein in your own subordinate, how can you be trusted to maintain an entire State’s welfare?” I shake my head in disgust. “The fact that Rhodes did not happen speaks more of your incompetence than your innocence.”

Felipe sighs, folds his handkerchief, and stuffs it back into his breast pocket. My body tenses automatically, and I push off into the air. Unfortunately, Felipe anticipates me escape to higher ground, and catches my ankle. I am yanked from the air and slammed back into the ground.

FUCK! I snarl as my body leaves a fissure in the floor. I try to scramble to my feet when I am overtaken by Felipe. I feel my arm being pulled up and away from my back and try to resist the strain. Rather than my shoulder dislocating and being torn away, the humerus snaps and is ripped from the very top of my shoulder as a yell is stolen from my lips.

“Give that back!” I shout as images of me with only one arm to hold my son float behind my eyes. My body twists as Felipe stumbles back with my arm, and I kick back up to my feet. Blood is pouring out of the torn scraps of my shoulder, but Felipe is caught off guard by my immediate reaction.

As he takes a step back, my leg kicks forward and catches Felipe in the testicles. Even a vampire cannot help but double over at this sort of attack, and it gives me the opportunity to yank my dismembered arm from his grasp.

Felipe looks up at me in mesmerized disbelief. Though I am nowhere near his level of strength and speed, I am still far more advanced than he would have anticipated for my age. The acceleration of skill my continual awareness gives me is all the advantage I need. As he scrambles to determine my actual level of ability, I flip my dismembered arm in the air so that the jagged end of the bone is facing down. While Felipe remains paralyzed with calculations, that fragmented appendage swings out and manages to penetrate the king’s chest like a stake.

The remains of Felipe de Castro, King of Nevada, splash thickly around my feet. A flare of disappointment rises in me as I jam my broken arm back to its splintered home. If only Felipe had surrendered. He could have remained a figurehead of the vampire community. Instead, we are now missing two revered Ancients from our world.

I only allow my sorrow a few moments to fester before I am in the air and heading back to Ohio. We will have to write up a report for the Vampire Council, although I am certain Diedre can gloss over this whole indiscretion for us.

I can feel Sookie’s worry welling up inside me and the relief that washes it away as she feels me heading back for home. With any luck, my arm will be at least partially mended before I touch down on Godric’s lawn.

When I am finally coming back to earth, I see Sookie come running out of Godric and Camilla’s home. She waves her arms up at me frantically, and I land beside her just as she jumps into my arm. The injured appendage is still not listening to my commands all that well, and I pull to wiggle it, hoping to realign the break so that it will heal faster.

Sookie steps away as I make my adjustments, and I see the curious expression on her face turn ashen as she realizes what she is seeing.

“Huagh,” she makes a rather guttural sound before she shivers and makes it again. My good arm sweeps out to gather her hair from her face just as she doubles over and vomits all over the grass.

“…symptom?” I ask softly, trying not to use any phrase that would send Pam, Diedre or Quigley too much information.

Sookie shakes her head ever-so-slightly, but remains bent over. “No,” she finally utters, “just the sight…” She pauses, and I see her back lurch again as if to vomit some more. “I’ll be fine, just don’t do that again while I’m looking.”

I smile softly at her request, “I am sorry that I upset your stomach.”

Sookie laughs and finally straightens up. She wipes her mouth shyly with the back of her arm. “You should see if Camilla has a spell for that,” she points to my arm, “while I go rinse out my mouth.”

With a nod of agreement, I take step ahead of Sookie and open the door for her. She smiles up at me as she passes by and heads for the bathroom. When I arrive in the sitting room, Pam, Camilla, Quigley and Diedre are waiting there for news.

“Felipe is dead,” I announce. “Camilla, can you fix this?” I ask of the witch while simultaneously wiggling my severed arm. Camilla cringes at my dismemberment, but does not react in such a projectile manner as my wife.

“Uh, yeah, I should be able to do a small reassembly spell,” Camilla nods as she runs off to get her own personal book of spells. She has been assembling her own Book of Shadows over the past five years, and I admit that her advancements in her witch training are rather impressive for someone who did not even know who they were eight years ago.

The vampires in the room remain silent as my wife and my Maker’s wife scurry about the house. When Sookie returns and immediately climbs into my lap, I wrap an arm around her waist and try to discretely place my hand over her belly. Her emotions explode with happiness inside me, and I pull her that much closer.

Camilla returns a moment later, flipping through her book as she walks into the room. She finds the page she needs and then bustles back out of the room for the tools or ingredients she will need. It is another five minutes before she comes back and lays out her items. Camilla takes a bottle of tequila and slugs down half of it.

Quigley whistles as the bottle drains, “Now, if you were human, I’d say you had a drinking problem, Lady.”

The witch shudders slightly, puts the bottle down and focuses on me, “Sook, get out of the way. This is my first reassembly on something animated.”

My wife jumps from my lap and takes cover behind Pam, no doubt being extra cautious because of the baby growing in her belly.

Camilla trains her gaze on me, raises her arms and begins speaking a single word over and over until her voice grows distant and monotone. I am surprised that I do not recognize it.

“Sutider, sutider, sutider,” Camilla calls over and over, and with each repetition, I feel my arm tug. I can feel the splinters of bone migrating back to their homes, and after the fifteenth or sixteenth rep, the shaft of the humerus snaps back into place with an audible crack. It sounds like a thick limb of a tree being broken into firewood.

Camilla closes her book once more and puts the bottle of tequila away.

“Was tequila part of the spell?” Sookie asks as Camilla returns.

“No, but I was nervous doing magic on Eric,” our resident witch replies.

“Why could you do magic on Eric?” Sookie frowns. “We’re supposed to be immune to each others’ magics.”

Camilla frowns as well, “Maybe witch magic is different? Technically, it’s something that can be learned, it doesn’t have to be something that comes naturally…”

Sookie considers her friend’s theory and shrugs, “I guess I shouldn’t question it since it worked. I should just be thankful that it did work.” She comes back to my side and slides back onto my lap. Once more, my arms wrap around her tightly. “Now, do you want to explain what’s happened?” she asks of me.

“Felipe is dead,” I begin. “He was one of the leaks to the Fellowship. Felipe is the one that gave the Summit time and location.”

“How did you manage to kill an ancient three times your age?” Quigley asks in surprise. “I know you were always capable for your age, but that is ridiculous.”

I pause a moment before confessing, “The vampires in our bloodline seem to advance faster because of our continual awareness. Although I was still nowhere near Felipe’s strength and speed, he assumed he knew what mine was. I caught him off guard with my reaction time and strength. I staked him with my broken arm.”

“Metal,” Quigley replies and shakes his head bemusedly.

A chuckle forms in my throat at his disbelief, and I let it fill the room with my amusement. As the last of my merriment fades, my phone begins to ring.

Taking my phone from my pocket, I see it is my Maker and quickly answer. “Yes, Master?”

“We have caught the one responsible for the attack on Felipe as well as the assassination of the Ancient Pythoness,” Godric announces.

“Let me guess,” I sigh. “Victor Madden?”

Godric pauses a moment before stating, “If you already knew, was there a reason you kept it to yourself?”

“I only just put the pieces together over the last few hours. Felipe was responsible for the Summit leak. He is dead now,” I reply.

“We will be bringing Victor to Ohio in a few hours. I have already informed the Council of Victor’s transgressions, and they agree that Diedre should be the one to bring justice.”

I can feel in the link I share with my Maker that he is concerned about giving Diedre this closure. After all, once the individual responsible for her lover’s death is brought to justice by her own hands, will Diedre have any strength left to continue existing?

“I see,” is all I can manage in reply. “We will see you in a few hours then.”

Godric and I hang up, and I turn to Sookie. “Dear One, would you mind returning home with me. I need a shower and change of clothes,” I gesture to my disheveled state.

“Sure,” she answers, and I can both see and feel her exhaustion.

Taking my wife’s hand in mine and scooping up her overnight bag on the way to the door, we steal Pam’s car to take back home. My body feels too depleted to fly the both of us back to the house. It took a great deal of my reserves to make it to Godric’s home.

As we come into the house from the garage, a scent in the air makes me moan in annoyance, “Whatever it is, it has to wait until I have some blood!” I call into the darkness and head for the kitchen.

Sookie snaps on the light and gasps when she must see Ludwig standing ominously in the previously dark living room. I know I should be concerned about the doctor’s arrival in our home, especially with the newness of our pregnancy, but I feel too weak to focus on more than warming a half gallon of blood and gorging myself.

When the microwave dings and I take four bottles from it, I carry them to the living room and place them on the coffee table. I give one a quick shake and then crack it open.

“Go ahead, Doctor,” I wave for her to go on with her discussion. Sookie is fiddling nervously beside me, and I take her hand in my free one. She glares at me momentarily. “Sookie,” I smile reassuringly, “if it were something bad, Ludwig would have told me to get my ass in here rather than grab a blood or two. Everything is fine with the baby.”

Sookie relaxes slightly, and I drain the bottle of blood into my mouth before reaching out and grabbing a fresh one.

“To be honest, I appreciated the extra moments you gave me,” Ludwig whispers, and I raise my eyebrows. I have never heard her so uncomfortable. “Earlier today when I was doing your evaluation, you might have noticed I was a bit distracted.”

Sookie shakes her head, “I figured you were just as stunned as us that there were so few precursors to the conception.” She smiles at Ludwig politely, absolving her of any preconceived failings on her part.

“The truth is, when I saw you,” Ludwig continues after giving Sookie an appreciative nod, “I could already tell you were with child. It is true that I was caught off guard by the abruptness, but my real distraction came from the date.”

“Why? What’s today?” Sookie asks.

Ludwig takes a deep breath, “It is the date marked on an envelope I was given several months ago. I was told not to open it until today no matter what. Honestly, with work, I had completely forgotten about it until I saw you and your condition.”

The doctor takes a crisp envelop from her bag and holds it up. A wax seal that I am quite familiar with is cracked open, and I suddenly know who gave Ludwig the envelope. I am also quite certain I know what the letter inside says.

“Cassandra’s last vision?” I guess with certainty.

Ludwig looks at me worriedly and nods, “Yes. She gave me this letter four months ago. Three months before she was killed.” She hands the letter to my wife, who is looking between the two of us in confusion. Sookie is pale and reaches for the page with a shaking hand.

As Sookie’s hands fumble to take the letter form the envelope, I place my hand on her back to try and sooth her with my love and reassurance.

“Patricia,” Sookie reads aloud like she is in the classroom, “if you have followed my instruction and kept this letter unread until the date it stated, then you are probably already aware of what it has to say.

“Sookie Northman has just discovered that she is with child, and I want you to know with certainty that the spirit of her first born is my spirit. Please, let the Northmans know that they have brought about my reincarnation, and plead with them that they will share this news with my Diedre.

“I know it is a lot to ask, but please give her hope of being with me again. I have seen us together in this new existence, but the thought of her hurting without any hope of finding her soulmate again is more than my current being can bear.

“Sookie and Eric, if you are reading this, I beg that you bring my Diedre the only comfort that can heal her. Let her have hope again.

Forever in your debt,
Cassandra of Troy”

Sookie’s hands slowly lower the letter and she stares at Ludwig. There is a long silence before my Bonded asks, “The Ancient Pythoness is inside me?”

Ludwig shakes her head, “Do not think of it like that. True it is the same spirit that is being reborn, but it is not the same person. It will have all its own memories-

“He,” Sookie interrupts. “The baby is a boy.”

“Is it?” Ludwig raises her eyebrows.

“Eric said our first born will be a boy, and I believe him,” Sookie responds in that dazed tone.

The doctor looks at me and rolls her eyes. Perhaps she thinks I have wishful thinking, but she says nothing to contradict my beliefs.

“Well, he,” Ludwig begins again, “will have all his own memories. He will be his own person. There is even a very high chance he will not have the gift of visions.”

“Why is that?” I ask curiously.

“Magic is linked to the spirit, yes,” Ludwig says, “but certain gifts are not. Gifts are usually linked more to blood, but need a special spirit to wield them. Your child will be magical, but how that magic will manifest has yet to be seen.”

Ludwig hops from where she had been sitting in the plump chair that keeps her toes from brushing the ground. “Well, I have done my final service to the Ancient Pythoness. Now it is up to you how to proceed. You may keep the letter. If you do choose to inform Diedre of her soulmate’s reincarnation, that is your decision. I am done playing messenger.”

With that, the doctor POPs out of the house and leaves Sookie and I in contemplative silence. Now we have one of the biggest decisions of our marriage to make, and I have no idea how Sookie will handle this situation.

On to Chapter Fifty-Six!

Catalyst Ch. 54

Chapter Fifty-Four: Mend and Tear

Sookie’s POV:

I groan as Eric’s phone begins to ring, and he stops suckling my nipple to answer it. “Yes, Master,” he mumbles into the phone and tears a giggle from my lips as he nuzzles against my throat. “Oh? Is that right?” He pulls away again and I frown at being ignored. We’re supposed to be celebrating! I remind him of this by grabbing his cock with my hand and stroking it rather pointedly. He looks down at me with his devilish smile. “Yes, she is,” he laughs as he reaches for my hand that’s stroking him and makes me let him go. “Yes, she is,” he laughs harder and kisses my fingertips. “When will he be here?” he asks and then drops my hand. “Fine,” he sounds and feels a bit put out.

“What’s up?” I ask when Eric sets down his phone and crawls off the bed.

“Quigley is on his way over to have a talk,” Eric replies as he starts throwing clothing at me.

“Why do I have to get dressed?” I groan, but still start pulling my clothes on.

“Because you are the one he is coming over to talk to,” Eric answers in exasperation; not with me, but at being interrupted. I can sympathize.

“What do I have to talk to him about?” I frown as I start smoothing out my sex tousled hair.

Eric begins pulling on his own clothes, “What do you know about Quigley?”

I shrug as I shimmy back into my pants. Oh, how long will these fit me!? There’s a bit of dread and excitement that jolts through me at the thought.

“I know he was the Knot in Diedre and Cassandra’s Binding Ceremony,” I answer as I realize I forgot to put my bra on and strip my shirt back off. “So, losing Cassandra was a real big deal for him too.” There you are! I snatch my bra from the dresser and latch it behind my back.

“Quigley was a priest before he was turned,” Eric tells me and I pause a moment before pulling my shirt back on.

“They turned a priest? Dang, that must have been hard for him to reconcile at first,” I frown thoughtfully. A part of me begins to recognize what Eric is trying to tell me.

“It was,” Eric agrees. “We were made around the same time, and Quigley took quite a beating from the vampires of the era, as well as from myself.”

“You beat up Quigley?” I ask in surprise.

Eric laughs and shakes his head, “Only a little. It is normal for vampires of similar age groups to fight each other. It helps Makers to determine the inherent speed, strength and abilities of their progeny. Quigley had very little of any of that despite his overall appearance. He did, however, have something the vampire community looked down on him for, and that was empathy.”

“Doesn’t everyone have some form of empathy?” I tease as we head to the sitting room.

“Quigley was an empath,” Eric stresses. “It was what made him an ideal candidate as the Knot in the Binding Ceremony. When he became vampire, the empathic ability became much stronger. He became known as a bit of a lie detector, which many people were unhappy about. They felt that Diedre was arming herself with too many advantages and abilities. She had Cassandra and Quigley, and she was a revered Ancient.”

“I thought she was straight up the oldest vampire existing?” I frown.

“Not at that time. A thousand years ago, she was the third oldest vampire in existence,” he tells me. “Her superiors met the sun over several hundred years ago. She has been the oldest vampire since I was still a fledgling.”

“Oh,” I frown as I take my spot on the sofa. Eric pulls my legs onto his lap and starts playing with my toes. I wiggle them at him in a little wave that makes him smile. “What is Quigley coming to talk to me about?”

My husband pauses a moment before replying, “Reconciling.”

I frown as well when Eric confirms what I already suspected. “I’ve been a lot better…” I point out. Ever since the family reunited, I’ve definitely felt much less lost.

“You have,” he agrees and plants a kiss on the top of my foot, “but maybe there are ways that he can help you feel more than just better?”

Eric’s words echo in me as my hand goes to my belly. I really want to find some spiritual foothold before I become a mother. When we infiltrated the Fellowship of the sun last month, that hadn’t been a lie. I want to raise my child with some sort of faith…

My thoughts are interrupted when there’s a knock at the door. Eric rises quickly and goes to let Quigley inside. He really doesn’t look like a priest. He’s broad and trim, like a woodsman who chops lumber all day. He’s got the big, bushy beard to match, too!

“Hello there,” Quigley greets me as he comes to the sitting room. “Hope I’m not interrupting too much.”

“Not at all,” I reply politely even if I feel that he is interrupting. “Would you like a blood? It’s Genuine,” I offer while simultaneously beginning to rise. We keep blood for Jason because he still needs to feed more regularly than the rest of the family.

“No, thank you,” Quigley smiles and sits down across from me. “According to Godric, I am interrupting, and want to keep this short for tonight.” My face burns a little bit, but only because I get a little annoyed when Godric noses in on my sex life. “Godric felt it was important that you and I have a sit down, though. I hear you’ve been having a tough time adapting your beliefs with all the new information you’ve been given over the years.”

I can’t help but bristle a little bit, but it eases when Eric comes over, places a hand on my shoulder and kisses the side of my head. “I will be in my office if you need me,” he says, politely excusing himself even though privacy from ancients in a single building is only a courteous illusion. It took me our entire first year of being Bonded to stop running the water whenever I used the bathroom.

“So,” I turn to Quigley, unable to hide how uncomfortable I am, “how does this work?”

“How does what work?” Quigley leans back, making himself comfortable. He fiddles with an unlit cigarette, but I’m glad to see he doesn’t light it.

I stare at him a moment before asking, “Aren’t you going to go into some story or explanation?”

Quigley shakes his head, “No, I want to know what about your faith doesn’t make any sense to you now.”

A frown tugs my lips downward as I think about this, “Seeing my faith put down my relationship with my husband. Being told that my brother, my husband and my friends are evil, but knowing that they are good and full of love and compassion-”

“Sookie,” Quigley takes my hand comfortingly, “it is not your faith that you are questioning. It is your religion. They are not one in the same thing. You can have faith without religion, you can draw strength from God without a church.”

“How did you find a way of doing that?” I ask him. After all, it must have been more difficult for a priest turned vampire than someone like me.

Quigley gives one of those tilted smiles that, again, makes him look more like a lumberjack than a priest. “Let’s see,” Quigley brings his cigarette to his lips and begins stroking his beard, “first I was very angry. I hated Cassandra and Diedre for turning me into a monster. Cassandra had told me quite pointedly that they had turned me into a vampire, and it was my decision whether or not to become a monster.

“Then, after a while,” he continued, “as they used me as the conduit they intended me to be, I could feel the desperation of their love for one another. It made me wonder why Satan would make creatures capable of such love. Then I began to wonder if vampires weren’t actually creatures of God, and if they were, then maybe they were more like man than I realized. Perhaps, like man, vampires could become good or evil.”

“So,” I begin slowly, “how did you resolve your beliefs around all of that?”

“Well,” Quigley replies, rolling the unlit cigarette between his teeth, “first, I went a little wild. I never had, y’know. I fucked around, I committed sins I’d abhorred as a human, but I maintained my commitment that I would never kill unless my own existence was in jeopardy. I promised that I would keep the Ten Commandments in highest regard, and to this day I have. A thousand years is a long time not to take the Lord’s name in vain, especially with what I’ve seen. Keeping the Sabbath Day holy is difficult too,” he says thoughtfully. “All the others, killing, coveting… They were easy to obey because they meant something to me.”

“But your beliefs,” I stress.

Quigley smiles, “Reach for Him for strength when no worldly source will do. Show Him respect at all times and show that same respect to His creations. It’s that simple Sookie. The words of man that surround His message are what are confusing you. Don’t focus so hard on the words of man. Only have ears for the words of God.”

“What about when the ones I love don’t follow the word of God?” I ask meekly. This has been my greatest problem.

The former priest grins at me like my question is not all that difficult, “Judge not lest thee be judged.”

My jaw slackens at the most simple explanation in the world is given to me. Quigley is right. It is not my responsibility, let alone my right to pass judgment on others. God only asks that I extend my love and compassion toward them.

“Northman does right by his beliefs,” Quigley goes on. “You aren’t trying to save his soul, are you?”

“No,” I reply slowly, and this boulder of guilt begins rolling off my chest. Pam, Camilla and Eric had managed to chip away some of the boulder’s weight over the years, but it isn’t until this moment as Quigley’s words strike me to my core that the boulder crumbles and rolls away entirely. I am free of my fears and worries. I know the type of person I am, and the type of mother I want to be. I know how I want to raise my children in faith and not necessarily religion.

There is only one last thing I need Quigley to help me reconcile.

“And what about the fact that I felt the murders Eric and Godric have committed were justified?” I finally utter when I find my words.

Another tender, sympathetic smile tugs at the vampire’s mouth, “If we could help how we felt about everything, we wouldn’t need religion and law to keep us in line, now would we? It is not a sin to think bad things; it is only a sin to act upon them. The church condemned dangerous thoughts because dangerous thoughts were believed to lead to dangerous action. I can promise you that even as a human priest, I experienced my fair share of sinful thoughts. They were flashes in a pan, as they came they went, and that is what you should try to do. Don’t dwell on dark thoughts. Don’t worry over what having those thoughts mean. Simply let them run through your mind and be gone.”

“Is it really that simple?” I ask breathlessly.

“God’s message has always been simple, Lass. It’s man that went and complicated everything,” Quigley laughs and pats my hand. He leans back to play with his unlit cigarette some more, and leaves me to my thoughts a moment.

I don’t even notice when silent tears roll down my cheeks

“You all right?” Quigley asks knowingly as he hands me a a tissue from the box on the coffee table.

I take the tissue and blot at the little rivers winding down my cheeks. “Yes,” I tell him simply.

With one last smile, Quigley stands up and smooths out his shirt, “Well, I’m glad I could be of service. If you ever need anything, I’m always happy to be of help. I’ll let you get back to your evening,” He gives me a playful wink and shows himself out.

As I watch him go, it’s like the last of my worries are swept out the door with him.

Eric’s POV:

As Sookie has her meeting with Quigley, I can feel her heart lightening. Despite her continued protests, I can feel Quigley’s words penetrating her doubts. Finally, her fears and concerns are being resolved.

Unfortunately, as she unravels the complicated knots of her soul, I am unraveling the uncomplicated theory of our conception date. It does not take a fool to notice a rather coincidental parallelism between the Ancient Pythoness’s Final Death and the week that Sookie and I most likely conceived our first child.

The ancient part of me finds this to be a nicely wrapped gift to Diedre. She is being given the opportunity to not only reunite with her soulmate and be given the Bond she has longed for over the past two thousand and a half years, but also the opportunity to become part of our bloodline. I do not see why she would not receive the same gifts as the rest of us if she were to Bond to my child.

However, the father in me is aghast at the idea. Not because I wish for anything less than a Bond for my child, but because of the age. If we find some way to confirm Sookie is indeed carrying the reincarnation of Cassandra, what sort of boundary could that cause in raising our baby? I could not care less about the future sex or age difference that I am certain will bring Sookie unease, but the idea of Diedre looming behind us brings me dread. If she tries to insert herself in the raising of our child; that is not something I could be enthusiastic about.

If only there were a way to confirm it, I think in annoyance. Even if I could summon Endymion and ask, he would not tell me. He would wear his usual blank, professional face and tell me that the matter of souls and their futures was no concern of mine. Destiny has its own consort, and it is not meant to be tampered with by the likes of me. If only I knew of another Seer, I think with annoyance. Even if Camilla’s divining skills were more prominent, she would still have a difficult time determining the origin of my child’s soul. However, Camilla has currently focused most of her magical studies on enchantments rather than divination.

“Eric?” My wife’s voice floats into the office and I look up to see her smiling at me.

“Yes, Sookie?” I push away from my desk as she approaches me and smile as she bends down to kiss my lips. “You are feeling better.”

“I am,” she agrees as she crawls onto my lap and twists her fingers against the short hairs at the nape of my neck. “I feel at peace.”

“I am glad,” I kiss her temple as my arms wrap around her.

“You were thinking awful hard about something when I came in here,” she states quietly against my throat.

I pause a moment. There is no point in bringing up my suspicions. They are merely that. Suspicions. “There is much to think about with a baby on the way.”

“Yeah,” she agrees with a sigh. “Quigley’s gone.”

“I know.”

Sookie pulls away to smile at me. It is a smile I have not seen in a while. Her smile is almost shy. “Want to keep celebrating?”

My reply is to grin at her and dive in for another kiss. As her mouth molds to mine, my computer dings with a new email. Reflexively, my eyes glance over Sookie’s shoulder at the letter’s summary.



Fuck! Sookie pulls away at my abrupt shift in mood and looks over her shoulder as the email leaves the corner of the screen.

“What happened?” my wife asks.

“I have to go,” I tell her quickly as I simultaneously lift Sookie from my lap and head for our bedroom. My cell phone is out, and I am calling Godric.

“What is it Eric?” My Maker sounds just as confused as my wife.

“De Castro was the Big Mark,” I tell him quickly as I throw together a bag of necessities. “De Castro will be arriving in New York in two hours, and I have to meet him in case an assassination attempt is still in the works.”

“What are you talking about?” Godric demands.

“Compton just sent me an email verifying that de Castro is arriving in New York tonight from out of the country,” I tell him as I shoulder my bag.

My Maker is silent, and so is my wife as I pass her outside our bedroom door. She has heard enough to know what is happening.

“I will go to Vegas with Jason and-”

“Not Sookie,” I interrupt. There is no chance in hell I am letting my pregnant wife do reconnaissance. If the trap for Felipe is in Vegas, I do not want her caught in the middle of it.

“Not Sookie,” Godric agrees, and by the tone, I can easily guess that he is aware that my wife is now carrying our child. “I was going to suggest Sookie and Pam come stay here with Camilla, Diedre and Quigley.”

I would rather Sookie stay home, but then she would feel obligated to play hostess. Silently I send for Pam in our Link, and Sookie looks at me in confusion. I pull the phone from my lips and turn to Sookie. “Pack an overnight bag to take to Camilla’s. Pam will be by shortly to take you there-”

“Eric,” she whispers and I can feel her frustration and concern. She wants me to stop and talk to her. She wants me to explain what exactly is happening, but there is no time because Pam is already pulling onto our street.

“I am leaving now,” I tell Godric and end the call.

“Eric, please, just give me thirty seconds,” Sookie pleads as she grabs my arm.

Stopping in my tracks, I turn and cup Sookie’s chin in my palm. I lean in and kiss her. “After this, Sookie, it is just you, me and the baby. No more intrigue, no more espionage, and no more vampire politics. At least until he starts school,” I end with teasing.

“Be safe,” Sookie tells me and hugs me tight. “I don’t want to go through more of this than I have to without you. I want to share it all with you, Eric. Don’t make me do any of this alone.”

“I will be back soon,” I promise. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” she tells me and lunges in for one last kiss before Pam comes through the door.

Without another word, I walk past Pam, go out the door and take off into the sky. Sookie knows enough to bring Pam up to speed.


I cannot remember the last time I flew like this. With our identities concealed from the humans, there is little room to risk performing supernatural feats. Vampires being out of the coffin gives less room for us to hide behind the word, “absurd!” when we are caught doing impossible things.

I wonder if Sookie will be able to contain the news of our pregnancy until I return? I really wish to be present when she tells the family, but that dream might not come true. With her staying at Camilla’s home, it might be an unavoidable conversation. Especially if she develops more symptoms before I return. The women have not had any sort of illness since the bloodline was formed and joined. Will Sookie experience pregnancy symptoms the same way as human women? Fairy women?

All of these questions are pondered as I fly east, toward New York. It kills time, and also gives me the chance to create a mental list of questions for Ludwig. Then again, I remember, this pregnancy is already varying from the one the alternate version of us experienced. When that Sookie became fertile, the whole supernatural community knew about it. I chuckle at the memory of Ludwig telling the story from the notes. The look on my Sookie’s face had been priceless when Ludwig had explained the circumstances to us. She had looked scandalized by the idea of every supernatural within a five mile radius being able to smell her, and the fact that her presence alone during that time could ignite an orgy.

I had found it hilarious.

Now that I am thinking about both my wife and New York, I cannot prevent the smothering sense of dread enclosing around my heart. My mind flutters from scenario to scenario. What once prepared me for any outcome in battle is now nearly paralyzing me with possibilities.

What if I am captured? What if I am injured or disfigured like Diedre? Will the first time I hold my child be with one arm?

I shake off the concerns. The remaining FotS who stayed undiscovered during the raid on the Dallas Headquarters could not hope to delay me, let alone hold me captive. Their small, hate filled minds could not even comprehend a creature like me.

Then again, if they intend to use bombs, I could be slowed down or even halted. Being blown apart will not kill me, but it will certainly stop me in my tracks!

Suddenly I feel Sookie’s love welling up inside of me like a blanket that could banish any cold. She can feel my unease, I suppose, and is trying to bring me comfort before I fulfill my mission. A part of me feels ashamed to need that love and encouragement, but another part that Sookie has nurtured over the years feels relief. The relief of not having to go anywhere alone ever again. Even as I keep miles safely between us, Sookie is with me, whispering to me about her love and devotion. She is a cradle for my heart, keeping it safe and comfortable as my body goes forth to do what it must.

I land in New York City, several miles from the airport so as not to raise suspicion. There are few places to come back to earth unseen in the cities, which is why I have always tried to live on the outskirts rather than directly within them.

I hale a cab to take me the rest of the way and use my phone to once again check the information Compton had forwarded me. 10:45PM EST; GATE 42; ANUBIS AIRLINES.

“Picking up?” The cabby asks.

“Yes,” I reply distractedly as I punch a text out to Sookie to tell her of my arrival in the city.

“Friend, wife, girlfriend?” he tries to wheedle conversation out of me.

“Associate,” I answer. “The asshole could die and I would not care, but it would be bad for business.”

The cab driver laughs at my honest reply. It is honest. I have no interest in Felipe de Castro’s welfare, but if another ancient is killed by the humans a full out war could be sparked. Forget that the ones leading the attacks are extremists, and forget that they are the fragments of an organization my family has already brought down. No, if another ancient is lost to human hands, there will be outrage, and even more horrific acts of violence bestowed upon the humans.

When we arrive at the airport, I pay the driver with a fifty and do not bother with my change. Instead, I storm into the building as his gratitude is shouted across the busy drop off area.

I spare several glances at my watch as I maintain my well trained human speed toward Gate 42. My brisk walk makes a few people glance at me, and I suppose my grim expression does not ease their curiosity. It is a canter that clips the very edge of normal and murmurs suspiciously about the unnatural. There is still a glimmer of doubt, a possibility that I am a man who has trained myself to walk at such speeds. Whatever an onlooker’s concern may be, they say nothing and return to preparing for their own departures.

At 10:30, I arrive at Gate 42, and I force myself to take a seat until the plane’s arrival is announced on the board. It is currently listed as ‘On Time’. I take these moments to analyze the points of attack.

Whatever the plan is, it could be coordinated anywhere between here and Nevada. If I were those Zealots, I would plan my attack for New York. Felipe will not have a home court advantage, and have less safe havens to retreat to.

But how are they going to blitz a three thousand year old vampire? I wonder as my precious preparation time ticks away.

I glance at the arrivals board and then at the clock. 10:37 is what it is telling me, but the board is saying Felipe’s flight is arriving presently. Shit, I am already out of time!

Rising to my feet, I head towards the gate and glance about. No one is within five feet of the gate. The attendant opens the door and many vampires file out. Why was Felipe on a commercial Anubis flight? He is a Regent, and a lavish one at that.

Several vampires glance at me, but continue on to their connecting gates. Some pause to get their bearings, as Anubis is still a relatively new airline. Finally, Felipe comes to my field of vision. Like the other vampires he rode with, Felipe stares at me, but it is different. I am being sized up. He is looking at me like an obstacle or an enemy. He is waiting to see what I do. He thinks I am here to detain him? I wonder as I take a step toward him.

Felipe leans away as if to bolt the opposite direction. As he does, a smell hits me. It seems to hit all of us supernaturals at the same time. It is a sickeningly sweet scent, and I see a Were security guard several gates down tilt back his head and suddenly snap his gaze to a rather stiff looking human. The Were is running toward the human when that familiar sweetness is finally recognized.

They are bombing the damned gate! I think in alarm as I race toward the human.

In that moment, my eyes take in many things. There is not one lone human with the resigned look of death in their eyes. There is one at the gates of several Anubis lines. Stopping one will do nothing. I cannot stop what is about to happen.

If I can only spare half the casualties, I think with determination as I lunge toward the human and reveal my vampire speed and flight. I scoop them up by the collar of the vest.

With only moments to spare, I am a torpedo down the aisle. One, two, three, three of the bombers in my grasp. That is how many I manage to get a hold of before their watches begin to beep. I hope that it is their signal to be in position.

Five more seconds, I bargain with myself or maybe even some God as I stop for nothing and burst upward through the ceiling. Four, three… Like a guided missile, I soar into the night sky. Up, up, and awaaaay, I say in my mind as I clear the tower and fling the bombers even higher over my head.

Two, one, I finish counting down, and as if my instincts were right or a Higher Power heard me, the bombs explode. Unfortunately, the blast manages to knock me back, and I feel my body being propelled once more to the earth.

I miss the hole I created in the ceiling and make another one upon my descent. If I had any wind to be knocked out of me it would have taken a decade to get it back.

Climbing back to my feet, I survey the damages. Apparently I had missed two of the bombers. Two gates on opposite ends of the airport are in smoldering ruins, but are quickly dying from the emergency sprinkler system. Calmly I walk toward the ruined area that had been behind me. At least I had chosen wisely and launched ahead instead of behind. I would have only prevented one enclosed explosion instead of three.

As I approach the charred remains of gate 40, another Anubis gate, I think with grim understanding, I see Felipe de Castro in a state similar to the gate. He is scorched, but has sustained nowhere near the damage he would have if I had not intercepted the bomber closest to us.

“This is why you came here,” Felipe says as I approach him. He is talking low, barely audible above the wails and cries that are filling the airport like a tragic opera.

“Why did you think I came here?” I ask as I crouch down beside him, assessing the damage. I scuttle a few yards back when I realize that he is not as injured as he is acting. He wants you within striking distance, I warn myself.

Felipe does not reply to my question. Instead he stares up at the holes I made in the ceiling.

“You saved my existence,” he finally says. “I owe you for that.”

“I tried to save as many as possible,” I reply darkly. Strange connections are firing in my mind. Things that did not add up before are starting to create two different sums. Because there were two different conspirators trying to hide their intentions in the same place, I determine.

Phones begin to ring all throughout the airport. Inside and out, I hear phones. Apparently the bombing has already reached the media. Loved ones are calling from all across the country, all across the world to make sure their brother, their sister, their mother or father are well. Spouses are being called by their wives and husbands. Sons and daughters and calling their mommies and daddies.

I close my eyes and listen for a moment, catching reassuring sobs, but aching at the phones that ring and ring without answer. For all of my strength and speed, for all of my efforts; I could not stop those phones from ringing. I suppose for the ones who called those numbers, these phones will ring forever.

Opening my eyes, I look at one of the creatures that caused these phones to begin ringing.

On to Chapter Fifty-Five!

Catalyst Ch. 53

A/N: I don’t normally do this, but I wanted to give everyone a heads up– my HD containing all of my stories, notes, timelines and everything else has been corrupted. Recovering it may not be possible. However, there is good news. I DID have my writing backed up, including what was prepared for Catalyst, and it will hopefully continue as scheduled. Unfortunately, I only have my laptop at my disposal, and let’s just say it is not as cooperative a writing medium to my muse. We will see what happens, and I will keep everyone informed about chapter delays in the comments sections from here on out. Thank you for your patience!


Chapter Fifty-Three: The Other Side of the Situation

Camilla’s POV:

I’m not going to pretend that having two vampire roommates doesn’t come with its challenges. A few days after they had come to stay with us, Quigley came out of his light safe compartment after dusk and gave me a high five for my after school sex special. He said I was one ‘wild lass’, and I’d spent the rest of the night blushing. Since I’ve never hung out with vampires that died for the day, I forgot that older ones rose earlier than sunset!

Diedre is mostly quiet and withdrawn. She hardly leaves her room past the light tight compartment. Since she’s so flipping old she doesn’t need blood much more than once a month when she was in peak condition. Godric said that injuries or great feats of strength would deplete blood reservoirs, but with never leaving her room, Diedre could probably go two whole weeks without blood despite her injuries!

I am definitely learning a lot about vampires these past few weeks.

I’m also learning that my best friend is hiding something. She’s very distracted as of late, and I’m starting to worry. Not to mention, she even spent her lunch hour with Eric today! I hope it doesn’t become a new trend. I’d miss having lunch with my friend, and I know Godric’s noticed me sulking about it.

I know he’s noticed because as he comes into the kitchen while I make my dinner, he raises his eyebrows and asks, “Is something bothering you?”

My lips pout at the question, but I answer honestly, “Sookie met up with Eric for lunch and ditched me and Jason. She spends so much time with him, and now she’s starting to let whatever distraction she’s got cut into our time at school together.”

Distracted how?” he asks me patiently. His eyes look patient, but there’s this undercurrent of amusement in the Bond that I find frustrating. He probably knows exactly what’s going on, I think a bit petulantly.

I lift my shoulders in a shrug. “She’s just quiet and every time I want to hang out, she says she’s grading papers! We all three used to do that together, but now she wants to do it by herself? It’s like she’s avoiding me!”

Godric’s lips quirk. “I am certain she is not being distant on purpose.”

I know, and I’m trying not to take it personally,” I tell him earnestly. “I just feel…”

Excluded?” He hazards a guess and I nod. “Sometimes when we are distant with others, it is because we want closeness with someone specific. Perhaps right now you could focus on befriending Diedre? She is very alone and saddened. I am sure she would desire some empathy.”

I flinch a bit. Diedre makes me nervous. She’s so old beneath that youthful exterior, and what could someone as young as me say to comfort her? I mean, technically, I only have eight and a half years worth of experiences! What does that compare to four thousand years? What could I possibly empathize with her?

What could someone who literally had to relearn everything about themselves have to offer someone who’s reinvented their life a hundred times over? What could I tell her that she hasn’t experienced a thousand times? I can’t even remember my greatest loss, and now I want totry to coach someone through their worst experience in four thousand years?

Despite all the good things in my life, and how much I love where I am and whom I’m with; it doesn’t always feel like enough. Sometimes I find myself staring in the mirror and wondering what my previous life was like. How much of who I am was changed by what was done to me, and how much of who I was remained who I am? What have a kept from my previous life and don’t even know it?

Suddenly I realize something I can relate to this ancient creature…

Leaving my food preparation half completed on the counter, I dash upstairs and knock briskly on the guest room door. Diedre opens the door and looks at me with a touch of suspicion. No doubt, she knows I take great pains to avoid her. She has also heard my conversation with my husband and is probably apprehensive about what dubious thoughts I might have on her tragedy.

“Yes?” Diedre greets a bit cautiously but still polite.

With an encouraging smile I ask, “Would you mind a bit of company?”

Diedre opens the door a bit wider, staring at me with a dash more curiosity and far less caution. I don’t ask to sit, but flop myself down on the bed like Sookie did when we first met. I smile up at Diedre and say, “I don’t know the pain of losing a loved one. Everyone I loved before my life with the Gaul line isn’t even a memory to me. Grissom took away that entire life, so I can’t really sympathize with you on your loss.” Diedre stares at me, standing like a statue on that one formerly charred leg Ludwig didn’t see fit to amputate. That leg is already mostly healed, which surprises me a lot. Her good arm cradles what is left of the other in a surprisingly natural way, and her eyes look a little crisp. “But I can totally sympathize with the lost, hopeless feeling you’re having right now.”

I do not-”

You don’t even know where to begin starting over. You feel like you should be trying to reconstruct your entire world around what it used to be instead of starting a brand new one,” I interrupt. “Because it’s easier to try and make the world like it was, it’s terrifying to experience it all over again and rediscover what really matters to you.”

After four thousand years, I know who I am,” Diedre tells me sternly. Somehow she makes her movements fluid on one leg, and she goes to sit at the vanity. Even though her missing arm and leg are still regrowing, the scorching around her face has already healed, and her beautiful, big eyes are no longer obscured by the crisped, melted flesh of her cheek.

I know,” I agree with a nod, “but now, after two and a half thousand years; you have to know who you are without Cassandra.”

Diedre deflates heavily at the vanity at my words. I sit up, take her cool hand and squeeze it gently. “I’ve heard it a few times now… That Bonding is like finding your soul mate. What if Cassandra’s spirit returns to this world, and you get to meet her again? What if you get to fall in love all over again, and this time, you get to finally have that connection the two of you always wanted? What if that is what Cassandra saw in the future? Not her final death, but finally being with you the way you two have wanted for so long?”

The vampiress takes a sharp breath, “To find her again? What if it takes a thousand years of hurting like this? Child, you cannot understand this pain,” she insists, her little stump of a left arm pressing against where her heart beat so many lifetimes ago.

Well, maybe if you got out of your room, the pain wouldn’t be on the forefront of your mind. Maybe it will always hurt a little, but it doesn’t have to hurt this bad. Not all the time?” I try to suggest, but I know it is too soon to go gallivanting. Especially in her current condition.

Diedre nods slowly, “It has only been a few weeks, though.”

You can continue to grieve and live, Diedre,” I assure. “There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not saying you have to leave your room this second, but if you want to; do it. Don’t stay hidden away in here forever just because you think that’s what you are obligated to do. You won’t find Cassandra again in this room. Maybe go out with Pam and pick up some chicks when you’re up to it again?” I suggest with a smidge of humor. Maybe Ludwig can make some temporary prosthetic for her? The way she moves on one leg is disturbing.

something out of nightmares…

Diedre frowns, “If Cassandra were reborn, I pray that she come back as a man for me.”

I look at the vampire with surprise, “You’re straight!?”

She looks at me and the first actual smirk I have ever seen alights her face, “Vampires are never straight nor gay, we merely lean one way more than another. I prefer making love to males, but I was in love with Cassandra. If I find love again, I would hope that the vessel of that spirit is male.”

No wonder you’re so uptight. I’d be too if I’d been waiting over two thousand years for a good dicking!” I say aloud and hear Quigley roaring with laughter downstairs. “Damn it!” I can feel Godric’s own amusement as well, double damn it!

Godric’s POV:

Got yourself a lil’ spitfire,” Quigley chuckles as he leans back into the sofa and reaches for his cigarettes.

I do,” I agree with my own laugh. “And could you not smoke in the house?” I request for the hundredth time since he and Diedre took refuge with us. The former priest grins at me momentarily. I know that he only reaches for the cigarettes to poke fun at the vampire who forbids smoking in his home despite the fact it cannot harm anyone in said home. That does not mean I need my house to reek for days.

Thick chords of muscle flex as my guest puts his hands behind his head and closes his eyes rather than plucking the pack of cigarettes from the end table. “She’s good for Diedre,” he comments. “She needs a friend right now, and at four thousand years old, friends aren’t easy to come by.”

I understand entirely,” Is my reply. “That was why I felt Camilla might be a good, sympathetic ear. Though their losses are not the same, as you heard, the road to healing is quite similar.” And I needed her to stop focusing so much on Sookie’s distance. After all, what more would you expect from a couple bringing a new life into the world? That last thought fills me with a bit of smugness. However, I will not let my insider knowledge ruin the reveal for my Child and his Bonded.

She’s a sweet girl,” Quigley tells me with a soft, genuine smile. “That stuff she said about Cassie… That’s an interesting thought.”

How do you mean?” I ask him.

Quigley shrugs, “Cassandra had been on edge the past few months before she got killed, but she never let me know why. I thought maybe she’d confided in Diedre, but now I’m not so sure. In a way, I think she didn’t mind what was coming. In a way, I think your Bonded may have been right. Maybe Cassie saw her reincarnation. Maybe she saw this death as a gift. I know she didn’t want to be a Seer. You think she could have spun the wheel and hoped she’d be reborn without that gift?”

I suppose it is possible,” I frown. “After all, such a gift requires a lot of elements to align. Perhaps the one who chooses her next destiny will take pity.”

Quigley nods slowly, almost like he is casting out a prayer on the Ancient Pythoness’s behalf. When that moment of prayer has ended, the former priest looks at me and asks, “Has Northman come across any new information about what’s happened?”

Not really. Isabel had all documents forwarded to her after the Fellowship of the Sun was infiltrated by police. She sent everything to Eric, but he still has not found any information linking to the true informant that may, or may not, have anything to do with Nevada. The only real information we recovered is the scheduled assassination date of the Big Mark. Not a whole lot of good that gives us since we still have no idea who it is, and the assassination is scheduled for the end of this week.

One of our informants insists there is nothing linked to Louisiana,” I continue, “and I am inclined to believe him. Sophie-Anne is not experienced enough to pull off such a thing, and Grissom is not stupid enough, nor ambitious enough. He would have rather waited until next year to see if the Trafficking Ban is lifted than make his move now,” I answer.

You don’t think a youngling could be responsible?” Quigley presses.

I suppose if they were well organized,” I respond begrudgingly. “They often forget their limitations.” The vampire gives me a disbelieving look and I smile, “But I have serious doubts that there is any connection between the Fellowship and a vampire younger than an ancient. Only an ancient could gamble at executing Cassandra and have any hope of continuing to exist afterward.”

I s’pose that’s true,” Quigley agrees. “And what about the Nevada number? Isn’t that run by de Castro?”

It is,” I confirm. “However, de Castro has always been opportunistic, not usually one who creates his own opportunities. This does not eliminate him from my suspect list, because he would not be as old as he is if he did not make a little opportunity for himself every so often. Unfortunately, I have at least four other suspects, and they are just as difficult to accuse or clear on the matter.”

My hands clasp in front of me briefly as I consider our conversation. I do not like talking about these things within earshot of Diedre, but I can only guess that Diedre is the one who insisted that Quigley pump me for information. Instead of giving away any more of my suspicions, I change the subject.

There is something I was hoping you could help our family with while you are staying,” I tell my guest slowly, and Quigley leans in. I do believe he thinks I have a mission for him.

What’s that now?” Quigley’s eyes shine a bit. For a former priest, vampirism has certainly come to agree with him despite his rough entry into the community.

It is about Sookie,” I reply softly.

Northman’s woman?” Quigley leans back, a looming disappointment in his eyes. “What about her?”

I think Eric and Sookie could use your expertise,” I answer, thinking of Sookie’s crisis of faith. With the birth of their first child now on the horizon, I am certain this is a matter both of them would prefer to resolve.

They wanna Devil’s Threesome?” He guesses with a wiggle of his eyebrows and I snort on a laugh.

I doubt they would ever let someone else into their bed,” I tell him with more amused chortling.

Then what do the need from me?” Quigley leans back with a soft, playful smile. He is certainly a master of lightening up a mood. In a way, he reminds me of Jason.

Sookie has been suffering a crisis of faith these past years, and I was hoping you might be able to speak with her about it. Other than Jason, no one in my bloodline has ever been spiritually motivated. Jason, however, does not seem to be suffering from the same uncertainties as his sister,” I explain delicately.

Quigley shrugs, “Jason doesn’t seem as hung up on details as his sister. He’s a smart kid, but he doesn’t get so hung up on things making sense.” I want to protest that assessment, having witnessed Jason’s ability to think out a situation and plan ahead. Quigley must see the objection on my face because he smiles and answers my unasked question, “He can have faith because he feels that faith and fact don’t need to hold hands. His sister is probably taking the teachings of the church too literal, and that’s where her crisis is coming from.”

My guest seems intrigued by the situation and moves to stand. “Are you going to speak with her?” I ask, rising as well.

Quigley nods and reaches for his pack of cigarettes, “Yes. You got the priest in me raring to help a lost sheep.”

Perhaps you should call ahead,” I suggest, feeling that Eric is in an entertaining mood. Quigley raises his eyebrows questioningly. “Sookie has been quite affectionate these past few days.”

The vampire chuckles as he plucks a cigarette from the pack with his teeth. The tube of tobacco shifts between his teeth as Quigley heads for the front door.

Once he has gone, I take out my phone to warn Eric of the impending arrival. Much like Endymion, Quigley has a habit of popping in on intimate moments unannounced.

On to Chapter Fifty-Four!

Catalyst Ch. 52

Chapter Fifty-Two: Foreseen Unforeseen

Eric’s POV:

This is new, I think in surprise as Lust flares in the Bond.

True, my Bonded was particularly frisky this morning and has been every morning since returning back from Dallas a few weeks ago. At first I thought the increase in her sexual appetite stemmed from the espionage, but then I thought it was the disguises. After all, my wife is young, and I believed that the thrill, make believe or not, of taking a different lover seemed exciting to her. This did not unnerve me at all because I can become a different lover for her, and she can become a different lover for me as well.

However, my assumptions proved inaccurate. She chose my name to call out in our fantasy. Despite the fact she knew she was free to pick any name she wished, she chose her husband’s name. I will not pretend my love for her did not swell in that moment.

That was not the only proof of my miscalculations.

After my hair had grown back in my Death Sleep, I had risen to her bouncing on me like a star rodeo rider. She had said her husband was back and could not wait to have him again. This enthusiasm alone was enough to dash my earlier assumptions relating to her Lust.

Finally, after I had cut my hair to the length she had suggested (much shorter than I ever thought she would want) she had purred and bounced on me some more. Ever since the chopping of my Viking hair and adaptation of a style which Pam finally approves, Sookie has been climbing atop me endlessly ever since.

It has been a wonderful nuisance, but a curious one too.

Every day since our return to Ohio, Sookie has distracted me from my efforts at uncovering the root of our most recent problems. However, she is no mere distraction. Sookie is the cure to my distress. She is the remedy to my saddened soul. Losing the Ancient Pythoness is a burden much easier to bear with Sookie held tightly against my side. She holds the weight of my heart on her shoulders so I might hold the weight of the vampire world upon my own.

Perhaps this is where the Lust stems from? Is it her way of helping me through these past weeks of work? I wonder as I reflect on her actions these past weeks. Every time I receive updates from Isabel, Sookie has been there to alleviate some of the distress. For every ounce of sickening news Isabel gives me, Sookie is there with a pound of medicine.

It is not just Isabel who brings me troublesome news. Since the murder of the Ancient Pythoness, it seems that the entirety of the vampire community has reached out to us for information; either to receive or give it.

So far Isabel has concluded, through use of heavy glamour and light torture, that Hugo’s orders came from the state of Nevada. Some of his correspondence’s envelopes were still in his office, stuck precariously to the underside of a drawer. Whether those envelopes had latched opportunistically to the underside of its neighboring drawer, or if Hugo had retained the envelopes as some sort of leverage is unknown and inconsequential. Hugo’s fate is sealed. After this matter is cleared up and all responsible parties are apprehended, Hugo will face a tribunal. Whether that means a local hearing with the Magister or a national hearing with the North American Council has yet to be seen. Either way, Hugo is unlikely to survive the situation.

From informants other than Isabel, I have been updated on many movements. Particularly the movements of ancients and council members that have left the country as of late. My pool of potential Big Marks is now merely the size of a single ocean rather than all Seven Seas… I need more information!

Before I can succumb to the turmoil of puzzling out this latest mystery, I let my mind reflect once more upon my wife. I fantasize about her actions before she left for school.

This morning she was playful, cuddlesome, and absolutely delicious; a real lightness to my heart. She spoke all sorts of words about her desire to call off work and stay all day in our bed together. However, being the responsible teacher that she is, Sookie pouted as she slid out of our bed and prepared for her day at work.

Now it is almost noon, and that earlier friskiness has evolved into an earnest need. Her yearnings are nearly stifling, and without really considering the fact that I have work to do, I find myself snapping my laptop shut. Grabbing up my car keys, I head to the school and arrive just as her lunch break is beginning. She must have felt me arriving because she comes running out of the building, jumps into my car and kisses me feverishly.

“What has gotten into you?” I laugh as I pull away from our kiss and push her hair from her face.

Hopefully you; right now,” She tells me urgently. “Go park down the street-”


Eric, I am so serious right now,” She bares her teeth at me aggressively, and as her Bonded I feel no compulsion to question further.

Instead, I shift into gear and tear out of the parking lot. Thankfully I had the foresight to bring the SUV. Now I can pull off the road behind some covering foliage. As I do just that, Sookie wastes no time crawling into my lap.

Thank God, you’re already hard!” Sookie moans as she starts opening my pants and pushing her panties to the side.

Of course I am hard. Do you feel what you have been sending to me all morning?” I chortle as she holds my cock in her impatient hand and quickly impales herself upon me. “Fuck, Sookie,” I snarl as I grab her hips.

Shut up, and just fuck me,” she pants into my ear as she grinds recklessly above me. Without another word, I grasp her sides that much harder and begin bucking my hips upward. “Yes, yes,” she mumbles against my ear as she snakes her arms around my neck. “Just like that!” she is already clenching around me in preparation for orgasm. “AH!” Her cry fills the car, and I am surprised by the abrupt intensity of her clenching walls. It is very much like the orgasms she experiences when I stimulate her ears. However, I have hardly been inside her very long and she is strangling my cock with her vice-like pussy.

Sookie,” I snarl as she drags my own orgasm from me without my realization. It is not until I feel my shaft pulsing and emptying inside her that I realize that she has turned me into a one-pump-chump. “The fuck you just do to me?” rumbles from my lips in both surprise and unbidden exhaustion.

“You’ve been hangin’ with Jason too much,” she mumbles tiredly, her dwindling backwater accent re-emerging with her own fatigue. “That’s his catch phrase.”

Sookie, even our quickies have never been that quick,” I tell her.

It’s for the best. I gotta get back to the school,” she tells me as she climbs shakily from my lap and back into her own seat.

Mm, but you smell too good to let go,” I reply, leaning toward her seat and inhaling the freshly fucked scent she is emitting.

Eric, I can’t go missing like this for very long. Please?” Sookie asks me sweetly and I sigh.

I pause only a moment to watch her clean herself up a bit. Then I throw the vehicle back into gear, I pull back onto the road and return my Bonded to the school.

Thanks for the quickie, Darlin’,” Sookie smiles at me a bit shyly. Though she often humors my enjoyment for “naughty public play,” as she calls it, she has never desired it to such a degree. I never believed before this moment that my Sookie would have ever needed it so intensely.

It is not until she is back at work and I am driving home that I realize the peculiarity of the situation. That was not a whim. It was entirely instinctual. It was need not mere desire. An instinct rises inside me. Her desire for me might be indicative of her body finally preparing for reproduction!

Taking out my phone, I dial Dr. Ludwig.

What?” the doctor snaps as she answers her phone.

This is Northman. I think you should do Sookie’s evaluation today,” I tell her without hesitation. Her last one had been the weekend before our trip to Dallas.

She is not due for another week. Do you have reason?” Ludwig asks with more curiosity than irritability this time.

It is more of a feeling than a reason,” I confess. “It is very strong, however. After years of being Bonded to this woman, I have never felt her like this. That is saying something because I have felt many a thing from my Sookie, and this was definitely different.”

Ludwig snorts, “I know your former reputation with the female populace, Northman. That does not mean you know a woman’s body better than she knows her-” The doctor pauses a moment. “Hold on, I have another call.” Ludwig puts me on hold as she accepts the other call. I am home by the time she picks up my line again. “That was your Bonded.”

Oh?” I can feel in the Bond that she is not unwell, in fact she feels rather giddy.

She just made the same request for an evaluation. Apparently your instincts are not far off the mark. I will meet you at your home when she has returned.” With that, Ludwig hangs up on me, and I find myself laughing.

A baby! I think with wild excitement and a little trepidation. For the first time in over a thousand years, I will have a child of my own flesh and blood!

It takes all of my willpower not to start researching pregnancy and infants. I decide that I should wait until conception is confirmed. After all, with our different… heritages, we might not manage to conceive the first time around. You should probably wait until ovulation is confirmed, I berate my impatience.

The excitement will not be contained, however, and I cannot help the whimsical musings of watching my wife growing round with our child. She will be lovely when she is heavily pregnant, but I feel a concern grow with my excitement. Many years ago we had discussed her career and motherhood. She loves her job, and I find myself worrying that she will not desire to give it up like we had discussed.

Then again, I think wildly, I am not all that busy during the day. I require absolutely no rest, and I am old enough that it hardly effects my feeding habits.

There are plenty of ways for me to continue running my businesses while raising our children. The only thing that I am adamant about is that our children are raised by their parents. That does not mean the one to stay home with them all day must be Sookie!

All the remaining work day, I accomplish little more than analyzing Sookie’s every mood and plotting ways to bring a baby with me to business meetings. How hard could that be?

I know that I should be hunting through all the information Isabel gave me regarding Hugo’s anonymous contact. I am well aware that I should be going through Compton’s emails about the vampires forced to meet the sun, and looking for clues coming out of Louisiana. I certainly should at least be checking to see if the mysterious Nevada number has made any calls since our trip to Dallas a few weeks ago!

However, Sookie is still greatly aroused, and I cannot wait to make love to her when she gets home. If she is actually fertile, I want to beg her to take off work the remainder of the week and pump her full of every drop of my seed that I can provide. Anything to ensure that my first born is in my arms before the end of the year!

My fantasies are interrupted by a POP, and I turn to look down at my left side to the little doctor who has arrived.

You are early,” I say, but with excitement rather than annoyance.

Ludwig shrugs, “It was one thing when a man thought himself more aware of his wife’s body than she was. It is a completely different matter when husband and wife both notice a change in a woman’s body. I am just as impatient and excited for this as the two of you,” She points out.

“I severely doubt that,” I shake my head, and despite my annoyance at her assumptions, I cannot stop myself from grinning.

The doctor stares at me an extra moment and then gives me a rare smile, “I suppose you are right,” she relents as she begins removing equipment from her enchanted doctor’s bag. It appears that she has brought along her entire lab to perform tests she normally does at her office.

By the time Sookie arrives home, she is bounding through the door excitedly and flinging her purse and tote onto the front entryway table as I have finally grown accustomed to over the years.

Ludwig holds out a specimen cup as my Bonded bounces toward her, but the doctor’s face has transformed into a frown.

What is it?” I ask of the doctor when my wife has banished herself to the powder room.

I,” Ludwig seems at a loss for words, and rather than reply beyond that, she begins rifling through her bag for a file.

Sookie returns, eagerly holding the cup of urine, but Ludwig is ignoring her and thumbing through pages within the file she has begun reviewing. She seems to finally notice Sookie, and quickly begins loading the applicators so she may return to her notes.

Sookie,” I take my wife’s hands as Ludwig goes about performing her tasks.

What is it, Eric?” Sookie is barely paying attention to me as Ludwig has not said a word to her yet.

Before any results come through, I want to tell you something,” I finally earn Sookie’s focus and she tilts her head curiously at me. “When we do become pregnant, I want you to know that I am aware that things have changed. I know that your mind may have changed over the years, and I want you to know that if you wish to return to work sooner than we originally decided; I am entirely committed to becoming a stay at home father.”

Sookie’s eyes widen at my declaration, and I do not miss Ludwig looking up from her work to gape a moment.

You’d do that so I could keep teaching?” she asks softly.

If it is what you want, then I will do so happily,” I assure her. “If you want to become a stay at home mother, then that is fine too. I just want you to know that I am not going to push an agreement we made ten years ago. We are husband and wife. We are Bonded. We will raise our family together.”

Sookie can only stare at me in surprise, but I can feel her love for me bubbling over inside the both of us. Suddenly she is distracted and peers around me.

Doctor, what is it?” Sookie asks, having must seen the doctor doing something behind my back. I turn to look at the tiny doctor and can see the astonishment on her face.

Ludwig says nothing but picks up the applicator and stares for a long moment.

She is fertile! She is fertile! I think with wild, uninhibited excitement.

You are-” despite everything, I hold my breath with my wife, “already pregnant.”

B-b-b-but-” Sookie starts to babble in confusion and all that I can think to do is keep my own mouth shut because I am just as flabbergasted. “When!?” Sookie finally manages to spit out.

I would guess some time between now and your last exam,” Ludwig replies, clearly concerned by the absence of any warning about the impending event. “My best guess, since you are showing positive on the pregnancy test is that you conceived either the week of or the week after your last check up,” Ludwig confesses.

There was no indicators in my blood or urine?” Sookie asks a bit shrilly.

Ludwig fumbles with her papers a moment, “There was a modest increase in your hormones, but nothing indicative of ovulation, let alone an increase I would have expected to see for a vampire pregnancy!”

But I am pregnant?” Sookie demands.

The doctor fumbles for a moment and I see her apply the remaining urine onto three more tests. She takes a needle to my wife’s arm and draws blood for other tests as well.

I haven’t felt nauseated or tired or anything,” Sookie tells me, and I can tell that she is confused and disoriented by the news. To be truthful, so am I! Never would I have expected to have been so blindsided by our first pregnancy!

Machines are whirring, and the mad scratch of Ludwig’s pen in her notes is filling the stunned silence between myself and my Bonded. Finally everything seems to occur at once and Ludwig is saying all sorts of words that, for the first time in a long time, I am unable to absorb through my whirlwind of thoughts. My wife is going to have my baby…

Northman?” Ludwig snaps at me.

“Yes, Doctor?” I jolt back to attention.

Did you hear what I just told you?” she demands shortly.

No,” I admit, still too overwhelmed.

Sookie is pregnant,” Ludwig confirms concretely.

All right,” I whisper, feeling like a lost boy adrift on the ocean.

That means a lot of changes going on between now and the birth,” Ludwig says slowly, as if she has realized that I am not as quick minded as usual.

Yes,” I agree automatically.

Sookie,” Ludwig tries her instead.

Huh?” is my wife’s eloquent reply. At least I am not the only one who has just had the rug pulled out from beneath them.

Ludwig claps her hands in front of our faces, and I finally rein in my bedraggled mind and focus. Now is Sookie’s time to be confused and uncertain. My entire existence must focus all of its will upon making sure she stays safe and healthy. Currently Ludwig is trying to tell me exactly how to do that.

She needs to begin sleeping regularly again. Growing an immortal child is not something someone does without plenty of sleep,” the doctor begins. “Also, there is no way she will be able to consume enough calories in a day to keep her body running twenty-four hours, six days a week and simultaneously giving enough of those calories to the baby.”

Yes,” I agree firmly.

Ludwig reaches into her bag and extracts a paper, “This is a list of foods that are considered unsafe for pregnant women to consume. I’ve added a few over the years that I would like Sookie to avoid because of her ancestry.” I see that lemons are on the list and am not surprised. “Weekly blood exchanges to keep you two calm and your connection strong. I have read in the other Ludwig’s notes that irregular blood exchanges lead to your other versions being temperamental with one another.”

Yes, Doctor,” I commit her suggestions to memory.

I will continue my monthly check-ins. In four weeks we will do your first ultrasound.”

I have never heard of you using ultrasound,” I frown. Ludwig has always been able to feel unborn children to know if they were in distress.

Ludwig scowls, “Apparently one of the children born to the other version of you was known as a Mirror Twin-”

I have heard of those-”

No,” Ludwig shakes her head. “Not just a run of the mill mirror twin. The child had the ability to mask their presence within their own twin. They could disappear from their own parents’ perception at will. Apparently that Ludwig could not even sense the child’s existence before or after it was born. However, I should be able to see the fetus or at least the amniotic sack in an ultrasound.”

I nod in mild understanding. It will be another thing to research. I have known for a while that the children Sookie will give me must be special, and this information on a Mirror Twin only cements that suspicion.

Are you certain nothing happened in the last two to three weeks?” Ludwig asks. “She has not been any different?”

I lift my shoulders in an uncertain shrug. Our sex life has always been very consistent, and with her living immortality, Sookie usually gives me sex twice a day. The only time she might skip a day is Sundays because she sleeps Saturday evenings.

Grasping for any explanation, I offer the single anomaly involving our sex life, “The only notable variation was the Sunday we were in Dallas. Sookie woke some time in the early morning despite having fallen asleep at sunrise and raised me from my Day Death for sex. She has never broken a sleep pattern herself for sex. I believe the last time she had sex after interrupted sleep was when you took her temperature by ear her first year of college.”

Ah, I remember that,” Ludwig chuckles. “Still, that is something. Once I can do an ultrasound, I will have a better idea of when the conception date was.”

Is there anything else we should know?” I ask as Sookie continues to sit in stunned silence.

I do not know when the fetus will receive its immortality,” Ludwig tells me. “For all I know, it is already invincible. However, for all I know, she is still capable of having a miscarriage. We will work under the assumption that you are two weeks pregnant until evidence says otherwise. That means your body might not be showing any symptoms. What clued you in that she might be fertile?”

Carefully I glance at Sookie who is still staring at the pregnancy test, and I can see her eyes growing into big orbs of emotion. “She was insistently aroused today. Her scent was practically irresistible, and she was urgent to be with me.”

Ludwig takes some quick notes, nodding her head. “It could be the extra blood flow to her reproductive organs that brought on the urgency. There’s a chance that may wane as other pregnancy symptoms come about. Nausea can kill arousal quite effortlessly.”

I slowly nod as I look between my wife and her doctor. What I would not give for Sookie to say something. Anything!

Well,” Ludwig begins packing away her portable lab in preparation to depart, “I will let you both know what I else I discover. Congratulations to both of you.”

Thank you, Doctor,” I tilt my head respectfully.

Sookie jolts then and stammers a quick word of thanks before staring once again at her positive pregnancy test.

When we are alone, I take one of Sookie’s hands in my own, “Are you all right, Dear One?”

My Bonded sighs and looks at me with mild bemusement. “I’m just… Stunned that we had no warning or precursors. I mean, I’m grateful in a way,” she confesses. “It feels more exciting this way, more real. I’ve been scared that there would be some huge sign that I’d be fertile, and Ludwig would tell us what day we’d get pregnant on before we even had sex… It’s just such a relief, you know?”

I smile at her words, “I was a bit disappointed to lose my excuse to fill your body over and over again.”

Sookie rolls her eyes at me, “Eric, that’s a bunch of bull. You fill me up every darn day, and you know it.”

I do,” I laugh in agreement. “So, you are happy?” I ask

Very,” she assures me and leans her head upon my shoulder. “When do we tell the family?” she asks.

Any time you like,” I say. “I am certain with our emotions shifting so drastically throughout the day, Godric probably suspects something.”

Sookie considers my words a moment before giving me one of her little smiles, “I guess that’s true.”

How are you feeling?” I ask with mild concern. Her body is still filled with confusion, and I need her to discern if there is anything below the surface of that confusion.

Confused,” she says with a laugh, “but excited and a little overwhelmed, too.”

This took me by surprise too,” I tell her comfortingly. Perhaps some of the anxiety will ebb if she knows she is not alone in this shock. This beautiful, wonderful shock.

Sookie’s smile transforms into a goofy grin as she giggles, “Eric, your baby is in me!”

Dragging her into my lap, I hold Sookie tightly and whisper, “Yes, he is.”

Sookie’s POV:

My hand flutters across my abdomen in startled disbelief. I think I’ve been stroking my belly over half an hour now, and it still feels like I’m in a dream. That point of half awake, half asleep. That uncertainty of what has really transpired. It reminds me of when Jason and I were poor and starving. I would have dreams of finding a winning scratch off ticket for twenty-thousand dollars or winning the lottery. Then I would start to wake, and my stomach would growl hungrily. I would cry because we were both so hungry, and no matter how hard we both worked, we would stay hungry forever.

Now I sit here stroking my and Eric’s child through the thick flesh of my stomach, and just praying that my eyes might stay closed, that this dream won’t end, and that this miracle I’ve longed for won’t be taken away.

He’s here, Sookie,” Eric tells me as he kneels between my legs and cups his large hands over mine. “He is right here, and he will not disappear.” The firm pressure his hands bring over our baby makes an unashamed sob tumble from my lips.

I was so scared I wouldn’t get this surprise,” I finally confess.

So was I,” Eric tells me, squeezing my hands and leaning over to kiss just above where our hands are joined. “Of course it would happen in the middle of this conspiracy. Why do all of our happy moments as husband and wife need to coincide with some supernatural event as well?”

I know!” I sob and laugh simultaneously. I can feel a strange impatience in my husband now that he has eased my worries that this was a dream. “What’s wrong?” I ask him softly.

Eric shakes his head and grins, “Nothing is wrong, Dear One. I am merely preening a bit.”

Suddenly I understand what he means. He wants to tell everyone that we’re pregnant. He wants to gloat! I realize amusedly. Then again, I suppose that as a vampire, impregnating someone is quite the achievement. Although, Ludwig was very clear all those years ago that conception would be all my body’s job.

Regardless of this, I know that the truth is Eric did do something. He fell in love with me, and stayed by my side through stubbornness, school, work, meltdowns, conspiracies, espionage, my still lingering crisis of faith, and now he’ll be with me through this.

On to Chapter Fifty-Three!

Catalyst Ch. 51

Chapter Fifty-One: Playing Pretend

Sookie’s POV:

The doors of the car all shut simultaneously like we’ve practiced this exit over and over. Once we’re in the safety of our car, and pulling out of the “church” parking lot, I reach into my purse and take out the little bug sweeper.

Once we’re out of anyone’s line of sight, I scan the entire front of the vehicle before Jason sweeps the back and what part of the trunk he can reach. “Clean,” he declares before handing me the tiny wand.

Eric, is there enough time for you to die for the day and get your normal look back?” I ask my husband, maybe a little desperate sounding. I have Sarah Newlin’s fantasizing in my head, and the little thrill of my husband’s makeover has been splashed with frigid water. And he flirted with her!

I do… If I do so immediately upon returning to the hotel-”

Please do,” I suggest rather sternly.

Your excitement for it has waned that quickly?” Eric asks, more than a bit disappointed to hear it.

The second my fake husband flirted with the enemy’s wife,” I pout.

Eric laughs a bit, “It was hardly flirting,” he insists.

It was enough to get her mind creative, and now I’m seeing all her fantasies instead of my own,” I complain.

Eric raises his eyebrows in surprise, “You have never caught a human fantasizing about me before?”

All the time.”

What is different about this time?”

Did y’all forget I’m in the back seat?” Jason chimes from behind us. “Not that I’m really all that bugged about your sex life anymore, but we kinda have a lot of work to do before nightfall.”

I consider taking my brother’s interruption as the opportunity to change the subject. No one’s ever fantasized about my husband’s eyes before. There’s so many delicious features to daydream about, and nobody’s ever chosen his eyes. Sarah got that stare of his down perfectly in her mind. It was unsettling how she imagined that playful, intense stare when he looks up at me from between my legs. The look Eric gives me when I’m right on the edge and he’s deciding whether or not it’s time for me to tumble into oblivion-

Eric takes my hand, interrupting my reflecting, and kisses my knuckles. He doesn’t say anything, but those eyes. Those green eyes tell me he knows what I’m thinking.

Can you at least take out the contact lenses?” I whisper.

Yes,” he replies simply. Bracing his knee against the steering wheel, he reaches his free hand up and plucks out one lens and then the other. Next they’re thrown out the window, and my blue eyed devil is back. “Better?”

Much,” I agree with a smile.

All right, now that your sex life is back on track, can we get to business?” Jason groans from the backseat and I giggle.

Of course,” Eric mumbles as I feel a little fluster fill the Bond. Aw, he’s embarrassed! It’s so rare that Eric feels that way that it’s almost like a special treat. He’s so damned adorable!

I’m gonna call Godric on speaker and find out how Diedre’s doing,” Jason announces as he takes out his cell phone.

Jason,” Godric answers halfway through the first ring.

Hey, Godric,” Jason replies solemnly, “how’s Diedre doing?”

Not very well,” Godric tells us. “Quigley is at rest with her so she is not left alone, but I fear she will try to meet her end.”

Dang,” my brother whispers. “How bad’s the damage?”

Godric pauses before answering, “Her left side is in ruin. Her arm and leg are both gone. Ludwig is coming to tend to her this evening, but from what I could see, she might very well lose the right leg as well. The charring was terrible on it. Depending on how burnt through the femur is, Ludwig might suggest removing it and let it grow back from scratch.”

How long does that take?” I ask with a touch of morbid curiosity.

At her age, I would guess about two to three months if she continues feeding properly. If she does not feed enough, it could take five to six months,” Godric answers my question without judgement.

Which means we have anywhere between two to six months to convince her not to end herself,” Eric points out. “Weakened as she is, she will not be able to remain aware during the daylight hours for some time.”

She could still stake herself,” Jason chimes in.

Quigley and I can prevent that for now,” Godric assures. “However, once she is healed, neither of us will be able to stop her from ending herself.”

We all sit in silence a moment, absorbing this. Jason and I aren’t close to Diedre, but I can tell by the Bond that Eric is taking this pretty hard. He’s had this undercurrent of sadness in the Bond since last night, and I know it’s because the Ancient Pythoness was killed. If he loses Diedre too, I think my husband would be very, very sad.

What if Diedre found Cassandra again?” Jason finally interrupts the silence.

The odds that Cassandra’s soul has been reborn yet is… Very unlikely,” Godric tells him.

What if I know her soul will be reborn and that Diedre will find it?” Jason mumbles a bit nervously.

What are you talking about, Jason?” Eric demands with more sharpness in his tone than I like.

Just… No one get mad at me,” Jason replies meekly. “The Pythoness swore me to secrecy.”

Jason!” Godric barks.

The night of Eric and Sook’s wedding, the Pythoness showed me her own death. I guess she’d seen it for a very long time. If she didn’t die, a lot of ancients and a lot of humans would get killed. Diedre would die unless the Pythoness did,” Jason rambles out quickly. “But she saw herself reborn, I think. Or she saw Diedre meeting her real soulmate. I don’t know, but she saw Diedre Bonded after her own true death.”

Who is her Bonded?” Godric demands.

I don’t know,” Jason answers. “I was kinda just looking down at Diedre in that vision. She had a pair of arms wrapped around her. Looked like a man’s arms to me, but it was a quick glimpse. I had no idea what I was really seeing at the moment. Wouldn’t have even known about the Bonding if I didn’t recognize that look in her eyes. She was looking at whomever was holding her the way Cammie and Sook look at the two of you.”

There’s a long silence again before Godric asks, “Did it seem like you were looking from the perspective of the person attached to those arms?”

Jason is pondering a moment before he answers, “Yes.”

That implies you were looking from Cassandra’s eyes. Her reborn eyes,” Eric says quietly.

How long does it take for a soul to be reborn?” Jason asks.

I can practically hear both Eric and Godric shrug. “Any time five to nine months after the death of the original vessel or far, far longer. Some souls are reborn quickly, others linger in the afterlife. Older souls tend to be reborn quickly.”

Five to nine months?” I consider.

Some souls attach to new vessels early in pregnancy, some later,” Eric replies. “Usually it is after the heart begins to beat.”

How does the soul arrive?” I ask.

Sookie?” Godric asks.

Well,” I think for a moment, “if Endymion has anything to do with it, couldn’t we ask him where Cassandra will be reborn so we can give Diedre hope?”

Eric shakes his head, “That would be interfering with Free Will. He could still try and put the vessel of Cassandra’s spirit in Diedre’s path, but he could not tell Diedre whom that vessel is.”

Aw, okay,” I pout a bit.

That sucks,” Jason plants his chin into the back of my chair and holds the phone between the three of us.

I wish I could share this with Diedre,” Godric sighs. “But she would find a way to murder Jason for not warning her ahead of time. Why is it that Cassandra swore you to secrecy?”

Jason frowns, “She told me that her death could save a lot of lives. If she survived, then a lot of ancients would perish and a lot of humans too… Mostly, though, I think it’s because Diedre was killed in every one of Cassandra’s own deaths except this one. I don’t know she meant me to see that.”

We’re all quiet again as we absorb this, and I’m grateful when Eric and Godric are in agreement that Jason did the right thing. I reach behind me and stroke my brother’s hair. It must have been a difficult burden for him to carry these past few years.

I’m sorry you had to go through this, Jason,” I tell him gently.

It’s okay,” Jason replies with a soft smile. “It was what I had to do, but, please, don’t tell Diedre. She’d rip me limb from limb, I bet.”

Master,” Eric continues on with Godric as Jason and I have a little empathetic moment, “did you manage to contact as many of our allies as possible before sunrise?”

Yes, I have informed all that I could to take shelter in undisclosed locations for the time being. So far I have managed to get ahold of Joan, Russel, Caroline, Compton, and Nan.”

All right, we are about to return to the hotel now. We have a great deal to sort through before our meeting with Isabel and Hugo,” Eric replies.

Keep me abreast to the situation,” Godric tells us before hanging up the phone.

Soon we’re pulling up to the hotel and carrying box after box of information up to our room. Thanks to Eric and Jason, we do it in a single trip, and I just carry the DVDs. Well, I guess it’s silly to have me balancing stuff when they can both lift a car…

When we’re tucked away in our room, I start giving the men a synopsis of what I picked up telepathically at the Fellowship headquarters.

They have some sort of Soldier program-”

Got the literature on it,” Jason interrupts me and tosses a file on the table between the three of us.

And they’ve been forcing vamps to meet the sun-”

Those are the copies of the bonfires,” Jason points the the DVDs I’d carried up. I put my hands on my hips and purse my lips at him. My brother immediately shuts his mouth.

From what I could glean, though,” I continue, “Steve Newlin’s father has no idea any of this is going on. I get the feeling that Steve sees his father as an obstacle in his goal. I thought I saw the beginnings of a plot to remove Theodore from the equation, but it could have been fantasizing.”

Eric’s flipping through the paperwork as I speak and finally asks, “Do you believe Theodore Newlin might be a target as well?”

I’m thinking that Steve might have made a deal with whomever is giving them the information on the vamps. It felt more solid a plan than a fantasy,” I reply. “I also think that he believes that Hugo is his only informant.”

Who do you think is the real leak?”

A vampire,” I whisper and both my husband and brother look at me. “I think there’s a vampire giving away vampires’ locations to the Fellowship to cover up a hit list. I think Diedre and the Ancient Pythoness were the real targets, and everyone else who’s been killed are just decoys.”

How’d you come to that conclusion?” My brother asks, but his expression says he agrees with me whole heartedly.

It’s really just a hunch,” I reply slowly as my brain keeps making more and more connections. “I mean… Young nests have been hit and then there’s this one ancient dropped in there like the Fellowship got lucky and hit some key player by accident. Only, I think someone purposefully made it seem that way.”

My husband leans back thoughtfully as he considers my observations. Eventually he sits forward and nods in agreement, “I think you are right, Sookie.” Eric crosses his arms over his chest as he considers my theory further. “It would be a perfect scapegoat for a vampire trying to dispose of his enemies. The Fellowship of the Sun would happily accept all responsibility for the killings, and the informant would happily enjoy a world that no longer had his enemies in it.”

Who would want to kill the Pythoness, though?” Jason asks a bit forlornly. “I thought she was revered by our kind!”

She was,” Eric agrees, “however, she would be the only one that they know of who could out the truly guilty party.”

So, who else has been hit? A bunch of mainstreamers and a few hungry vamps?” I ask.

Eric shakes his head, “I do not believe the five who were ended by their meals are part of the same picture we are looking at. If I had to guess, I would say the mainstreamers were the targets.”

My face sneers, “I know a vamp who doesn’t like mainstreamers.”

Jorge is certainly at the top of my list, but we cannot disregard other potential masterminds because we know of an immediate individual we all despise,” My husband chuckles as he leans forward and begins perusing the documents Jason managed to scrounge up. Jason grabs a DVD and a laptop and starts watching executions. At one point I’m tempted to cover my ears as too many vampires’ screams as they meet the sun will surely haunt me for years to come.

Eric’s POV

Any of the bonfire kindling look familiar to you?” Jason asks me as Sookie continues scanning her own stack of documents.

No, but I can tell that they are younger than myself and they were not in the reports Compton gave me,” I reply. “Do a few image captures for me to forward to Compton. He has a database of vampires. Perhaps he can identify them.”

Jason begins capturing images of the slain vampires and compiling an email to Compton as I return to the documents I had been neglecting. There is plenty here to have the Fellowship of the Sun shut down and several members thrown into prison, but whoever gave the organization this information has left no paper trail back to themselves at the ‘Church’. If we have any opportunity of unearthing the source of these tragedies, it will have to come from Hugo.

As I am looking over my stack of notes, one of the future marks strikes a sense of familiarity and dread. Rhodes. The date correlates with the Summit, and I am aware that the hotel listed in the attack plan is the very one meant to host our conference and trials.

The initiator of this attack had leaked the Summit information to the Fellowship. That makes no sense, I realize. With the Ancient Pythoness dead, the Summit will be postponed… Many vampires and humans would die, I realize now what Jason had seen. If Cassandra had not met her Final Death before the Summit, it would not have been cancelled and many vampires and humans would have died in whatever plan the Fellowship had made.

Still, this attack on Rhodes seems silly. Why target the Ancient Pythoness at all prior to the Summit? If the attacks were unsuccessful, it would put Cassandra and her guards on high alert and potentially risk her avoiding the Summit all together. With the Pythoness dead, the Summit will more than likely be cancelled all together, and the attack will now be cancelled as well.

It is almost as if our leak had no idea that they shot their own plan in the head… This speaks of one or two things. Either the leak is actually human and unaware of the Pythoness’s importance, or the Pythoness was not the mark at all.

And there is still the ‘Big Mark’ that Jason mentioned, I ponder this. I would have thought maybe they were referring to Diedre, but Jason said that the mark was out of the country. Diedre has not left the States since the last International Conference of Supernaturals which was over five years ago.

The thought of trying to drudge through the vampire community’s travel plans is a tedious one. There are those of our kind who will leave the country for a weekend on a whim, and they are quite tight lipped about their itineraries.

With any luck, Hugo will know more about this situation, and I will not need to search too deeply.

Jason,” I say suddenly and I see my brother-in-law and my wife jump at the abruptness, “how far can you be from another vampire?” I tap my head because to this day we have avoided saying his or Sookie’s gift aloud outside the privacy of our homes.

Oh, I’d say about fifty-feet,” Jason offers.

I suggest that we leave separately for this meeting and that you two go to dinner on the opposite side of the room. That way you can text me leads or questions as needed without raising suspicion,” I tell them.

They both pause a moment to consider my plan before Jason asks, “Won’t it be a little suspicious that you’re getting texts all through the meeting?”

I shake my head and dispel his concerns by explaining, “Isabel would most likely assume they are updates relating to our investigation. I often received correspondence during investigations while I was still a Sheriff, and I am certain she does as well.”

Sookie and Jason finally nod in agreement to my plan before we all begin dressing for our respective dinners. All three of us remain in our disguises from earlier, and a rather… alluring idea strikes me as we make our way to the parking garage.

Will you meet me at the bar after the meeting, Sookie?” I ask of my wife when I open the door to her seat. Jason falls behind the driving wheel as I stare into the dull brown of Sookie’s disguised irises. The thing she can not disguise is the creeping blush across her cheeks and the way her nipples harden under her cotton dress. The lace of her bra accents the points of her breasts, and I feel the Bond swell with arousal.

Sure,” she replies breathlessly before I smile and close her door. I wave goodbye as Jason pulls out of the parking spot and then I head to the lobby. Once I am on the street, I hail a cab to make my own way to our destination.

Sookie’s POV:

What are you doing?” I ask my brother when he quickly pulls into a drugstore parking lot.

Hold on a sec,” Jason jumps out of the car, leaving it idling as he enters the shop. He returns no more than three minutes later and hands me a plastic bag. Inside is a notebook and a pack of cheap pens. “When we get to the restaurant, I’m gonna ask for a table in a corner. We’ll talk through the notebook. If anyone gets nosey, we’ll say it’s notes from work.”

I chuckle at his idea, but it really is a simple excuse for silent communication in a public space. Heck, it’s better than texting back and forth. There will be no gaps in our communication other than the speed it takes us to write. Also, we can burn the pages. Texts are stored and can be pulled up if someone has the means and desire to do so.

When we arrive at the restaurant, I look around to judge the size of the dining area. Thankfully, no matter where we sit, all diners will be in Jason’s range. We’re seated and take our time deciding on an order, though Jason is just going to glamour a ‘Blood Mary’ of literal blood and maybe actual Mary if it’s Genuine instead of synthetic. Unfortunately for Jason, it’s very rare that human owned and operated establishments carry Genuine instead of True Blood.

About ten minutes later I feel my husband arrive. He spots us from the hostess stand and I see him gesture to a corner about fifteen feet from where Jason and I are sitting. He raises his hand with a ‘3’ gesture on his fingers. Finally he is seated and we all three wait for our guests to arrive in as unsuspicious a manner we can manage. Eric’s a natural. He plays with his flatware, checks his phone from time to time. He occasionally plays with the band on his watch and occasionally spins his wedding ring when he sends me a dose of love and affection. That last one makes my heart pound and I send him back my own responding love.

All the time he’s playing the role of nonchalance, I can feel his presence in me become more excited. He loves a good interrogation. My heart begins to race again, and Eric’s excitement transforms from anticipation to lustful. He can feel my anticipation, and I’m sure some part of him is already conjuring delicious ways to make me enjoy this cloak and dagger business even more!

God, I think as the restaurant suddenly seems too hot to bear, did someone turn up the furnace? Even disguised as someone else, I can’t deny that my husband is hotter than any man has a right to be. One night with this stranger husband, I think with a dose of exhilaration and guilt. And what is there to feel guilty? I chastise myself. I know this vampire is my husband, and he knows that I am his wife. What’s so harmful about a bit of pretend? Nothing! Absolutely nothing. It’s no different than when I pretend to be helpless and at his mercy when he ties me to the bed. I’m in no danger, and he would never hurt me. That’s only pretend, and so is this!

My justifications are cut short as I feel a vampire arrive, and Jason scrawls, ~They’re heeeeere. I nod in agreement, quickly finding Hugo’s mind beside the blankness of the vampire.

~H, very nervous. -Me.

~I, excited to hear news.-Jason.

That doesn’t seem like someone with anything to hide, but Jason and I write back and forth, including my dinner order of wine and wild mushroom manicotti.

Have either of you had any strange contacts lately?” I hear my husband ask through Hugo’s mind. Politely smile and shake your head, Hugo thinks. In his mind I see many written correspondence burning. One letter after another is set ablaze in his memories.

No,” Hugo replies as his mouth smiles with a genuineness that would have fooled me if I couldn’t hear his thoughts.

~H, lying. He’s burned many orders.-Me

~I, seems honest with answer of ‘no’.-Jason

Eric leads through some of the information our adventure at the Fellowship of the Sun brought us this morning. He describes his suspicions that someone in the vampire community has been leaking vampire hideouts to the zealots. My husband drops quite a few, seemingly unconfirmed suspicions, and Jason and I listen to our marks through the entire brainstorm.

Oh, God, this guy knows too much! Hugo thinks frantically before their orders can even be taken, Didn’t he just get in tonight!? How have I screwed up this bad that he already knows so much!? What if he knows who’s been giving me information!? Shit! I don’t even know who my informant is! They just promised to turn me if I coordinated the hits with the Fellowship!

All the time Hugo is having a nervous breakdown, his face remains unreadable and professionally polite. He must be a champion lawyer, I think with a bit of disgusted admiration. He uses his gift of a neutral expression for terrible things.

Where were my leaks? How did the Writer know I was setting up vamps for the Fellowship’s Sunday Slaughter? How did this vampire sympathizer find out about the marks!? I’m never going to get turned! Fuck that! I’m not going to make it out of this meeting alive!

I take out my phone and text Eric what I’ve found out so far. Jason does the same, presumably to clear Isabel’s name. Now that we know that we can trust Isabel, maybe she can takeover getting us more information. Maybe she can get more memories about those burned letters and what they told him to do. Maybe we can get an idea of the identity of The Writer.

Jason and I watch discretely as Eric pulls Hugo under his glamour, and Isabel’s quiet but angry indignation at his actions. When Hugo is neutralized, it’s obvious that Eric is explaining the situation to her, and gives her the option of continuing the interrogation herself or risk being tried alongside her human. Of course, the only reason I know what Eric is saying is because Jason is quickly jotting down the conversation from what he’s able to hear as we wait for the situation to reach a conclusion.

At Eric’s threat of holding Isabel accountable for Hugo’s actions, she quickly subdues and agrees to dredge out all information she possibly can. Eric takes out copies of the information we gathered earlier and slides it over to the vampiress. Apparently she is meant to submit it to Nan Flannigan first and then human police and media. She takes over the glamour of her human, drops a hundred dollars on the table for their uneaten food and leaves the restaurant.

Taking this as our queue that the night of espionage is over, Jason pays for our bill, we hug goodbye, and he leaves the car keys with me to catch a taxi himself while I head for the bar. I order another glass of wine and wait for my husband to meet me, wondering what he has in mind for the night. Will we escape to a new hotel for the night and give my brother a break from our sexual tension? Will he take me in the bathroom of the restaurant? Our rental car?

Hello,” I hear a familiar voice near me and nearly jump out of my seat. Eric is standing next to me and I can’t even remember the last time he’s snuck up on me since we Bonded. “Did your husband get called away?” Eric asks quietly.

Husband?” I stare at him confusion.

The man with whom you had dinner,” Eric replies and I catch on to the fantasy now. Picking up a woman at the bar!

Oh, that was my brother,” I tell him a bit shyly. This feels so weird! And exciting!

I’m definitely glad to hear that,” Eric tells me, and I notice he’s using a much looser accent than I am used to. It deepens the illusion and makes my pulse pound.

Why is that?” I ask in a coquettish tone. After all, I’m not the shy, naïve girl he first met. In this illusion, I can be the sexually educated woman that I am!

Eric raises his eyebrows at my tone, and a pleased smile tugs his lips as his eyelids hood over his oceanic irises. “Because it means I have a chance of taking you home with me tonight.”

I gasp in shock, “Do I look like that sort of woman to you, Mister?”

No, but you look like the sort of woman who would like to try it,” he answers as his body pushes into my personal space. My body’s on fire with just this little sliver of air between us. He must be able to feel the heat coming off me. If he can’t, he must have lost all feeling in his skin!

You look like the sort of man I wouldn’t mind trying it with,” I answer more breathlessly than I’d like. After all, I’m a well rounded woman in the sexual arts. There’s probably women twice my age with less experience than me between the sheets. But, Lord, if Eric Northman couldn’t melt the panties off a nun!

Eric pays for my glass of wine, and I tip the remaining bit of crimson fluid into my mouth before letting him take my hand and lead me to the parking lot. I hand him the keys to the car, and for the first time in my life with him, he doesn’t open my car door. Because I’m a lay, not a lady this time. I think in surprise as I open my own door. I can feel the slightest awkwardness in the Bond, but I push it away, although I find it cute and endearing that he thinks less of himself for not opening my door.

As we drive a moment, I try to think of what a lay would do or say right about now.

How far is it to your place?” I ask, it feels natural, and I am curious about our destination.

A few miles,” he replies as he pulls onto the interstate, heading nowhere near our hotel. “It should only take about ten minutes to get there.”

What do I call you?” I ask.

Eric glances over at me and grins, “What would you like to call me?”

Now it feels like I’ve picked up a male prostitute! I giggle a bit on the inside, but not out loud. What do I call him? Definitely not Elijah. That was the name of the zealots we were pretending to be. I realize then that I don’t want to call out a name other than Eric’s when I cum. That makes the decision for me. We can still play this game with our real names.

Eric, and mine’s Sookie,” I tell him, and I see the smile in his eyes and feel that happiness in our Bond. He doesn’t want to call out Sandra’s name any more than I’d want to call out for Elijah.

Soon we arrive at a rather beautiful Tudor style home, and I marvel at its simple attractiveness, even in the night.

Whose place is this?” I ask, forgetting our game for a moment and seriously wondering whose house we are about to defile with our sexual antics.

Eric chuckles, “My brother Godric’s, but don’t worry. He’s not home.”

I pause a moment when he climbs out of the car, but quickly remember that he won’t be getting my door this night. I have to jog a little to catch him at the front door, and when I do, he’s already unlocking it and punching in the security system code. When I’m inside, and the door is closed behind me, Eric reaches around me and pulls me into his chest.

So, Sookie,” Eric tilts his head curiously as his hips sway, pulling mine along in a close, intimate dance, “are you a soft girl, or a rough girl?” His hand leaves my hip and reaches behind to lock the door behind me. Certainly if this situation were real, I would have panicked at the locking of the door. Instead I feel that same earlier exhilaration. We’re going to fuck!

Tonight?” I look up at him and hope he can see and feel the fire igniting in my eyes through the contact lenses. “Tonight I’m a rough girl.”

Eric grins down at me, captures me face in either of his hands and kisses me hard. He backs me up against the door, and I feel the grooves of the steel mold into my back. “Ah,” I groan as he presses me hard between his body and the door. He captures my wrists and holds them above my head as his hips pin my lower half.

You do like it rough, Sookie,” Eric tells me in a snarly, cold voice. “I can already smell you.” I moan again at his assessment. “I’m just going to fuck you right here by the door. You don’t seem to need a bed.”

Without further ado, my lover pulls his hips from mine and pulls my wrist toward the floor until I fall to my knees.

You can have me wherever you like,” I reply, “but not until you show this girl you know how to eat.” Kneeling on the hardwood floor, I reach beneath my cotton dress and push my panties down until I’m squirming out of them. I throw the tiny scrap of lace at Eric’s chest and he catches them reflexively to bring to his nose.

You smell like a pie I could eat all night,” he tells me as he gives my shoulder a little shove and encourages me to lay back. I do as he silently suggests and bend my knees wide and open. Eric quickly falls to his own knees, grabs my hips and drags me up to meet his mouth.

Ah!” I reach back in some sort of half-assed yoga pose and feel a squirm building inside me. His tongue is dancing in a rhythm that is not his usual steps. There’s a disjointedness to his technique. Less practiced more… stranger. Like being ate out by someone who doesn’t know my body, or who doesn’t have a millennium of doing this act.

The lines are getting blurrier and blurrier, and so is my coherency. It’s different, less practiced, but so pleasurable. The film between fact and fiction is getting thinner and thinner. Finally I just accept that I am a little sex kitten, and I did get picked up at the bar by some hottie that just wanted me. Just for tonight.

His tongue laps urgently at my clit now, and I feel a pair of his fingers diving into my pussy with a speed and strength that pulls guttural moans from my throat. Every so often a stray knuckle strikes my g-spot accidentally on purpose. He knows what he’s doing, but my one night stand doesn’t. Over and over again his rhythm brings me right to the edge and then the rhythm breaks and I stumble at my climax.

Please,” I moan as I’ve come so close and feel so far from what I want. “Eric, please make me cum,” I gasp and cry a little. Eric’s speed picks up once more, nowhere near his vampire pace. We are human tonight.

Finally the lines break and I scream as I reach my orgasm at long last! God it feels so good to lose control of my body! To spasm and twist toward and away from pleasure! My body is moving so much with the resulting climax that I scarcely notice Eric guiding me onto my stomach. I blissfully accept the thick, hard cock that he thrusts deep into me without warning.

Fuck yes!” I whine and sob gratefully as I’m filled with the one thing he can’t change- the familiar shape and hardness of his dick. He can change his stroke and his depth, but he can’t change the way he touches every bit of my inner wall. He can’t help the way the head of his cock thumps deliciously against the backside of my pelvic bone and causes jolts of electricity to flash from my womb to my spine.

My breathing labors as Eric intermittently squeezes and spanks my ass. I feel his thumb tracing my butthole and I know how much it would please him if I tell him to put his finger in it. So I do. I cry for him to fill my ass and he quickly complies by spitting on my backside and planting his thumb inside. His fingers squeeze, pulling the ring of muscles open and leaving fingerprints in my ass cheek.

Then my labored breaths turn into another crescendoing cry and I cum like a contortionist being exercised of demons. I twist and howl and feel that splendidly well-known cock filling me with that familiar sticky-ness that my husband likes to watch drip back out of me.

As I lay panting, recovering on the floor, Eric slips his dick and thumb from my body, picks me up and carries me to the bathroom. My wig is gone. My body is washed. When we are clean, the contacts are removed as well. At last, I’m in a big bed, and it’s cold and lonely as Eric disappears in the bathroom again. There’s a loud buzzing sound, and just as sunlight is creeping into the bedroom window, Eric returns, his head shaved, and crawls into bed with me. His familiar weight, his familiar smell. The only thing that is not my husband is the fact he is bald. Eric has shaved his head in preparation for a day of death that will bring back his long, blond locks.

I liked your hair short, but not this short,” I mumble in fatigue as I lazily run my hand over his smooth head.

By the time you wake up it will be long again,” he tells me reassuringly.

Will you cut it?” I ask.

Would you like me to?” he asks.

Would you mind?” I skirt the topic a bit.

Not at all.”

Then there was sleep.

On to Chapter Fifty-Two!

Catalyst Ch. 50

Chapter Fifty: Gathering the Players

Godric’s POV:

I’m worried about Sookie,” Camilla whispers as we sit in a Pittsburgh parking lot, waiting for our injured allies to arrive. Bringing her hand that I am holding to my lips, I give it a comforting kiss. “She’s never done anything like this before. What if she gets hurt? What if Jason gets hurt?”

I squeeze her hand as I bring it back to rest in my lap. “Sookie and Jason will be fine. They are stronger than you give them credit, and they have always risen to the occasion,” I tell her comfortingly.

Sometimes even I forget the hardships those siblings endured before Eric’s arrival in their lives. They have suffered losses Camilla cannot even fathom because she cannot remember what she has lost. That is not to say what my Bonded has overcome is miniscule; it is merely incomparable.

Camilla leans her head back and stares out the window. “Godric, is that who we’re waiting for?” she asks, pointing to a sedan that has pulled into the deserted area. “I feel vamp energy coming from it.”

A black BMW pulls up, sleek and silent. When it pulls alongside us, the aura of an ancient far older than me presses against my own spirit in warning. Much like the aura a Bonded couple wears, ancients have their own presence to exude our authority and status in the true hierarchy.

Yes,” I flick my lights twice, pause and then hold them for two counts. The car responds by turning off its engine. Camilla grows nervous beside me, her fingertips fiddling with the string of her hooded sweatshirt as she waits beside me. Eventually the string begins moving of its own accord like it is playing on a gentle breeze, but I know it is Camilla refocusing her nerves and practicing her energy manipulation. She has come so far so fast, I think admiringly.

I turn my engine back on and wait. Soon the driver’s side door of the other vehicle opens, and a familiar voice booms into my ears.

“Ay there, Godric!” A sturdy five foot, ten inch mass comes toward the car and opens the back door. “It’s been too long! Why don’t you ever come out my way?”

Quigley!” I greet welcomingly. He is an imposing figure of solid muscles, thicker than Eric, but easily a head shorter. Scraggly dark blond hair with accents of orange frames his face and he has allowed his beard to make a reappearance. “You have Diedre with you?” Of course I am well aware that Quigley is not giving off the foreboding aura that urges me to exit the car and take a respectful knee.

The vampire’s face grimaces, “Yeah, she isn’t in the most right of minds at the moment. You know how she felt about Cassie.”

I do,” I lower my head apologetically. “I know how you felt about her too.”

Quigley had been a result of desperation. Diedre and Cassandra had been so frantic to connect more deeply than that of a nest. After over a millennium of existing side by side in the deepest of love, they finally began seeking a way to weave their existences truly into one. It was what is known as a Binding Union.

And along came Quigley.

Though many vampires of the age had scoffed at Quigley’s mere existence, they could not deny the genius of the Diedre and Cassandra’s plan. Each vampiress had fed from the young priest and then forced an even blend of their blood down his dying throat. Quigley became the only instance of a double sired vampire, and coined the term of Binding Ceremony. His participation in the ritual became known as ‘The Knot’ of the Binding. Through him, Cassandra and Diedre could feel each other at last, much like I can feel Pam through Eric when I desire to do so.

How are you handling her final death?” I ask courteously. I can only imagine the younger vampire is shaken to the core at the loss of one of his Makers. Despite the rough start he had accepting his fate as one of the undead, Quigley eventually adapted and became a rather interesting addition to our culture. He is one of the few truly religious vampires in existence, but when he had been changed, he had cursed Diedre and Cassandra both.

It was not until years later that he felt the genuine love they had for one another, and the regret they bore upon turning him into a vampire for their own wants and desires. That love and regret is what gave the former priest the heart to forgive them and finally accept what he had become. After all, if a creature could love so strongly and still feel regret at harming another for that love, was that creature really evil? Was he truly evil now that he was a vampire?

Quigley shrugs, “I’m pissed off is what I am, but I also know that the arseholes responsible piss you off too. Especially when you see Diedre!”

I frown at Quigley’s words, but give a gesture for my friend to make quick work of getting Diedre into our vehicle for the ride back to Ohio.

Quigley gives me one of his charming grins that contradicts the priest he used to be, and opens the back passenger door for Diedre. The ancient vampiress holds out one complete arm and one stump. I watch sadly as Quigley reaches into the vehicle and lifts what remains of his Maker from the vehicle.

Thank you for your harboring of an old fugitive,” Diedre gives a despondent thanks as she is placed carefully in the backseat. Her destroyed arm was something I was prepared for, but her other injuries were not known to me. There is hardly anything left of her. A torso and a left arm. That is all that remains of the strongest vampire in existence. One leg is completely gone and the other looks as though it could fall off any moment.

You thought we would leave you to fend for yourselves?” I ask as Quigley seats himself behind Camilla.

We knew you wished to be left out of human and vampire politics, but we hoped that you would help,” Diedre replies weakly.

As we speak, Eric, Jason and Sookie are preparing to find out how this happened,” I assure her.

I have information about the methods the extremists are intending to implement,” Diedre replies as Camilla fidgets quietly.

“Excuse me, M’am,” Camilla interrupts softly to get Diedre’s attention. “Is it all right if I record this? It’s going to get back to Eric, and this way nothing gets left out.”

It is fine,” Diedre flicks her wrist impatiently. “It is probably better if my words are saved in case I am unable to speak them again.”

My frown deepens at Diedre’s remark, “What are you talking about?” The recorder in Camilla’s hand clicks as it starts documenting our conversation.

Cassandra’s surviving handmaiden brought me to Quigley. If she had not survived the blast, I would be truly dead,” Diedre begins monotonously. “Someone even my Cassie could not see managed to take her existence and nearly extinguish my own. You of all people should know that Cassie and I are not easily attacked!”

Her progeny places a comforting hand on Diedre’s shoulder and continues for her, “What Diedre’s trying t’say is that she doesn’t believe she’s safe anywhere if Cassie couldn’t even keep her safe. I don’t know she’d want to…-”

Continue existing without her,” I finish for Quigley and the vampire nods as he starts smoothing his beard.

I know it might sound unbelievable to a Bonded vampire,” Quigley gestures to Camilla and myself, “but Cassie was Diedre’s soulmate. If they had met while Cassie was still alive, they would have been Bonded. I know they would have!”

Quigley,” I interrupt his demonstration on the impact the Ancient Pythoness’ demise has had on Diedre, “I have never seen two unrelated vampires maintain such a loving and deep relationship. I have never seen a monogamous, unBonded relationship between two vampires other than Diedre and Cassandra. Believe me when I say I hold their relationship in the highest regard; Bonded or not.”

Diedre lowers her head sadly and Camilla sits awkwardly silent beside me. I can feel that she is self conscious in flaunting her Bond in front of one who has just lost their lover.

Camilla,” I try to give her an escape. We can easily continue this conversation later, “do you need me to pull over for some food?”

No,” she whispers and takes my hand to squeeze it reassuringly.

After Cassandra and her second handmaiden were killed,” Diedre begins once Camilla has settled in, “our residence was burned to the ground. All security personnel perished,” she says bitterly. “There was no mercy for vampire nor mortal. The only ones to escape were myself and the other maiden. She passed shortly after getting me to safety.”

I’m so sorry, Diedre,” Camilla murmurs and reaches for the ancient’s remaining cool hand to squeeze it comfortingly. Diedre looks at my Bonded with surprise and a brief spark of amusement. For ancients like us to be comforted by beings so young, it is… warming.

Thank you, Camilla,” Diedre whispers. She shakes her head to dispel the moment and turns back to me, “From what Cassandra told me before her… final death… there is a hand being dealt. Cassandra told me that once the first spark to the plan is struck, I should bring Quigley, and ask for your protection. I would believe that this is the spark she mentioned.”

Diedre’s expression twists at the foreign request. Normally she is the one granting protection, not asking for it.

We happily offer our protection to you and Quigley,” I assure her.

The most ancient of vampires flops her head against her half-progeny’s shoulder as if she is relaxing for the first moment in years. “I am sorry to be a burden upon you, but I could not bear if something happened to Quigley as well.”

Don’t worry about me, Mum,” Quigley takes her hand and squeezes it affectionately. “You just concentrate on healing.”

All she offers him is a soft, empty smile. It is a smile one makes when no true feeling lives behind it. Vacancy resides in her flat, black eyes, and placation gleams off her bright, white teeth. She has very little interest in healing.

At this moment, I do not have the heart to push her for the information she had offered earlier. Seeing that despondent gaze has paralyzed me. Perhaps it is better to allow Eric and the others to discover more about our enemy and let Diedre rest. Maybe it is better to let her think of Cassandra with love rather than recall the Seer’s shared visions. For now, let her mourn. Information can wait a while longer…

Camilla’s POV:

When we arrive home it’s almost daylight and there’s barely enough time to get our guests tucked away for the day. Their luggage is left in the hallway as I show Quigley to the vampire guest room, and he slips Diedre’s damaged body into a protective cache.

Thanks again,” Quigley says to me as I show him his own reinforced hiding area. We light proofed a spare bedroom and added the fireproof, break-in resistant, insulated (for lack of a better word) caskets. The tiny chambers were anchored into the foundation of the house so they could not be washed away in a flood or carried out while no one was home. Of course, to even attempt walking away with our guest, you’d have to know the code to the hidden spare bedroom. I affectionately refer to our guest room as Fort Knox.

We never meant to tell any community we wouldn’t help when we were needed,” I tell him truthfully.

Then why the big ‘leave us alone’ announcement a couple years ago?” Quigley teases as he closes the lid on his hideaway.

Thanks to his age and vampire hearing, he’ll still be able to hear my reply, “Because we were nervous about how others would take it. Eric might have been feeling a little cocky and wanting for a fight, too.”

I hear an obvious laugh from inside the cache and smile myself. If he replies beyond that, I can’t hear it. Instead, I pat the door and say my farewell.

When I arrive in the kitchen, my Bonded is standing with his arms crossed over his chest and a thoughtful look on his face. I can feel a dose of anguish in the Bond, and I place my head against his chest as my arms wrap around him comfortingly.

What’s wrong?” I ask. What’s wrong? Have you been in a coma these past eight hours, Cammie?

The final death of the Ancient Pythoness is unsettling, Camilla,” Godric tells me. “If she could be taken, any vampire could.”

I nod in agreement, “It seems a little far fetched to believe that any human could get the drop on her, doesn’t it?”

Yes,” he agrees solemnly, a bit reluctant. I know that he doesn’t want to believe anyone in the community would do such a thing, but disregarding the possibility is foolish.

You think a vampire was involved,” I guess and he nods, still reluctant. “Did the Pythoness have any enemies?”

Godric sighs and puts his hands behind him to lean into the kitchen counter. My world tilts with him as I still have him wrapped in my arms. A small smile tugs at my lips. This small ounce of playfulness takes the weight of the evening from my shoulders.

My Bonded finally answers, and I hear a soft amusement in his tone, “That is a difficult question to answer. Being a Seer, she was an enemy of everyone and no one. Those who wished to change the world in an image she would not agree with would be her enemy. Basically, if you had to lie to her, she was in the way.”

I listen to his words and quickly understand his meaning. Cassandra could have been in anyone’s way at any given moment and even she might not have known why at the time of her True Death.

A tiny shiver runs down my spine at the idea. Perhaps Cassandra had seen her own death many times over. Maybe this was the death she chose. Is there ever a future so absolute that even those who could See were still doomed to accept it?

Jason’s POV:

I discretely take a peek at my phone while I wait for the cute-y at the receptionist’s desk to find me a tour guide. Too bad she’s a Fellowship of the Sun nut job, I think with disappointment, but still consider banging her in a nearby office. The little fantasy of giving this girl a few ‘love bites’ and watching the mayhem as she tries to explain them to her zealot friends entertains me for a moment. Then I think of the fact it would mean using my glamour on a girl to give her a dicking and my fantasy turns ugly. A shudder of disgust in myself runs into my center. It would only be funny if she wanted the fang herself.

Sookie: Security office, Matthew, has footage of vamp executions. “Brother Gabe” has target listings and potentially other information. I read the text message that’s just popped up on my phone and frown. I slip my phone back into my pocket and try to make up a plan all on my own. There’s no Eric, Godric, or even a Pam to spoon feed me an idea. The weight of my decisions is all on me for the first time in a long time. The last time I had to think on my own two feet was when Godric called the school to say Cammie had been attacked.

Finally, the start of a plan takes root in my head. After all, I’m really good at two things: glamour and reading vampire minds. Since there’s no vamps to read, that leaves me one option.

Hey, Hannah?” I lean into the receptionist’s personal space, “When’s my tour guide gonna get here?”

Hannah pulls the phone she’s been pressing into her ear away to whisper a reply,“It will only be a minute. I just need to find someone who’s free.” Her smile is amazingly big and white as she tells me in her own way to calm down and be patient. Damn, that’s a beautiful, fucking smile, I think in disappointment. A girl with that pretty a smile shouldn’t be following the FotS. She should be in a soup kitchen feeding the homeless if she wants to feel pious.

Any chance Brother Gabe might be available to give me the tour?” I ask while my eyes bore into hers and instill my glamour. Hannah leans forward dazedly.

Brother Gabe?” she mumbles. Her voice is almost drunken as she falls under my spell.

You will give him a call for me, right? Because he’s not doing anything right now,” I press and watch her hand reach obediently for the phone.

You have to be part of the Soldier program to speak with Brother Gabe,” Hannah replies like an automated message. I guess Gabe is very strict about whom he takes meetings with.

Would Matthew in Security be a good reference to join the Soldier Program?” I press gently.

I hate using my glamour for anything other than covering for my vampirism, but Sook’s text has kinda put me in a spot of necessity. There’s no way I’m getting close to the guys she suggested without the help of some glamour.

Yes, Matthew has brought several recruits through his online message boards,” Hannah tells me in that sweet, drunken haze I’ve put her in.

Then you go ahead and tell Gabe you’ve got a recruit for him that Matthew has convinced to come join,” I instruct her.

Obediently, Hannah picks up her phone and dials slowly. “Gabe, I need you to give a potential recruit a tour,” Hannah says into the phone casually. “He’s here in the reception area.”

How did he hear of the Soldier Program?” I hear from the other end of the phone.

Hannah answers with a rather natural pause, “Matthew from Security recommended him. They’ve been talking through a message board online.”

Ask him to let me meet Matthew too so I can shake his hand,” I tell Hannah in a soft, commanding whisper.

Any chance you can bring Matt along with you? The potential recruit would like to greet him in person,” Hannah adds.

There’s a long pause on Gabe’s end of the line after Hannah gives him my risky request. Suddenly, Gabe hangs up and Hannah smiles up at me.

What’s up?” I ask of Hannah.

She shrugs and starts filing her nails. My glamour has waned smoothly from her, and she goes about like everything that has transpired in the last few minutes was completely normal. I clear my throat reflexively as I wait quietly.

Soon the door from the hallway I was in a bit ago flings open and a big, crew cutted guy and a nerdy looking tech guy are standing in the receptionist’s area.

Hey there, nice to meet both of you,” I reach out to shake Gabe’s hand and as I do, I take his mind quietly into my control. “I was hoping you’d give me a tour of the Soldier Program. I’m very interested in it.” Matthew looks at me a bit aghast.

Of course,” Gabe replies quietly, subdued.

And I’d like copies of your vampire executions,” I enthrall Matthew next before he fully realizes why Gabe is following my commands so easily. The stench of his suspicion nearly broke my concentration, but now I have two well glamoured men following my orders while Hannah sits at her desk blissfully unaware of the lion she’s let into the hen house.

I’ll get right on that,” Matthew responds obediently.

Leave them with Hannah and tell her to give them to me when I return. Tell her they are recruitment discs,” I command quickly before putting Gabe into action.

Sure thing,” Matthew exits robotically as Gabe starts leading me out of the greeting area.

I want the lists of your marks, blueprints of the facility, and numbers for all your contacts that helped you get information on your targets,” I command Gabe as we walk briskly down the hall. In no time, I’m in his office with a pile information. I got notebooks, tape recordings, blueprints… How the fuck am I s’pose to walk out with all this shit without being suspicious to non-glamoured folks? It’s then that I remember I have the other set of keys to our car rental. Lord knows Eric wasn’t about to give the other set to Sookie! I give them to Gabe, “Go put this all in my car and lock it back up. Then come back here to me.”

Gabe takes the keys obediently and goes to perform his assigned tasks. Man, I feel like a dickweed, but this is a matter of life and death… and final death…

With that excuse becoming a mantra in my head, I start snooping around Gabe’s office. I read up on the Soldiers of the Sun and a bunch of other propaganda as I realize, partially, what’s going on. Even with a quick glimpse at some of the documents Gabe’s currently putting in the car, I have a sinking suspicion about everything.

There’s a vamp out there using the Fellowship as his scapegoat. No doubt there’s some kinda incriminating evidence at all the murdered vamps’ places linking them to the Fellowship. Shit, I wouldn’t be surprised if the FotS just started taking credit on their own!

I start wondering if the Ancient Pythoness knew when she was going to die. I know she’d seen it. She’d shown me she had several years ago when we first met. The thought makes my fangs throb, and not in the good way. It’s almost like when I’d get shivers down my spine as a human, only it’s in my mouth now. I feel that vibration all the way into my cheekbones, and my eyes shake a bit. Dang.

At least the Pythoness sees Thorn being whole again in the future, and I guess she meets someone. That must’ve torn the Pythoness up to see the love of her existence with someone else. I hope Thorn at least has a considerable grieving period.

My thoughts are interrupted then as Gabe returns and hands me my car keys back. He’s still obedient, and waits for further instruction. As I am about to break the glamour, I realize this guy’s gonna realize at some point that a bunch of his information is missing, and the security footage is going to show me as the last person he was with before it went missing.

Another idea comes to mind and I take in Gabe’s line of sight once more. I impress upon him that I am Steve Newlin giving him an order.

Your contact has been compromised, and is recalling all leaked information to be gone over with a fine toothed comb,” I tell Gabe. “You delivered that information to a courier while taking a meeting with a new recruit. Once the information has been authenticated, it will be returned with a new list of names.”

Gabe’s eyes blink once I tell him what he did this afternoon, and he nods gravely, “It’s a good thing our informant noticed the mistake before one of our people got caught. It’s too soon for our involvement to be known.”

I tilt my head curiously, “Why is that?”

Because our Big Mark isn’t back in the country yet,” Gabe replies with a shrug.

Oh, shit, I think in bewilderment. “Who’s the ‘Big Mark’?!”

Don’t know yet. I only know that I was told we can’t let the media know of our involvement until we take care of the ‘Big Mark’,” Gabe shrugs again and I want to beat my head against a wall.

“Do you know
anything about it? Where it will take place?” I try to press.

Gabe’s brow furrows. I feel him pushing against my glamour and realize that I’m overstepping what his mind is willing to accept. Steve Newlin trying to get information out of Gabe makes no sense to his mind. Steve tells him what is going on, not the other way around.

Instead of pushing further, I end the glamour marathon and head back to the reception area while Gabe recovers from my mind control. I wait for Sookie and Eric to return from their own tour.

Hopefully there will be clues in our notes… Hopefully Sookie has found out some things of her own.

On to Chapter Fifty-One

Catalyst Ch. 49

Chapter Forty-Nine: Playing Spies

March 2009

Eric’s POV:

Sookie,” I growl against my wife’s lips as she kisses me urgently, “you have to leave for work.”

Just one more time,” Sookie pleads as her stocking encased thighs squeeze my hip. She is dressed for work, minus her bottoms, and she has never looked so delicious.

I groan and pull her mouth back to mine while giving her bottom a soft smack with my hand. The playful attack makes her body tremble excitedly, “Go to work.”

My Sookie pouts as she rolls off of me and onto the floor. She huffs and shakes her bottom with its soft, pink glow.

Dear One,” I sigh as she pulls a thong from her panty drawer and slides it up her legs, “please stop trying to break my resolve.” She snaps the elastic against her hip and I purse my lips in response. “You are a devil.”

I’m an angel and you know it,” she teases as she grabs her slacks and slips them over her legs. Gods, I want to rip those off and take her against the chest of drawers!

As I watch my wife finish dressing for work and walk her to the garage for a departing kiss, I have a moment to reflect on the last couple years.

After the reuniting of the family, I felt Sookie’s spirits rise once more. Though the doubts returned occasionally, it was obvious that they did not consume her like before. It was a relief to me, but also quite bitter. The realization that my Bonded needed more than me was a disappointment, but I remained considerably calm about the epiphany. After all, with youth comes uncertainty and a mild level of discontentment.

Thankfully, her crisis of faith seemed to ease with the arrival of Camilla and Pam. I do not know what they said to her, but when everyone returned that evening, Sookie was in better spirits than I had seen since arriving in Ohio. She began getting to know the neighbors, and took on a job teaching summer classes. My wife began befriending other teachers, and she started dragging me out in the evening for gatherings.

It is with a happy smile that I spend my morning and early afternoon going through business emails and combing through Compton’s most recent information leaks. Another vampire nest was attacked? The news distracts me through the remainder of the day until I hear my wife return.

What are you up to, Dear One?” I ask, arriving in the study to find Sookie setting a stack of papers on her coffee table. She has continued to refuse using a real desk to do her work. She insists that working on the floor makes it feel more fun.

Grading some papers,” she answers. Sookie looks up at me with a soft smile as she turns on the TV to prattle on in the background.

I smile as I come sit on the couch behind her. She is on the floor, legs crossed lotus style and poised beautifully beside the coffee table. As she lowers her head to continue grading, I reach forward and begin rubbing her shoulders. Her pen quickly falls to the coffee table and she groans.

We remain like that for a while. I rub her shoulders, and she moans softly as I work out the knots from noisy children and overdo assignments.

~ “Soulless creatures have no rights!” screams Reverend Newlin who is being interviewed on the news. “My church is about the preservation of humanity, and encourages the true children of God to heed not the denizens of darkness!”~

My ears tune out the “reverend’s” words. He has been making quite a stir lately, and Nan Flannigan is becoming increasingly frustrated by his rantings. Twice now they have been put on the news together to debate vampire/human politics, and both times Newlin refused to speak directly to her. Instead he spoke to the prompter, and ignored every statement the vampire representative made.

This afternoon the bigot is being interviewed by himself, and he is further proving his extremist views. Just as his “sermon” is hitting a screaming stride, he is interrupted by the news anchor.

~ “Excuse me one moment Reverend, but we have breaking news,” Chad Spencer interjects. The camera pans to square him in the shot, and the anchor speaks into the camera. “According to overnight reports that have only just now been confirmed; no less than five vampires were slain in the Dallas area last night. Additionally, this station has been tracking vampire slayings for the past six months after a rash of murders occurred-”

Something dead and evil cannot be murdered!” Newlin admonishes the anchor’s statements.

Without breaking his professionalism, Chad continues as if an outburst had not just happened, “- that brings this years wrongful vampire deaths to eighteen nationwide!”

“Do God’s work, true followers of Jesus!”
Newlin cries.~

I quickly shut off the television and Sookie and I sit stock still in the study.

We are absorbed in silence a long time before Sookie finally whispers, “What’s going on?”

Leaning back into the sofa, I confess, “Compton has been telling me for a few weeks now that there has been an uncomfortable number of vampire slayings this year.”

How many?” she asks cautiously.

In addition to the eighteen you just heard reported, there have been five others,” I tell her.

Twenty-three murders in six months?” Sookie leans forward, pulling her knees up to her chest. I see as she rests her head against her knees that she is considering the magnitude of the number. “Is it hate crimes?”

That is what Compton and quite a few other vampires are thinking,” I answer. “Four nests were struck accounting for the eighteen True Deaths the reporter announced. The other five occurred among individuals who took home a meal from a bar.”

Drainers?” she guesses.

I nod, “I would guess so.”

She frowns a moment before stating, “Isn’t tracking down and killin’ a nest of vampires supposed to be difficult?”

It is, and the nests that were struck were not what we would consider ‘at risk’. Three of the four nests were mainstreaming and not putting themselves purposefully at odds with humans. The fourth nest was a pair of older vampires both over the age of five hundred. They should have known how to keep safe.”

You think it’s organized.”

I do.”

Do you know by whom?” she presses.

It is my own turn to frown now, and I point loosely to the television.

That crazy Newlin guy!?” Sookie gasps.

A figurehead. His son has been doing far worse in Dallas. Over half the destroyed nests happened in the Dallas/ Fort Worth Area,” I confess. “Theodore Newlin has accomplished most of his roaring from Utah as of late, and left Dallas to his son. Steve Newlin has stayed mostly in Texas.”

Wasn’t the Dallas/ Fort Worth area Godric’s Area before we were Bonded?” she wonders.

It was, but last I heard, it was under the control of Isabel. She has been in control of that Area since before vampires came out of the coffin. Actually,” I pause to reflect, “if I remember correctly, she still calls Godric from time to time for advice.”

Sookie watches intently as I reach for my phone and call my Maker.

Yes, Eric?” Godric’s voice answers politely after the first ring.

Master, have you heard from Isabel lately?” I ask.

There is a pause before he replies, “Not since last year when she told me she had taken a human lover.”

‘That information strikes me as peculiar,’ I think guardedly. “She called you to gush about her human?”

Godric chuckles, “No, she called to talk to me about the expansion of the Fellowship of the Sun facility. Hugo merely came up after we talked business.”

What was her concern about the FoTS?” I ask.

From what she was able to glean, there was no order for the expansion. She believed Steve Newlin was preparing to do more than merely denounce the vampire community, but also work toward destroying it,” he tells me.

Have you read or heard about the number of destroyed nests?” I press, trying to keep the anger from my voice.

I have, but have yet to determine a course of action,” he confesses.

Sookie, who has had her ear pressed against the phone, chimes in, “What if Eric and I went to Dallas and did some snooping?”

Excuse me?” Godric replies with surprise.

The Fellowship considers themselves a church, right? We can go there under the guise of being new to the area, and scoping out a new church for after the move,” she explains.

Eric?” I can hear the hesitant hopefulness in my Maker’s voice.

He likes this plan, but I have my concerns over bringing Sookie into such a place. My wife is fiery. Some of the things she could hear might make it difficult for her to maintain her poise. But, I look at her appraisingly and remember that she hears unsavory things all day. Our short nine years together have proven time and again that I underestimate her abilities far too often. My wife is fiery, but she is also strong, resilient and smart.

If Sookie is willing to do this, I am too,” I reply to my Maker at last. Godric releases a slow breath. “I would like to take Jason as well. If he can sense a vampire mind nearby, it might imply there is a traitor to our kind.”

This will be Sookie and Jason’s first reconnaissance mission,” Godric points out.

I am aware. It is better for him to train among humans rather than vampires,” I remind and Godric chuckles an agreement. “We will leave this weekend.”

Sookie’s POV:

Godric called ahead to warn Isabel that we’d be doing some snooping in Area 9, but as the plane begins its descent, I can’t help but feel anxious and a bit excited. Isabel’s human is supposed to be meeting us at the airport, and as far as he knows, we’re humans who are vampire sympathizers. Our story is that we are part of an organization trying to prevent vampire hate crimes. Eric explained that the vampire community created a law stating the nature of our existence was not to be known by any humans. I guess it’s for moments like these…

As my family lands in Dallas, and we find ourselves at the gate, I can already see a man holding up a sign that says ‘Northman’. He’s good looking. Dark brown hair, professional looking. Godric told us he’s a lawyer.

‘Shit, the burner cell is still in my office… I’ll drop them at their hotel and slip back later-‘ I hear from our escort during a precursory scan of his mind.

Taking Eric’s hand I tug him away from Hugo like we never even saw him. Jason looks at us confusedly, but follows without a word. When we’re on our way to the car rental area, my brother finally says, “Leak?”

Yup,” I respond. “Stay away from him.”

You are certain?” Eric asks me.

Pretty darn,” I reply, “but I want to meet him on my terms, not his. Somewhere without all this white noise.”

I will have Isabel arrange a meeting with him later,” Eric replies and kisses the top of my head. “We will have to make other room reservations as well. If he had any part in the process, our room could be compromised.”

Agreed,” I nod.

All right,” Jason adds, “I’ll grab our bags and meet ya around front.”

Thank you,” Eric nods at him.

As we stand patiently in line for a rental, Eric takes out his cell phone and calls around for a hotel room. By the time we’re at the front of the line, we have a new reservation, and Jason is standing with us, holding all our bags.

Finally we get our rental car, and as we leave to retrieve it, Hugo passes us. I watch him intently as he throws the cardboard sign with our last name into the trash.

‘Did they miss the flight? Maybe Isabel died for the day when they called… At least I got time to clean up some more of this mess!’

Eric,” I whisper, “tail him. He’s gonna dispose of information. Jason and I will meet you back at the hotel.”

Look at you,” Jason snickers, “commanding this badass like some sorta Head of the CIA!”

Watch out for your sister,” Eric tells my brother before disappearing into the throng of people.

I don’t know how you lose a 6’5” vampire in a crowd of humans during the day, but my husband is a master of his art. That’s for sure.

When Jason and I are in the car, he wastes no time grilling me.

So, what happened?” Jason whispers as we hit the road.

Unfolding the map I grabbed at the car rental, I look for our destination, “Head North on the Parkway and then take it to the One-Fourteen East. Looks like a drive to the hotel.”

Sook,” Jason stops me, “what’s goin’ on?”

Hugo is part of the problem,” I sigh. “I don’t know how much of it, but definitely enough not to trust. We made a new reservation at the Hyatt, and are going to meet with Hugo under our terms tomorrow. Eric’s gonna track him for now, see if he tries to dispose of any more information. We don’t want to accuse Isabel of anything without evidence. For now, she’s as much a victim as anyone else.”

Jason nods slowly as he weaves in and out of traffic. “So we may have already found the mole?”

Maybe,” I frown thoughtfully. “I don’t want to assume anything. There have been nests that were hit outside of Dallas. That’s information Isabel wouldn’t necessarily know. If Hugo is behind this, he can’t be working on just the information that was available to Isabel.”

Jason runs his hand through his hair in a frustrated tell, and I pat his thigh soothingly. “You think the FotS got other informants?”

They must,” I shrug. “If Isabel were the only common link between the destroyed nests, someone would have put it together a lot faster than you or me.”

I guess that’s true enough. Heck, if the only link anyone’s seen so far is the Fellowship, anyone could be informing to them. They got a bunch of followers nationwide. They even condone draining, although not the consumption of blood.”

You’ve been doing your homework,” I laugh.

Ever since I became a vamp I’ve been trying to catch up. Although, I don’t really like it when Eric takes me out back into the woods and shoots me. Bullets hurt,” he whines.

Just so long as he doesn’t stab you at random around the house. Your blood took me an hour to get outta the carpet,” I complain.

Jason snorts, but nods in agreement, “I told him he can stab, shoot and maim me all he likes outside or at my house, but he said he wants me on guard at all times.”

I knew I should have gotten hardwood floors throughout the entire house,” I pout.

A smirk tugs at my brother’s lips and he just shakes his head. With the mood moderately lightened, we make the remaining journey in thoughtful silence. I know that we’re both wondering what we’ll learn when Eric returns.


It’s almost five in the afternoon when my husband knocks on the hotel room door, and I let him in. Jason sits up on the sofa when Eric enters with a trash bag tucked under his arm.

He went to his office, was there for about twenty minutes, and then emerged with this. He drove to a nearby strip mall and threw it into a dumpster behind a set of shops,” Eric explains as he tears open the bag and dumps the contents on the table. “I retrieved it and then followed him to Isabel’s residence. He appeared to be in until sunset.”

There’s a bunch of shredded paper on the coffee table and a smashed cellphone. I pick up the phone and examine it. “The SIM card is intact!” I quickly pop out the chip and hand it to my brother. He’d suggested purchasing a SIM card reader, and now I’m grateful that he did. At first I just thought he wanted one so he could feel like a real spy.

Soon we have a list of contacts, retrieved text messages, and a voicemail that is still processing retrieval.

While this is happenings, Eric and I work together to put the confetti of the shredded documents back together. It only takes a few successfully reconstructed pieces to determine what information they had told, but it’s tedious obtaining even that small bit of information.

Wait, this looks like a name and house address,” I chime in.

Eric stops what he’s doing to look at my project. “That is the leader of the last nest that was destroyed,” he informs me.

So, he’s definitely the leak,” I say, still looking for more pieces to put together.

Yes, but the last nest was not in Isabel’s Area,” Eric leans back thoughtfully. “It is a printout. That implies it was sent to him, not told or stolen; not by Hugo at least.”

Someone has been giving locations to Hugo to spill to the Fellowship?” I ask.

Jason interrupts us, “Hey, I just checked one of these contacts. None got names, but there’s three total. Two got area codes for Dallas, but this one is from Nevada.”

Eric glances over Jason’s shoulder to look at the number. “The Nevada number is only incoming, and the two Dallas numbers are only outgoing. That means Hugo called whomever owns these number.”

While Eric and Jason talk about the mysterious Nevada number, I’m still piecing together hopeless shreds of documents. Finally, I come across another shred that appears to be part of the ‘hit list’ document.

Eric, I think I found another victim’s address,” I call to my husband as I’ve managed to piece together more of the paper.

Eric barely glances over my shoulder when I feel surprise and fear flash through the Bond. Next thing I know, Eric has his phone out, and he’s dialing like his life depends on it.

What is it?” Jason asks as Eric begins pacing. He pulls the phone from his ear and dials again. “Eric?”

I’m sitting quietly, waiting, as Eric keeps trying to call someone over and over again. After the third redial, he pauses and runs his hand through his hair. He seems to think for a moment before trying his phone again. This time, someone answers.

Quigley!” Eric barks into the phone, making me and Jason both jump. The quiet had been so tense that the abrupt interruption startles us. “I need you to check on Cassandra and Diedre.” I really wish I had vampire hearing. “My family is investigating some wrongful, final deaths. We have evidence that suggests the two of them could be in danger.”

Jason tenses beside me, but I don’t ask what this Quigley vampire is saying. Eric will tell me what’s going on as soon as the situation is brought back under control.

What do you mean?” Eric demands. He pauses as Quigley gives some sort of story, and when he replies again, his voice is subdued, “You are certain?” Jason’s body is shaking like a leaf, and I put out a hand to run over his back soothingly. “I will call Godric to meet you in Pittsburgh… He will bring you two to safety.”

Two, I think. Someone is dead. Either Diedre or this Cassandra. I pause as I remember who rarely goes by the name ‘Cassandra’.

The Ancient Pythoness is dead,” I whisper knowingly. All Jason can manage is a nod as Eric hangs up with Quigley and presumably calls Godric. My suspicion is confirmed as I hear Eric coordinating the safety measures for Quigley and Diedre.

When Eric hangs up for the final time, he turns to me and my brother. “Yes, the Ancient Pythoness has been ended. Diedre is in terrible condition. According to Quigley, her left arm has been blown off, and she is in complete despair over Cassandra’s death. One of Cassandra’s handmaidens managed to pull Diedre from the explosion and keep her protected from the sun. Diedre was brought to Quigley, and they are waiting until nightfall to flee.”

Who’s Quigley?” Jason asks.

He is about my age, and the only surviving progeny of Diedre,” Eric explains shortly, but something in the Bond and my husband’s eyes tells me it is far more complicated than that. “You will meet him when we return home.”

So, what do we do?” I finally ask.

Eric considers my question a moment before answering, “We have until nine tomorrow morning to put as much of this information back together as possible. I will call Isabel and tell her we will not be arriving until tomorrow at four in the afternoon. That will give us six hours to infiltrate the Fellowship, retrieve as much information as possible, and meet with Isabel and Hugo tomorrow evening.”

We’re going to fly behind their backs,” Jason nods in understanding.

Yes,” Eric confirms. “Jason, I will need you to find out if Isabel had any part in this. You know your signals.”

Yeah, I got ya,” Jason assures.

Sookie,” my husband turns to me, “we need anything and everything you can glean at the church tomorrow. We have to find out if any other vampires are targets. Especially ancients. The loss of the Ancient Pythoness will be spread world wide in a few hours, and if a Seer and ancient can be destroyed, then no vampire is safe.”

I’ll get back to this puzzle,” I promise him.

For the next several hours, the three of us are putting together the shredded documents. Jason has to break to feed, and I’m working with a piece of pizza hanging out of my mouth.

Around 4 AM, Eric’s on his phone, and giving a shopping list to someone. I hear things like: colored contacts, hair dye, hand warmers, self-tanning lotion, and a wig. At 5AM there’s a knock at the door, and when Eric answers, there’s no one there but a big bag.

I watch in dismay as my husband starts chopping off all his beautiful hair while on the phone with Isabel. Then he’s dying it, and I’m just praying he has no intention of doing the same to me!

Thankfully, my disguise comes in the form of a wig and some colored contacts. They make my eyes into a muddy brown color, and I’ll be grateful to have my own blue eyes back at the end of the day. Jason gets his hair dyed next, and some dull brown contacts like mine.

Around seven in the morning, the three of us look like completely different people. I find my ‘Sunday Best’ to wear to this meeting, and get used to my 6’5”, black haired, green eyed husband. This is too freaky!

You’ll grow it back out, right?” I ask hopefully.

Tomorrow,” he promises and gives me a kiss. A strange little thrill knots up my stomach. It’s like being kissed by a stranger; a stranger whose mouth feels comfortingly familiar. “Or I could wait?” he looks at me amusedly, having felt my little, excited swoon.

You can wait until I leave for work on Monday,” I whisper to my husband and he just laughs at my suggestion.

Aw, ew!” Jason makes a face, but I can see the teasing in his eyes.

At nine, I take a deep breath as my husband takes my hand. It’s finally time to go on my first mission. It’s scary and thrilling at the same time, but with my brother and my husband on either side of me, I’m ready!

Eric’s POV:

It is moments like these that I wish there were a way for Jason or Sookie to be able to communicate telepathically with the family.

Oh, you must be Mr. and Mrs. Daniels! My name is Hannah!” A bubbling receptionist greets me and Sookie. “And this is your brother, Jacob, right?” She bats her eyelashes at my brother-in-law.

I chose for us to use fake names that at least began with the same letter or sound of our original names. Hopefully if our newest spies have a slip up, they will have time to catch themselves seamlessly. Or maybe it will only be more confusing for them? I wonder a bit nervously. Pam was over one hundred by the time I felt she was ready for something like this.

Yes,” I reply as warmly as I can muster, which is surprisingly toasty. After all, I would not have survived as long as I have if I could not keep my enemies close.

Hey there.” Jason gives the woman a playful wink and I laugh internally at her rosy blush.

Reverend Newlin is planning to meet with you in just a moment. If you’d like to wait in his office, I am sure he will be by in just a few minutes.”

A moment later we are shut into the den of the lion, and I look to my wife for indication of our next move.

Oh, what a lovely office,” she comments. “Aren’t those paintings beautiful, Elijah,” She points to a rather underwhelming portrait of Jesus. This is her way of informing me and her brother that we are being observed. Jason and I put our hands in our pockets, using disposable hand warmers to increase the temperature of our skin. It would be concerning to the humans if we avoided skin contact as simple as a handshake.

Yes, very inspiring,” I agree, gazing emptily at the artists rendition of the Messiah.

I dunno,” Jason frowns. “Where’s the big ol’ crucifix? Remember Reverend Jones had that giant one in his office?”

You cannot judge a man by the size of his artifacts, Jacob,” I smirk at Jason amusedly.

Jason chuckles and shakes his head, “I guess I was hopin’ for a little flavor of home.”

Thankfully our forced nonchalance is ended with the opening of the double doors to the office. With a well worn in smile, Steve Newlin enters and greets all of us kindly.

Hi there, folks,” Newlin shakes my and Jason’s hands. When he bends to kiss Sookie’s hand she giggles and pulls away before his lips can touch her skin. “A chaste wife. What a catch, Mr. Daniels.”

Yes, she is,” I agree easily, but can feel Sookie’s unease after touching Newlin’s hand. I am proud that her internal recoil was so beautifully masked as chasteness.

Newlin gestures to the seats in the office, and my family sits casually before our enemy.

I hear you folks are moving to Dallas and are scoping out the local churches?” Newlin asks.

That’s right,” I reply. “Sandra and I are hoping to be starting a family soon, and it is very important to her that our children grow up with a strong religious upbringing.”

Newlin appears to fall into our story, gleefully expressing his agreement with my wife. The pair talk animatedly about their views, Sookie maintaining her charming exterior as I feel our Bond sloshing with an overflow of annoyance and disgust.

After a few moments, Jason injects himself into Newlin’s focus to give his sister time and concentration to scan the rest of the area mentally. After a few minutes, I note her fingers tapping rhythmically against her knee. She has discovered something.

Do you think we might be granted a tour?” I interrupt Jason’s conversation abruptly. “I would like to see what sort of events and organizations we will be able to join.”

Does the church provide any daycare?” Sookie presses.

Yes and yes,” Newlin replies jovially. “Follow me.” He rises from his desk chair and leads us from the office. “If you come this way, I will show you the chapel, and then we can tour the outer buildings of the compound.”

Compound?” Jason frowns. “You got housing here?”

For some of our more devout parishioners,” Newlin answers easily. “Our presence of faith is very strong, and many of my flock choose to donate their worldly goods and live humble lives within the church grounds.”

That is quite impressive, Reverend,” Sookie tells him.

Y’all don’t have any singles’ events, do you?” Jason jokes.

“As a matter of fact, we do. We understand that it is difficult for our flock to encounter like minded people, and that many have been put in very dangerous situations in their pursuits of finding a companion,” Newlin clucks his tongue sympathetically.

You think you could find me my own tour of the church? Honestly, Sandra and I are lookin’ for very different things,” Jason remarks.

Of course,” Newlin gestures back to the receptionist area. “Go ahead and ask Hannah if she can find someone to give you a tour of your own.”

Thanks very much,” Jason grins at him and waves goodbye to us.

Reverend, would you mind very much if I use the ladies’ room before we begin our tour?” Sookie asks politely, gesturing to the facility. I know she is trying to break away long enough to text Jason whatever information she has gleaned and instruct him on what he should be doing while away from Newlin.

My wife returns quickly, and smiles apologetically before we begin our tour. It is boring and tedious to be in Newlin’s company, but I must let Sookie concentrate on finding out as much as possible.

Every so often I feel her hand flutter against mine. This is not one of our silent signals, but a physical tell of what is happening in the Bond. She is sad, a little distressed by what she is hearing, and not for the first time, I wish I could do this for her. I wish I was able to listen to the entire world; human, two-natured or vampire. If it meant that my wife and her brother were not forced to hear the unsavory worlds of mortals and supernaturals, I would take the burden for them a hundred fold.

Instead I am forced to play the decoy as my wife and brother perform reconnaissance. Admittedly, Jason blends in far easier than I do. His glamouring skills have also come along nicely. I think it is the fairy in him that makes the magic flow so smoothly. Perhaps his months of being unable to glamour was the time it took his magics to align and cooperate with one another.

This is, of course, only speculation; one that I consider to distract my mind from the conversation I must engage in with Steve Newlin.

Oh!” Steve grins wide as a perky blonde approaches us. “Here is my wife! Sarah, this is Elijah and Sandra Daniels.”

So nice to meet you!” Sarah shakes Sookie’s hand and then mine. I purposefully brush my fingertips against the inside of her wrist and laugh internally at the response such a little flirt brings. There are few things more entertaining than making the “righteous” consider lustful musings. However, my entertainment is quickly ended when I feel my wife’s anger in the Bond. It is the quickest, tiniest flare of jealousy, but very new to me. I do not believe I have drawn jealousy from her ever before.

As quickly as it came, Sookie’s mood settles, and she takes my hand once more. We continue our tour with the Newlins, and I do believe we have seen a fair majority of the grounds. Finally, we are back in the receptionist’s area, and Jason is waiting patiently for us. I thank my stars that he has completed his mission and we do not need to dwell here any longer.

On to Chapter Fifty!